Senate confirms Zinke as Interior Secretary

Arizona Water News

The new Zinke team, including appointments to Bureau of Reclamation, will need to learn quickly about the complexities of Colorado River water law and the drought-induced woes facing Lake Mead

zinke-confirmation-photo

By a comfortable 68-31 margin, the U.S. Senate today confirmed President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke.

The former Montana member of Congress will head a department that manages around 500 million acres of land and waterways in the United States.

Zinke’s department also includes the federal Bureau of Reclamation, the agency responsible for the system of dams and reservoirs on the Colorado River, the waterway that is integral to the livelihood of 40 million U.S. citizens living in the Southwest.

In a statement declaring his approval of the appointment, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake said he looked forward to working with Zinke’s department, notably on behalf of Arizona’s Colorado River allotment.

“I was pleased to vote to…

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Ryan Zinke confirmed to lead @Interior

From The High Country News (Ben Long):

Ryan Zinke, who has served fewer than two terms in Congress, remains a relatively unknown figure in the world of natural resource politics. Whenever he has entered a national debate on cable news, it has been to make hawkish remarks on national security issues, touting his credentials as a former Navy SEAL.

But the Department of Interior‘s responsibilities lie within America’s boundaries, and especially in the West. Of the 640 million acres of federal public land in the United States, 500 million acres are under the purview of Interior. It’s a heady portfolio that includes national parks, national wildlife refuges, Bureau of Land Management lands and some national monuments. Interior also includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Reclamation.

Zinke’s record on natural resources issues appears to be somewhat contradictory. When he issued a news release accepting the nomination to lead the Department of the Interior, he vowed to follow in the footsteps of Theodore Roosevelt. Indeed, since his first run at the state Legislature in Montana, he has often invoked the memory of that conservation icon.

Yet many environmental groups greeted his nomination for Interior boss with dismay, citing his congressional approval rating of only 3 percent from the national League of Conservation Voters. There’s also his tight connection to the coal and fossil fuel industries.

Sportsmen’s groups were warmer, noting that Zinke hunts and fishes and has at times stood up against some Republican leaders. He is against the sale of public lands and supports the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Understanding a few key facts about Zinke may provide context as to how he will run the Interior Department:

Zinke is a coal-promoting politician from a coal-producing state.
He waxes nostalgic about the good old days of the Western timber industry and pushes for more logging on national forests.
At the same time, Zinke appears to understand how protected wild lands such as Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness contribute both to the economic vitality and the quality of life in small communities.
You can count on Zinke to push for the delisting of species under the Endangered Species Act, particularly the grizzly bear. In Whitefish, grizzlies act like super-size raccoons and routinely raid garbage cans.

But here’s the dilemma: Trump, and now by extension, Zinke, made a lot of promises to rural voters. They expect to see jobs coming back to loggers, sawmills and coal fields in rural America. Once regulations get purged, they were assured, America will be great again — at least according to their idea of greatness.

Trouble is, those jobs are gone for reasons that are a lot more complicated than overbearing regulations. It’s magical thinking to imagine that Trump or his Interior secretary can or will bring them back. You don’t get very far driving into the future when you’re looking in the rear-view mirror.

Zinke is setting a high standard for himself. Theodore Roosevelt loved science and constantly embraced new ideas. He spoke out vigorously against industries that, in his words, were out to “skin” the American landscape.

Yes, he loved the vigorous outdoor life and he delighted in his battleships, but he was also a scholar with a vision for America. TR paid a devastating political price for his principles in his lifetime. He was abandoned by the Republican Party, though his face later was carved on a mountain, a few decades after his death.

Here’s a statement from The Wilderness Society:

Statement from Jamie Williams, March 1, 2017 on Ryan Zinke confirmation as Secretary of the Interior.

“We expect Secretary Zinke to protect America’s natural heritage with the same sense of dedication and duty that he brought to his service to the nation as a Navy Seal,” said Wilderness Society President Jamie Williams.

“We will seek every opportunity to work with Secretary Zinke on issues that affect the public lands and waters that are owned by all Americans. But we will work just as hard to hold the Secretary accountable to his own promise to uphold the conservation ethic of Theodore Roosevelt and fight tirelessly for careful conservation and stewardship of those lands. The Secretary of the Interior must be a strong defender of our national wilderness areas, parks and wildlife refuges while also protecting sacred sites and places of cultural importance.”

Summitville Superfund scores $1 million @EPA grant

Summitville Mine superfund site
Summitville Mine superfund site

From CBS Denver (Blair Miller):

The Summitville Mine, located in Rio Grande County, has been under the purview of the EPA and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment since 1992…

Construction on a hydroelectric power system at the site got underway in 2008, and $17 million in American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funds received in 2009 helped the completion of the water treatment plant at the site.

The $1 million in new Superfund grant money will go toward continuing water treatment at the site.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

In a statement announcing the grant, Colorado’s Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner called the funding “critical to the continued clean-up at the Summitville Mine,” adding that he is “committed to ensuring Colorado receives the proper support from the federal government to make sure Colorado’s pristine environment is cared for.”

[…]

The EPA took over the site in 1992, when the mine operator went bankrupt and Colorado officials could not handle the disaster. Mine pollution had killed fish in a 17-mile stretch of the Alamosa River and ruined at least a square mile of soil.

There were five small water-treatment plants at the site. A couple were closed. Others were consolidated into a system that could clean 1,000 gallons per minute. That system later was deemed inadequate, leading to construction of a facility that could handle 1,600 gallons a minute of acidic, metals-laced mine drainage.

The Superfund cleanup still is not complete. Colorado officials in a 2014 report to lawmakers estimated the state’s share of water-treatment and other costs over 25 years will be $74 million…

Superfund cleanup work at some mines has stalled due to technical difficulty, lack of political will and scarce funds. For example, no work has been done for years in Colorado at the collapsing Nelson Tunnel above Creede, where millions of gallons of some of the West’s worst unchecked acid mine drainage contaminates headwaters of the Rio Grande River.

#Colorado Springs: Mayor Suthers’ report card 2 years in

Colorado Springs with the Front Range in background. Photo credit Wikipedia.
Colorado Springs with the Front Range in background. Photo credit Wikipedia.

From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

Usually curt and to the point, Suthers on this day stretches what was scheduled as a 30-minute interview into a full hour. Perhaps he wants to bask in his achievements — persuading voters to approve a $250-million, five-year sales tax increase for roads; creating a $460-million, 20-year agreement with Pueblo County to fund the city’s drainage needs, and subduing a once-rocky relationship between Council and the mayor’s office.

But Suthers is too pragmatic to rest on his laurels for long. While he talks in endearing terms about his hometown of Colorado Springs…

What is your long game on flood control, and what role will City Council play?

First of all, it’s more than flood control. Stormwater is both flood mitigation and water quality. The federal part of this case is all about water quality. The end game is to get a stormwater program that does right by the citizens of Colorado Springs and also meets all legal muster. And right now, the outstanding legal issue is with the federal and state government — the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

My goal is to hopefully reach a resolution with them and then assess whether there’s any more money involved than the intergovernmental agreement calls for. And then at some point, with the cooperation of Council, go to voters with a long-term solution to stormwater. Absent a dedicated revenue stream, that [$460 million for the agreement with Pueblo] is going to come from the general fund. That will put a lot of pressure on the general fund.

So the long-term goal, hopefully with the assistance of Council, and I don’t know how we would pull it off without Council, is to go to the voters. That would provide a funding stream for stormwater and allow us to free up some general fund money for some other obligations I see coming down the pike.

Notably, we, I think in the next five to 10 years, have to significantly increase the size of the police department, put more officers on the street…

With Donald Trump in the White House, any chance there might be a settlement or dismissal of the [EPA and CDPHE lawsuit]?

Haven’t heard that at all. We had the first court hearing last week. We recommended going to a third-party mediator, which we think that’s in our interest, and the federal government rejected that. We think we have a great case to show for all the alleged sins of the past. We’re moving forward, and I’ll stack our stormwater program and commitments up to any city in Colorado, but [the lawsuit] is going forward.

#Colorado Springs councillors OK @CSUtilities water sales to Security

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.
Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

From KKTV.com:

On Tuesday afternoon, Colorado Springs City Council voted to help their neighbors deal with [pollution of the Widefield Aquifer]. They voted unanimously on the agenda item that will allow Colorado Springs Utilities to sell their water to Security Water District. The resolution goes into effect immediately.

It’s a short term deal – just up to three years as of now, but Springs Utilities says the have more than enough resources to help.

Executive order issued for review of the @EPA ‘Waters of the US’ rule

Evening clouds along the Yampa River in northwestern Colorado.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

President Donald Trump’s promised overhaul of environmental rules gained momentum Tuesday as he ordered a review and possible rollback of protections for streams and wetlands – igniting opposition from conservation groups.

The Senate meanwhile is poised to vote on rolling back two other rules passed by the Obama administration to protect public lands and air quality.

Trump’s executive order targets the EPA’s “Waters of the United States” rule, finalized in 2015, that reinterpreted the Clean Water Act to extend federal protection to small and seasonal waterways. These are critical for water supplies in water-scarce regions of the West.

EPA officials have said the rule will have the greatest impact in states such as Colorado where protection for small and seasonal water previously was uncertain. In Colorado, 68 percent of streams are seasonal.

The EPA insisted the rule wouldn’t get in the way of agriculture or require new permits and that the benefit was giving federal officials power to crack down on polluters.

But some Colorado farmers, a national coalition of industry groups, developers, and fertilizer and pesticide makers have fought the rule. They said it could lead to EPA enforcers looking over producers’ shoulders.

The rule was made to end uncertainty created by Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 that left small streams, headwaters and wetlands in limbo. Killing it could remove protection for streams and wetlands that are seasonal, or rain-dependent, and that affect downstream waters…

Natural Resources Defense Council President Rhea Suh issued a statement accusing Trump of protecting polluters instead of water and said rolling back the rule would threaten drinking water sources for 117 million Americans.

“The Clean Water Rule’s safeguards are grounded in science and law. The rule was developed over many years, after more than 1 million public comments. We all rely on healthy wetlands to curb flooding, filter pollutants, support fish, waterfowl and wildlife, and feed our rivers and lakes,” Suh said. “We will stand up to this reckless assault.”

Hunters and anglers appealed to Trump to reverse course and keep the rule. “Sportsmen will not settle for watered-down protections or negligence for the habitat that supports the fish and wildlife we love to pursue,” Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership president Whit Fosburgh said on behalf of a five-group coalition.

The American Sustainable Business Council, representing 250,000 businesses, issued a statement saying that “undoing this critical environmental rule is naive” and that doing so “will actually hurt most businesses and put jobs in jeopardy.”

Later this month, the Senate is expected to vote on a House of Representatives-backed effort to kill a federal rule giving Americans more of a voice in large-scale planning for projects using public land, including 8.4 million acres in Colorado.

Senators also are to vote on a House-backed reversal of the new federal methane rule that requires oil and gas companies using public lands to control air pollution. In both strikes against Obama administration environmental regulations, lawmakers have invoked the Congressional Review Act that lets them roll back executive action taken during the past 60 legislative work days if the rule is shown to impose excessive costs, exceed agency authority or duplicate existing rules.

From the Associated Press (John Flesher) via KOAA.com:

Trump instructed the EPA and the Army Corps to “rescind or revise” the rule, which can’t be done quickly or easily. The Obama rule hasn’t taken effect because of the dozens of lawsuits pending in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. Separately, the Supreme Court is considering whether the 6th Circuit should have jurisdiction over those cases. Legal experts say the Trump administration likely will attempt to have the suits dismissed while it crafts a new regulation.

The president’s executive order requires the agencies to follow the guidance of the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia in producing a new definition of protected waters. In a 2006 opinion, Scalia interpreted federal jurisdiction narrowly, saying only “relatively permanent, standing or continuously flowing” waters or wetlands with a surface connection to navigable waterways were covered.

After proposing a new rule, the agencies would have to take public comments and consider them when putting together a final version. Environmental groups would be certain to challenge a rule based on the Scalia standards, saying it ignores scientific evidence.

“This is likely to take years,” said Jan Goldman-Carter, an attorney for the National Wildlife Federation.

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

Environmental law experts say the order has little legal significance, but it still prompted strong reactions from both sides of the issue.

Issued Tuesday, the order directs the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to rescind or revise a 2015 EPA rule that sought to expand federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. The act allows the EPA to regulate “waters of the United States” but doesn’t include a precise definition of that term.

So with a rule finalized in 2015, the EPA opted for a more exact definition of “waters of the U.S.” that includes seasonal streams and wetlands adjacent to those streams, among other things. The 2015 definition would expand Clean Water Act jurisdiction by an EPA-estimated 3 percent.

It’s not yet clear how much jurisdiction would be expanded in Colorado.

Opponents of the rule fear it would actually increase Clean Water Act jurisdiction by a far greater margin than 3 percent, creating more red tape for farmers, ranchers and developers at a questionable environmental benefit. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, who led a multistate lawsuit against the rule, once called it “the greatest blow to private property rights the modern era has seen.”

[…]

In his executive order, Trump asks the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to model their revised water rule off a minority opinion penned by former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who argued seasonal streams shouldn’t be protected under the Clean Water Act.

That would mean 60 percent of U.S. streams and 20 million acres of wetlands would lose Clean Water Act protection, according to Trout Unlimited. That would be “an unmitigated disaster” for fish and wildlife, hunting and fishing, and clean water, Trout Unlimited President and CEO Chris Wood said in a statement…

The American Farm Bureau Federation applauded Trump’s move to “ditch” the water rule, which the bureau has argued could extend government regulation at the expense of farmers and ranchers…

Two Colorado State University water experts weighed in on the implications of rolling back the water rule in a Monday blog post.

Withdrawing or weakening the water rule will “likely leave regulators interpreting case-by-case” whether certain waterways are covered under the Clean Water Act and leave “land and water owners guessing about what they can do with their resources,” according to the post by Colorado Water Institute Director Reagan Waskom and CSU senior research scientist and scholar professor David J. Cooper.

” … In the end, repealing the rule won’t answer the underlying question: how far upstream federal protection extends,” they wrote.

Trump’s order isn’t enough on its own to “undo” the rule, which is stalled pending litigation.

“It’s like the president calling Scott Pruitt and telling him to start the legal proceedings,” Richard L. Revesz, a professor of environmental law at New York University, told the New York Times. “It does the same thing as a phone call or a tweet. It just signals that the president wants it to happen.”

Rather than waiting for the rule to snake through the court system in hopes of eventual Supreme Court defeat, the order indicates that Pruitt will likely ask a judge to pause the court proceedings while he and the EPA work on a replacement for the water rule.

Pruitt has said he plans to replace the water rule with something else, but whatever he comes up with will have to stand up to a lengthy public comment period and likely litigation.