Environmental Impact Statements a Key Tool for Reporters, But for How Long?

Source:  Society for Environmental Journalists

An Oakdale, Calif., resident examines a map during a public meeting in June 2016 showing plans for Sacramento District parks and projects along the Lower Stanislaus River. The National Environmental Policy Act requires such projects prepare environmental impact statements, which are invaluable resources for reporters. Photo: U.S. Army/Paul Bruton

TipSheet: Environmental Impact Statements a Key Tool for Reporters, But for How Long?

For more than four decades, the environmental impact statement has been among the best friends of journalists covering environment and energy.  Now they are under attack.

The National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, requires any federal agency contemplating a major action to prepare a study of what its impacts on the environment would be — and to compare the impacts to those of possible alternative actions.  The result is an often-long document chock-full of facts you don’t have to discover on your own the hard way.

NEPA became law on Jan. 1, 1970, marking the dawn of a key era of environmental concern and major legislation in the U.S. It covers major federal actions — which can certainly mean the construction of a dam or highway or sewage treatment plant.

But it can also mean the issuance of a federal permit, and since those permits may be required of local governments or private companies, NEPA’s reach stretches well beyond federal projects.

Not every project is “major” enough, though, to require a full EIS.  Sometimes only the less rigorous environmental assessment is needed, or nothing at all.

Long court struggles over the adequacy of EISs are common.  Sometimes, when a local group opposes a project for non-environmental reasons (e.g., “not in my backyard’), they will use NEPA as a tool to obstruct or delay the project.  But not always.

Whatever the bona fides of the objectors, however, courts usually make fair and factual decisions, and any valid environmental concerns are considered.  Those court fights are conflict, and conflict is news.

So the mere fact that an EIS is being prepared should signal you that news may be in the offing.

A key reporting tool and resource

Even just as a reporting tool, EISs are priceless.  They are generally prepared by professional environmental analysts who know what they are talking about and are trying to write a document objective enough to stand up in court.

In a typical action, a “draft” EIS is prepared by the lead agency contemplating an action.  The draft is then put out for public comment, sometimes at public meetings.  Sometimes the meetings are boring; sometimes they are overcrowded with angry people who want to be on TV.  Sometimes those people are concerned about environmental impacts that should have been considered, but haven’t been.

Environmental reporters are advised that this great resource is endangered and may not be around in current form forever.

The draft EIS also goes to other agencies with their own viewpoints on the project — more potential conflict.  When an EIS goes “final,” it usually means the lead agency is ready to move ahead with the project.

Keep in mind that EISs often have decent graphics, which (because they are in a government document) are public domain.  You can use these directly (remembering to credit the agency) or have your art department make them better.  Editors like this.

Read the rest of this article HERE.

Action Alert: Forest Service attempting to bypass public involvement

The Forest Service is proposing NEPA procedural changes which are supposedly to “increase efficiency,” but may in fact be a way for them to skirt public involvement processes.   The public comment period closes on 02/02.  You need to comment if you want your voice to be heard in the future.   Tell them that public involvement processes should NOT be reduced or eliminated.

SOURCE:  Forest Service

AGENCY:

Forest Service, USDA.

ACTION:

Advance notice of proposed rulemaking; request for comment.

SUMMARY:

The Forest Service is proposing to revise its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) procedures with the goal of increasing efficiency of environmental analysis. This will help the Forest Service implement its core mission by increasing the health and productivity of our Nation’s forests for the benefit of all Americans, and in turn foster productive and sustainable use of National Forest System lands. The Agency’s NEPA procedures are a key component of its overall environmental analysis and decision-making process. The Agency is seeking comments from the public on ways it can achieve the goals of increased efficiency of environmental analysis.

DATES:

Comments must be received in writing by February 2, 2018.

ADDRESSES:

Please submit comments via one of the following methods:

1. Public participation portal (preferred): https://cara.ecosystem- management.org/​Public/​ CommentInput?​project=​ORMS- 1797.

2. Mail: NEPA Services Group, c/o Amy Barker; USDA Forest Service, Geospatial Technology and Applications Center, 2222 West 2300 South, Salt Lake City, UT 84119.

3. Email: nepa-procedures- revision@fs.fed.us.

All comments, including names and addresses when provided, are placed in the record and are available for public inspection and copying. The public may inspect comments received online via the public reading room at https://cara.ecosystem- management.org/​Public/​ ReadingRoom?​project=​ORMS- 1797, or at U.S. Forest Service, Ecosystem Management Coordination, 201 14th St. SW, 2 Central, Washington, DC 20024. Visitors are encouraged to call ahead to (202) 205-1475 to facilitate entry to the building.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Jim Smalls; Assistant Director, Ecosystem Management Coordination; 202-205-1475. Individuals who use telecommunication devices for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 1-800-877-8339 between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

The Forest Service is proposing to revise its NEPA procedures (including its regulations at 36 CFR part 220, Forest Service Manual 1950, and Forest Service Handbook 1909.15) with the goal of increasing efficiency of environmental analysis. The Agency will continue to hold true to its commitment to deliver scientifically based, high-quality analysis to decision makers that honors its environmental stewardship responsibilities while maintaining robust public participation. These values are at the core of the Forest Service mission.

Reforming the Forest Service’s NEPA procedures is needed for a variety of reasons. An increasing percentage of the Agency’s resources are spent each year to provide the necessary resources for wildfire suppression, resulting in fewer resources available for other management activities such as restoration. In 1995, fire made up 16 percent of the Forest Service’s annual appropriated budget. In 2017, more than 50 percent of the Forest Service’s annual budget will be dedicated to wildfire. Along with this shift in resources, there has also been a corresponding shift in staff, with a 39 percent reduction in all non-fire personnel since 1995. Additionally, the Agency has a backlog of more than 6,000 special use permits awaiting completion, and over 80 million acres of National Forest System land are in need of restoration to reduce the risk of wildfire, insect epidemics, and forest diseases.

Increasing efficiency of environmental analysis will enable the Agency to complete more projects needed to increase the health and productivity of our national forests and grasslands. The Agency’s goal is to complete project decision making in a timelier manner, to improve or eliminate inefficient processes and steps, and where appropriate increase the scale of analysis and the amount of activities authorized in a single analysis and decision. Improving the efficiency of environmental analysis and decision making will enable the agency to ensure lands and watersheds are sustainable, healthy, and productive; mitigate wildfire risk; and contribute to the economic health of rural communities through use and access opportunities.

Agency NEPA Procedures

Each Federal agency is required to develop NEPA procedures that supplement the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) regulations and reflect the agency’s unique mandate and mission. The CEQ encourages agencies to periodically review their NEPA procedures. The Forest Service’s NEPA procedures were last reviewed in 2008 when the Agency moved a subset of its NEPA procedures from the Forest Service Manual and Handbook to the Code of Federal Regulations. However, the Agency’s NEPA procedures still reflect in part the policies and practices established by the Agency’s 1992 NEPA Manual and Handbook. The proposed revision of the Forest Service’s NEPA procedures will be developed in consultation with CEQ.

Request for Comment

The Agency is seeking public comment on the following:

  • Processes and analysis requirements that can be modified, reduced, or eliminated in order to reduce time and cost while maintaining science-based, high-quality analysis; public involvement; and honoring agency stewardship responsibilities.
  • Approaches to landscape-scale analysis and decision making under NEPA that facilitate restoration of National Forest System lands.
  • Classes of actions that are unlikely, either individually or cumulatively, to have significant impacts and therefore should be categorically excluded from NEPA’s environmental assessment and environmental impact statement requirements, such as integrated restoration projects; special use authorizations; and activities to maintain and manage Agency sites (including recreation sites), facilities, and associated infrastructure.
  • Ways the Agency might expand and enhance coordination of environmental review and authorization decisions with other Federal agencies, as well as State, Tribal, or local environmental reviews.

Start Printed Page 303

Dated: December 20, 2017.

Tony Tooke,

Chief, USDA, Forest Service.

[FR Doc. 2017-28298 Filed 1-2-18; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 3411-15-P

Environmental Activist Sued for Libel Over Facebook Comment About Oil and Gas Company

SOURCE:  desmogblog

By Simon Davis-Cohen

On November 17, 2016, a Colorado environmental activist named Pete Kolbenschlag used Facebook to leave a comment on a local newspaper article, the kind of thing more than a billion people do every day.

However, most people don’t get sued for libel over their Facebook comments. (Although some do.)

The Post Independent story that Kolbenschlag commented on was about oil and gas extraction on federal lands near his home, in western Colorado’s North Fork Valley. It announced that the Obama administration’s Bureau of Land Management was canceling all oil and gas leases on the iconic Thompson Divide, a large, rugged swath of Forest Service land.

In retaliation, the article reported, a Texas-based oil and gas company called SG Interests (SGI), which owned 18 leases in the Thompson Divide area, was planning legal action against the federal government. The decision to cancel Thompson Divide leases was one of Obama’s last while in office.

SGI claimed it had obtained documents that “clearly show” that the decision to cancel the leases “was a predetermined political decision from the Obama administration taking orders from environmental groups.”

Kolbenschlag, who has opposed drilling in the region and engaged in environmental advocacy for some 20 years, responded to SGI’s allegations by posting the following comment:

While SGI alleges “collusion” let us recall that it, SGI, was actually fined for colluding (with GEC) to rig bid prices and rip off American taxpayers. Yes, these two companies owned by billionaires thought it appropriate to pad their portfolios at the expense of you and I and every other hard-working American.”

Shortly thereafter, SGI sued Kolbenschlag for libel (which generally refers to defamatory written statements).

SGI Investigation and Settlement

Kolbenschlag’s comment was in reference to a settlement SGI and Gunnison Energy Company (GEC), another oil and gas firm active on federal lands in the region, signed with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2012.

According to court documents filed by SGI, the settlement followed a two-year investigation into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the two oil and gas companies in which “SGI would bid on certain federal oil and gas leases … and … SGI would assign GEC a 50 percent interest in any leases for which it was the successful bidder.” In other words, rather than compete in the bidding process, SGI would do the bidding, and then give GEC half of the mineral rights.

According to these court documents, the Justice Department’s two-year investigation led it to determine “that SGI’s and GEC’s agreement to bid jointly pursuant to the MOU constituted a per se violation of Section 1 of the Sherman [Antitrust] Act.”

The original settlement “required” the companies to pay $550,000 for “antitrust and False Claims Act violations.” It was the first time the federal government challenged an “anticompetitive bidding agreement for mineral rights leases.” That settlement, however, was later rejected by a federal judge, who approved a new settlement of $1 million and did not require the companies to admit to wrongdoing.

Libel or Retaliation?

SGI argues that Kolbenschlag’s statement that the company was fined for colluding with GEC is libelous because it is “contrary to the true facts, and reasonable persons … reading … the statement would be likely to think significantly less favorably about [SGI] than they would if they knew the true facts.”

The company argues that it was never convicted of or admitted to wrongdoing, and the settlement agreement did not require it. SGI further argues that it was not “fined,” but rather agreed to pay the government money to settle the case.

Moreover, SGI claims that “agreements such as the ones entered into between SGI and GEC are common place in the oil and gas industry.” And therefore, presumably, there’s nothing wrong with what they did.

Kolbenschlag’s attorney not only argues that his client’s comment was “substantially true” in the eyes of ordinary readers, but also that SGI’s lawsuit against him is in retaliation against his environmental activism. In legal briefs, his attorney writes that “this lawsuit is SGI’s transparent and blatant effort to punish Mr. Kolbenschlag for his public speech and advocacy that are not to SGI’s liking.”

For example, Kolbenschlag was part of a group called Citizens for a Healthy Community that focused on BLM rulemaking related to hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on federal lands. “SGI is misusing the judicial system as the means to silence its critics,” claimed Kolbenschlag’s attorney.

READ the rest of this article HERE.

Please sign petition to rectify the heavy impact of livestock grazing on public lands

photo:  Western Watersheds Project

Please sign this petition HERE.

SOURCE:  Petitions.whitehouse.gov

We the people ask the federal government to Call on Congress to act on an issue:

Livestock Grazing on Public Lands Rectify the Heavy Impact

Created by T.B. on November 23, 2017

Reductions will address ecological problems caused by commercial livestock grazing such as:

● displacement of wildlife, reduction of wildlife populations;
● degradation is occurring to the land;
● transmission of pathogens;
● degradation is occurring to plant communities;
● native wildlife are killed to advance the interests of public lands ranchers;
● livestock are damaging to sensitive wetlands or riparian areas; or
● Ruminant grazing contributes to the nitrogen load in streams as well as nitrous oxide gasses also
a greenhouse gas.

Listen to the archived show: Investigative journalist Carey Gillam, author of “Whitewash,” on glyphosate (Monsanto’s Roundup) that is found in the air, water, soil and our bodies

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Wild_Horse_Burro_Radio_Logo

Join us for Wild Horse Wednesdays®, for a special show on Friday morning, Nov. 17, 2017

Listen to the archived show (HERE!)

This show will be archived so you can listen to it anytime.

Our guest is Carey Gillam, an investigative journalist, a former senior correspondent for Reuters’ international news service, a Research Director for U.S. Right to Know (a consumer group whose mission is: “Pursuing Truth and Transparency in America’s Food System”), a Board Member of Justice Pesticides and a contributor to Huffington Post.

In Whitewash, Carey Gillam uncovers one of the most controversial stories in the history of food and agriculture, exposing new evidence of corporate influence. Gillam introduces readers to farm families devastated by cancers which they believe are caused by the chemical, and to scientists whose reputations have been smeared for publishing research that contradicted business interests. Readers learn about the arm-twisting of regulators who signed off on the chemical, echoing company assurances of safety even as they permitted higher residues of the pesticide in food and skipped compliance tests. Gillam reveals secret industry communications that pull back the curtain on corporate efforts to manipulate public perception.

Whitewash is more than an exposé about the hazards of one chemical or even the influence of one company. It’s a story of power, politics, and the deadly consequences of putting corporate interests ahead of public safety.

Carey Gillam’s website is careygillam.com

This show will be hosted by Debbie Coffey (V.P. and Dir. of Wild Horse Affairs) of Wild Horse Freedom Federation.

To contact us: ppj1@hush.com

TO LISTEN TO ALL ARCHIVED WILD HORSE & BURRO RADIO SHOWS, CLICK HERE.

To find out more about Wild Horse Freedom Federation and our work to keep wild horses and burros wild and free on our public lands visit www.WildHorseFreedomFederation.org

Donate Here: http://wildhorsefreedomfederation.org/donate/

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George Wuerthner, (Exec. Dir. of Public Lands Media, V.P. on BoD of Western Watersheds Project & author) to talk about the impacts of the livestock industry on the West (Wed., 11/1/17 on Wild Horse & Burro Radio)

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Wild_Horse_Burro_Radio_LogoJoin us for Wild Horse Wednesdays®, this Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017

5:00 p.m. PST … 6:00 p.m. MST … 7:00 p.m. CST … 8:00 p.m. EST

Listen to the archived show (HERE!)

You can also listen to the show on your phone by calling (917) 388-4520.

You can call in with questions during the 2nd half hour, by dialing (917) 388-4520, then pressing 1.

This show will be archived so you can listen to it anytime.

Our guest tonight is GEORGE WUERTHNER, the Exec. Director of Public Lands Media (a project of the Earth Island Institute), Vice President on the Board of Directors for Western Watersheds Project and the author of 38 books.  George will be talking about the multiple ways that the livestock industry impacts the West, from water use, to sage grouse, to bison being shot in Yellowstone and to the killing of predators like grizzlies and wolves.

George’s books include Welfare Ranching: The Subsidized Destruction Of The American West, Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy, Energy: Overdevelopment and the Delusion of Endless Growth, Thrillcraft: The Environmental Consequences of Motorized Recreation, Keeping the Wild: Against the Domestication of Earth, and Protecting the Wild: Parks and Wilderness, the Foundation for Conservation.

Most recently, George was the Ecological Projects Director/Senior Scientist for the Foundation for Deep Ecology and Tompkins Conservation for 12 years. Previous to this position, George taught ecology courses and environmental writing as adjunct lecturer at a number of universities, worked as botanist/backcountry ranger, river ranger, biologist and forestry technician for various federal agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service and the Forest Service, and was a wilderness guide in Alaska and Yellowstone National Park. George studied Zoology/Wildlife Biology/Botany at the University of Montana, and for graduate school, studied Range Science at Montana State University, Science Communication at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Geography at the University of Oregon.

This show will be hosted by Debbie Coffey (V.P. and Dir. of Wild Horse Affairs) of Wild Horse Freedom Federation.

To contact us: ppj1@hush.com

TO LISTEN TO ALL ARCHIVED WILD HORSE & BURRO RADIO SHOWS, CLICK HERE.

To find out more about Wild Horse Freedom Federation and our work to keep wild horses and burros wild and free on our public lands visit www.WildHorseFreedomFederation.org

Donate Here: http://wildhorsefreedomfederation.org/donate/

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Mike Hudak’s video “Ranching’s Other Victims: Free-living animals”

The video below by Mike Hudak was done in 2010, but it still applies today and is worth watching.  We also recommend you go to mikehudak.com  and read his book, “Western Turf Wars.”

Stephen Nash, author of “Grand Canyon for Sale,” on special interests controlling public lands that belong to all Americans (Wed., 9/27/17 on Wild Horse & Burro Radio)

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Wild_Horse_Burro_Radio_LogoJoin us on Wild Horse Wednesdays®, this Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017

5:00 p.m. PST … 6:00 p.m. MST … 7:00 p.m. CST … 8:00 p.m. EST

Listen to the archived show (HERE!)

You can also listen to the show on your phone by calling (917) 388-4520.

You can call in with questions during the 2nd half hour, by dialing (917) 388-4520, then pressing 1.

This show will be archived so you can listen to it anytime.

Our guest is Stephen Nash, the author Grand Canyon for Sale.” Stephen will tell us how the interests of an extraordinarily powerful few are controlling public lands that belong to all Americans. Grand Canyon For Sale is a carefully researched investigation of the precarious future of America’s public lands: our national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, monuments, and wildernesses. As one example, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) allows livestock grazing on 60% of public lands, even though cattle cause serious detrimental impacts to the land. Livestock grazing permittees include hoteliers and heiresses; the Koch brothers and the Walton family.

Stephen Nash is the author of two award winning books on science and the environment. His reporting has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, BioScience, Archeology and the New Republic. He is Visiting Senior Research Scholar at University of Richmond.  You can read Stephen’s articles and find out about his other books and more at stephenpaulnash.com

This show will be hosted by Debbie Coffey (V.P. and Dir. of Wild Horse Affairs) of Wild Horse Freedom Federation.

To contact us: ppj1@hush.com

TO LISTEN TO ALL ARCHIVED WILD HORSE & BURRO RADIO SHOWS, CLICK HERE. Continue reading

Chemical companies have already released 1 million pounds of extra air pollutants, thanks to Harvey

Source:  The Washington Post

A refinery in East Houston on Wednesday. Hurricane Harvey pushed thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Oil refineries and chemical plants across the Texas Gulf Coast released more than 1 million pounds of dangerous air pollutants in the week after Harvey struck, according to public regulatory filings aggregated by the Center for Biological Diversity.

While attention has zeroed in on the crisis at the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Tex., other facilities — oil refineries, chemical plants and shale drilling sites — have been reporting flaring, leaks and chemical discharges triggered by Harvey.

Emissions have already exceeded permitted levels, after floating rooftops sank on oil storage tanks, chemical storage tanks overflowed with rainwater, and broken valves and shutdown procedures triggered flaring at refineries.

The chemicals released in the week after Harvey made landfall, including benzene, 1,3-butadiene, hexane, hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide, toluene and xylene.

All seven chemicals are toxic air pollutants documented to harm human health; several cause cancer. Other emissions would bring the total to more than 5 million pounds, the Center for Biological Diversity said.

Read the rest of this article HERE.

 

Federal officials say cattle grazing will continue at a south-central Idaho national monument known for its ancient lava flows.

SOURCE:  usnews.com

FILE – In this July 2012 file photo, people hike the North Crater Flow Trail at Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho. Federal officials say cattle grazing will continue at national monument known for its ancient lava flows following a challenge by an environmental group. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced this week that grazing on BLM-administered portions of Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve not covered by lava flows will stay at about 99 percent of current levels.(Tetona Dunlap/The Times-News via AP, File) The Associated Press

US Cattle Grazing Plan for Idaho National Monument Approved

Federal officials say cattle grazing will continue at a south-central Idaho national monument known for its ancient lava flows.

By KEITH RIDLER, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Cattle grazing will continue at a south-central Idaho national monument known for its ancient lava flows following a challenge by an environmental group, federal officials announced this week.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management in a statement Wednesday said grazing on BLM-administered portions of Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve not covered by lava flows will stay at about 99 percent of current levels.

“The decision demonstrates the Trump Administration’s effort to support traditional uses such as grazing on public lands while providing opportunities for recreation and promoting conservation,” the agency said in a written statement.

Western Watersheds Project challenged grazing in the monument contending it harmed imperiled sage grouse, leading to a 2012 federal court order requiring federal agencies to complete an environmental review analyzing reduced grazing or no grazing.

Read the rest of this story HERE.