Two weeks in the West: an update on environmental issues
October 6, 2006
Roadless returns! On Sept. 19, U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Laporte reinstated protection for some 50 million acres of roadless national forest land. (Separate rules govern the roughly 9 million roadless acres of Alaska’s Tongass.) Laporte ruled that the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act when, in 2005, it repealed President Clinton’s 2001 “roadless rule” and required states to petition for roadless protection. The Forest Service has roughly three months to decide whether to appeal the ruling to the 9th Circuit Court. In the meantime, inventoried roadless areas must be protected under the terms of Clinton’s original roadless rule. The ruling comes just weeks before the Bush administration’s deadline for states to petition the government for protection. It’s shady in the Interior. The U.S. Interior Department’s top watchdog, Inspector General Earl Devaney, blasted the department before Congress on Sept. 13 for waiving billions of dollars in federal royalty payments from oil and gas companies. He’s also disgusted by the department’s refusal to address conflict-of-interest issues, specifically those including J. Steven Griles, an oil and gas lobbyist-turned deputy Interior secretary, who resigned last year months after being cleared of any ethical breach. “I have unfortunately watched a number of high-level Interior officials leave the department under the cloud of investigations,” Devaney told Congress. “Absent criminal charges, however, they are sent off in the usual fashion, with a party paying tribute to their good service and the secretary wishing them well, to spend more time with their family or seek new opportunities.”Half a Roan for gas, and half for everyone else. The BLM’s management plan for western Colorado’s Roan Plateau, released in Sept. 7, manages to upset everyone. The plan opens the plateau’s gas reserves to energy companies, irking environmentalists, but limits surface development to only half of the 34,758 acres on top of the plateau. The plateau, known for its wildlife and scenery, is believed to hold enough natural gas to heat 4 million homes for 20 years. Take that nuke waste and shove it. “We wanted to put a spike right through the heart of this project and this does it,” said Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, R, praising the Interior Department’s Sept. 7 rejection of the Skull Valley Goshute Tribe’s plan to store spent nuclear fuel rods on its reservation. The site, southwest of Salt Lake City, would have temporarily housed up to 44,000 tons of high-level nuclear waste on its way to the proposed federal repository in Yucca Mountain – likely providing tens of millions of dollars in revenue for the tribe. Critics argue that the plan involves unacceptable safety and security risks, and some say the troubled Yucca Mountain site may never be built, leaving the Goshutes holding the bag. Free will flounders in the courts. Judges in Nevada and Montana threw out a handful of libertarian ballot measures in September. Montana State Judge Dirk Sandefur ruled that petition circulators engaged in a “pattern of fraud,” deceiving people into signing the petitions for a trio of ballot measures in that state. The measures sought to limit land-use regulations and taxes, and make it easier to recall judges. The Nevada Supreme Court also threw out a tax-limit measure, saying petitions for it were “misleading.” And Nevada cut another measure in half: It had sought to limit governments’ eminent domain powers along with land-use regulations, but state law says a ballot measure must address only one issue at a time, so the court tossed out the attack on regulations, leaving only eminent domain. Similar measures to limit eminent domain remain on the November ballots in five other Western states.