EPA to repeal Trump-era water rule — The #Taos News #dirtywaterrule

New Mexico Lakes, Rivers and Water Resources via Geology.com.

From The Santa Fe New Mexican (Scott Wyland) via The Taos News:

U.S. regulators aim to repeal a contentious Trump-era rule that stirred fierce opposition from conservationists and many New Mexico leaders because it removed most of the state’s water from federal protection.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s head said the agency and the Army Corps of Engineers had determined the rule was causing substantial harm to water bodies and pointed to New Mexico and Arizona as among the states most affected.

The current rule, which has spurred a string of lawsuits, only protects waterways that flow year-round or seasonally and connect to another body of water.

It excludes as “ephemeral” storm-generated streams as well as tributaries that don’t flow continuously to another water body – disqualifying most of New Mexico’s waters. Unregulated storm runoff can carry contaminants into rivers used for drinking water, conservationists say.

Water advocates see the announced change as an encouraging move, but warned it will take time to repeal and replace the rule…

After the EPA states its intention to scrap “the dirty water rule” in the Federal Register, a 30-day public comment period will follow and then the agency can work to repeal it, said Rachel Conn, projects director for Taos-based Amigos Bravos.

Establishing a new rule will take considerably more time, Conn said, but in the meantime it’s crucial to get rid of a standard that is leaving most of New Mexico’s waters unprotected…

Conn and other critics of the current rule have worried it would nix the EPA’s oversight of heavily polluted runoff from Los Alamos County into the Río Grande – a prime source of drinking water – and that it might disqualify the Gila River from protection because that waterway runs dry before reaching the Colorado River.

“After reviewing the Navigable Waters Protection Rule as directed by President Biden, the EPA and Department of the Army have determined that this rule is leading to significant environmental degradation,” EPA administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.

The lack of protections is especially significant in arid states such as New Mexico and Arizona, where nearly every one of over 1,500 streams has been found to be outside federal jurisdiction, the EPA said in a news release.

Regan said the agency is committed to creating a “durable definition” of U.S. waters based on Supreme Court precedents, learning from past regulations and getting input from a variety of interested parties. The agency also will consider the impacts of climate change, he said…

New Mexico is one of just three states that has no authority from the EPA to regulate discharges of pollution into rivers, streams and lakes under the Clean Water Act, which leaves it at the mercy of whomever is in the White House, Conn said…

If the rule is repealed, the regulations will revert to more stringent ones enacted in 1987, said Charles de Saillan, staff attorney for the New Mexico Environmental Law Center…

Congress should intervene and create well-defined and permanent updates to the Clean Water Act to stop the political seesawing that happens every change of administration, de Saillan said.

Congressional action would be much better than having the U.S. Supreme Court make rulings on it, de Saillan said. The last high court decision on which waters merited federal protection was ambiguous, causing more confusion and legal battles, he said.

Ken Salazar nominated by Joe Biden to be U.S. ambassador to #Mexico — The #Colorado Sun

From The Colorado Sound (Jesse Paul):

Ken Salazar, a Coloradan who served as interior secretary and in the U.S. Senate, will be nominated by President Joe Biden to serve as the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, the White House announced on Tuesday.

Salazar’s nomination has been rumored for weeks. He’s a Colorado College graduate who has recently been working in the private sector at the Denver branch of the sprawling law firm WilmerHale.

In addition to his time in President Barack Obama’s administration and in Congress, Salazar served as Colorado’s attorney general.

Salazar grew up on a farm in the San Luis Valley where he spoke only Spanish at home. He is highly active in Democratic politics and in 2018 mulled a bid to become Colorado governor, ultimately deciding against launching a campaign, saying “my family’s well-being must come first.”

“President Biden has made a terrific choice in nominating Ken Salazar as the next ambassador to Mexico,” U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, said in a written statement. “Ken is a tremendous public servant with a strong record of bipartisanship in the United States Senate. He has always led with integrity, and I have great confidence in his ability to represent the United States. We, in Colorado, are proud of him and grateful for his service once again.”

Funding shortfalls, bureaucratic barriers hobble efforts to restore Colorado’s fire-scarred water systems — @WaterEdCO

Land scarred in Rocky Mountain National Park from the East Troublesome Fire, October 2020. Credit: Northern Water via Water Education Colorado

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

Major funding shortfalls and bureaucratic barriers between state, federal and private entities are hobbling efforts to clean up watersheds and protect drinking water for more than 1 million Coloradans this summer.

Berthoud-based Northern Water is Colorado’s second-largest water provider, behind Denver Water. It operates the federally owned Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which serves a number of Front Range cities as well as hundreds of farms, and its collection systems were devastated last summer by the massive East Troublesome and Cameron Peak fires. It estimates that it will cost more than $100 million over the next three to five years to clean up some 400,000 acres of its mountain system, which spans the Continental Divide in Grand County and Rocky Mountain National Park.

Federal funds that have been used in the past have been depleted as states across the American West have turned to the U.S. Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service for help restoring burned forest lands.

Colorado lawmakers this week stepped in to help, approving SB21-258, which creates two new grant funds totaling nearly $30 million designed to help utilities and local governments do more to address forest restoration and wildfire risk mitigation.

And while agencies like Northern say the cash is critical, it’s only a down payment on what is going to be needed to restore mountain water collection systems embedded in national forests.

“We’re very worried,” said Esther Vincent, Northern Water’s manager of environmental services. “The runoff season is upon us and we’re starting to see the black water.” She’s referring to the water laden with sediment and toxins entering streams from burn areas.

Colorado’s 10 largest fires on record have occurred since 2000, with seven of them happening in the last 10 years. The red circles indicate the number of acres burned in proportion to one another. Locations are approximate. Credit: Chas Chamberlin via Water Education Colorado

Vincent said working through Congress to get emergency funds and to address federal agency rules that limit how funds can be used on private and federal lands will take months and, more likely, years.

“There is a reasonable chance that the U.S. Forest Service may not see funding for this until 2022. But it’s really urgent that we do some of this work now,” Vincent said.

To address the crisis, Northern, as well as a number of cities and agencies across the state, have turned to Colorado’s congressional delegations for help. But so far, little progress has been made.

U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and his staff are working on finding small pools of cash across a variety of federal agencies in various states to help fund work this summer. And there is some hope, staffers said, that emergency cash might be set aside by Congress later this summer through a special disaster appropriation or through a national infrastructure bill.

But longer-term fixes are needed, said Troy Timmons, director of federal relations for the Western Governors Association.

“There is no one thing that is broken. There are statutory issues, like how the [NRCS] Emergency Watershed Protection Program operates, and the limitations on what the forest service can do. There are cultural issues with how all of these agencies interact with one another,” Timmons said. “There are a lot of threads here that need to be worked on.”

But for this summer, Northern and other water utilities across the state are focused on restoring their watersheds and finding the cash needed to fix them.

“It’s a vast landscape,” said Northern General Manager Brad Wind. “How do we fix a burn and at the same time keep looking forward and investing in our watersheds for the future?”

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

USDA to Invest More Than $4 Billion to Strengthen Food System

Research technician and Grand County rancher Wendy Thompson collects hay samples as part of a far-reaching experiment to see if ranchers can fallow hay meadows and conserve more water for the Colorado River. Credit: Dave Timko, This American Land. Aug. 12, 2020 via Water Education Colorado

Here’s the release from the USDA:

Citing lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and recent supply chain disruptions, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced plans to invest more than $4 billion to strengthen critical supply chains through the Build Back Better initiative. The new effort will strengthen the food system, create new market opportunities, tackle the climate crisis, help communities that have been left behind, and support good-paying jobs throughout the supply chain. Today’s announcement supports the Biden Administration’s broader work on strengthening the resilience of critical supply chains as directed by Executive Order 14017 America’s Supply Chains. Funding is provided by the American Rescue Plan Act and earlier pandemic assistance such as the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.

Secretary Vilsack was also named co-chair of the Administration’s new Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force. The Task Force will provide a whole of government response to address near-term supply chain challenges to the economic recovery. The Task Force will convene stakeholders to diagnose problems and surface solutions—large and small, public or private—that could help alleviate bottlenecks and supply constraints related to the economy’s reopening after the Administration’s historic vaccination and economic relief efforts.

USDA will invest more than $4 billion to strengthen the food system, support food production, improved processing, investments in distribution and aggregation, and market opportunities. Through the Build Back Better initiative, USDA will help to ensure the food system of the future is fair, competitive, distributed, and resilient; supports health with access to healthy, affordable food; ensures growers and workers receive a greater share of the food dollar; and advances equity as well as climate resilience and mitigation. While the Build Back Better initiative addresses near- and long-term issues, recent events have exposed the immediate need for action. With attention to competition and investments in additional small- and medium-sized meat processing capacity, the Build Back Better initiative will spur economic opportunity while increasing resilience and certainty for producers and consumers alike.

“The COVID-19 pandemic led to massive disruption for growers and food workers. It exposed a food system that was rigid, consolidated, and fragile. Meanwhile, those growing, processing and preparing our food are earning less each year in a system that rewards size over all else,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “The Build Back Better initiative will make meaningful investments to build a food system that is more resilient against shocks, delivers greater value to growers and workers, and offers consumers an affordable selection of healthy food produced and sourced locally and regionally by farmers and processors from diverse backgrounds. I am confident USDA’s investments will spur billions more in leveraged funding from the private sector and others as this initiative gains traction across the country. I look forward to getting to work as co-chair of the new Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force and help to mobilize a whole-of-government effort to address the short-term supply challenges our country faces as it recovers.”

The Build Back Better Initiative will strengthen and transform critical parts of the U.S. food system. As it makes investments through this initiative, USDA will also seek to increase transparency and competition with attention to how certain types of conduct in the livestock markets and the meat processing sector have resulted in thinly-traded markets and unfair treatment of some farmers, ranchers and small processors. Among other investments in the food system and food supply chain, Build Back Better will specifically address the shortage of small meat processing facilities across the country as well as the necessary local and regional food system infrastructure needed to support them.

Funding announcements under the Build Back Better initiative will include a mix of grants, loans, and innovative financing mechanisms for the following priorities, each of which includes mechanisms to tackle the climate crisis and help communities that have been left behind, including:

  1. Food Production: Food production relies on growers, including farmers and ranchers, workers, and critical inputs. But a diminishing share of the food dollar goes to these essential workers. USDA will invest in the current and future generation of food producers and workers throughout the food system with direct assistance, grants, training and technical assistance, and more.
  2. Food Processing: The pandemic highlighted challenges with consolidated processing capacity. It created supply bottlenecks, which led to a drop in effective plant and slaughter capacity. Small and midsize farmers often struggled to compete for processing access. USDA will make investments to support new and expanded regional processing capacity.
  3. Food Distribution & Aggregation: Food aggregation and distribution relies on people working together throughout the food system and having the right infrastructure to gather, move and hold the food where and when it is needed. This system was stressed during the pandemic due to long shipping distances and lack of investment in local and regional capacity. USDA will make investments in food system infrastructure that can remain resilient, flexible and responsive.
  4. Markets & Consumers: The U.S. spends more on health care and less on food than any other high-income nation; yet the U.S. has higher rates of diet-related illness and a lower life expectancy than those nations. At the same time, many socially disadvantaged and small and mid-sized producers do not have equitable access to markets. USDA will support new and expanded access to markets for a diversity of growers while helping eaters access healthy foods.

USDA will continue to make announcements through the Build Back Better initiative in the months to come. Today’s announcement is in addition to the $1 billion announced last week to purchase healthy food for food insecure Americans and build food bank capacity, putting the total announced thus far at more than $5 billion.

USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit http://www.usda.gov.

Biden administration suspends oil and gas leases in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — The Washington Post

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Photo credit:
Steven Chase, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

From The Washington Post (Juliet Eilperin and Joshua Partlow):

The Biden administration on Tuesday suspended oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, targeting one of President Donald Trump’s most significant environmental acts during his last days in office.

The move by the Interior Department, which could spark a major legal battle, dims the prospect of oil drilling in a pristine and politically charged expanse of Alaskan wilderness that Republicans and Democrats have fought over for four decades. The Trump administration auctioned off the right to drill in the refuge’s coastal plain — home to hundreds of thousands of migrating caribou and waterfowl as well as the southern Beaufort Sea’s remaining polar bears — just two weeks before President Biden was inaugurated.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – http://arctic.fws.gov/maps.htm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34787873

Now the Biden administration is taking steps to block those leases, citing problems with the environmental review process. In Tuesday’s Interior Department order, Secretary Deb Haaland said that a review of the Trump administration’s leasing program in the wildlife refuge found “multiple legal deficiencies” including “insufficient analysis” required by environmental laws and a failure to assess other alternatives. Haaland’s order calls for a temporary moratorium on all activities related to those leases in order to conduct “a new, comprehensive analysis of the potential environmental impacts of the oil and gas program.”

The step, coming just days after the Justice Department defended another drilling project on Alaska’s North Slope, underscores the balancing act the new administration aims to strike as it slows fossil fuel development on public lands. While Biden has paused new federal oil and gas leasing and pledged to drastically cut the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, he has taken a much more cautious approach toward most oil and gas operations approved under his predecessor.

Last week, Justice Department attorneys filed a brief defending ConocoPhillips’s Willow project, an oil reservoir on the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska that could hold up to 300 million barrels of oil. The administration also has defended the Trump administration’s decision to issue oil and gas leases in Wyoming and declined to press for the shutdown of the Dakota Access pipeline, a project Haaland protested while serving in Congress.

But Tuesday’s move signaled that the new administration was willing to take aggressive action in an area that has been a rallying cry for environmentalists for decades.

Area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain, looking south toward the Brooks Range. By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – images.fws.gov (image description page), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5787251

Report: The 10-year plan for conserving and restoring ‘America the Beautiful’ — NOAA

From NOAA (Scott Smullen):

[On May 6, 2021] NOAA and federal partners released the Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful report, a roadmap for a decade-long, inclusive, voluntary and locally-led effort to conserve at least 30% of lands and waters by 2030.

These conservation efforts build on five decades of NOAA’s work connecting people to places by conserving and restoring special marine, coastal and Great Lakes areas for the benefit of all Americans. This important work includes:

  • NOAA recently tripled the size of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary to protect 14 reefs and banks that are habitat for recreationally important fishing.
  • NOAA will soon publish a final rule regarding a proposal to designate a new sanctuary, the Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Michigan. When finalized, the designation will expand public and recreational access to the area’s 36 known shipwreck sites.
  • NOAA and the State of Connecticut are working together to designate a new National Estuarine Research Reserve, expected in January 2022, which will create a “living classroom” for research and education on Long Island Sound.
  • Access the report and learn more about the principles in place for conserving the nation’s land and water.

    Advocates For Tribal #Water Access Are Asking Congress To Earmark Money For Projects On Native Land — KUER

    From KUER (Kate Groetzinger):

    The COVID-19 pandemic revealed a clear connection between access to clean water and public health, according to Navajo tribal member Bidtah Becker.

    Becker is part of a group called the Water & Tribes Initiative that advocates for water access in Indian Country. She said the pandemic has made it easier to ask Congress for money to solve the problem.

    “The conversation has shifted from, ‘Oh no, you could never get that amount of money.’ And there’s always a little subtext of, ‘Are you really deserving of that money?’” she said. “Now it’s like, ‘Yes. Everybody needs clean drinking water. No questions asked.”

    Becker said a significant amount of funding is needed to bring clean, running water to every Native American household in the U.S.

    Her group hired University of Utah law professor Heather Tanana to compile a report on the issues tribes in the Colorado River Basin face when it comes to clean water delivery. Tanana, who is Navajo, looked at four components: lack of infrastructure, contamination, increasing demand and insufficient maintenance funding.

    “Even though we only looked at the Colorado River Basin tribes, we can confidently say every tribe in the U.S. is dealing with one of these issues,” she said.

    “Now is the time”: Biden official joins #Colorado leaders in burn zone to plot fight against #climate-driven megafires — The #Denver Post #ActOnClimate

    A burnt sign on Larimer County Road 103 near Chambers Lake. The fire started in the area near Cameron Peak, which it is named after. The fire burned over 200,000 acres during its three-month run. Photo courtesy of Kate Stahla via the University of Northern Colorado

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    Wind blowing down from burned forests caressed a knoll where leaders from the Biden administration and Congress sat in camp chairs Friday, looking over charts showing massive new fire breaks along Colorado’s Front Range, mobilizing to combat cascading climate warming impacts…

    Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a key player in carrying out President Joe Biden’s climate agenda, anchored this summit, calling the intensification of wildfires in the West a crisis and declaring “now is the time to dramatically infuse resources into forests.”

    Americans “are becoming more sensitive to climate change, and forests play an incredibly important role. We’re committed to a net-zero U.S. agriculture industry by 2050, but that won’t make any difference if our forests continue to burn up… Hopefully people will see the necessity of investing,” Vilsack said in an interview.

    @Interior Department Takes Steps to Revoke Final Rule on Migratory Bird Treaty Act Incidental Take

    Photo credit: The Department of Interior

    Here’s the release from the Department of Interior:

    Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a proposed rule to revoke the January 7, 2021, final regulation that limited the scope of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). Significant concerns about the interpretation of the MBTA have been raised by the public, legal challenges in court and from the international treaty partners.

    This proposed rule provides the public with notice of the Service’s intent to revoke the January 7 rule’s interpretation of the MBTA and return to implementing the MBTA as prohibiting incidental take and applying enforcement discretion, consistent with judicial precedent.

    “The Migratory Bird Treaty Act is a bedrock environmental law that is critical to protecting migratory birds and restoring declining bird populations,” said Secretary Deb Haaland. “Today’s actions will serve to better align Interior with its mission and ensure that our decisions are guided by the best-available science.”

    “Migratory bird conservation is an integral part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s mission,” said Service Principal Deputy Director Martha Williams. “We have heard from our partners, the public, Tribes, states and numerous other stakeholders from across the country that it is imperative the previous administration’s rollback of the MBTA be reviewed to ensure continued progress toward commonsense standards that protect migratory birds.”

    On January 7, the Service published a final rule defining the scope of the MBTA as it applies to conduct resulting in the injury or death of migratory birds protected by the MBTA. This rule made significant changes to the scope of the MBTA to exclude incidental take of migratory birds, with an effective date of February 8.

    The Service extended the effective date until March 8 and opened a public comment period. Rather than extending the effective date again, the agency believes the most transparent and efficient path forward is instead to immediately propose to revoke the rule.

    The Service requests public comments on issues of fact, law and policy raised by the MBTA rule published on January 7. Public comments must be received or postmarked on or before June 7, 2021. The notice will be available at http://www.regulations.gov, Docket Number: FWS-HQ-MB-2018-0090, and will include details on how to submit your comments.

    The agency will not accept email or faxes. If you provided comments in response to the February 9, 2021, notice to extend the effective date, you do not need to resubmit those comments. All comments will be considered.

    On March 8, 2021, Interior rescinded the 2017 Solicitor’s Opinion M-37050 on the MBTA that had overturned decades of bipartisan and international consensus. The reasoning and basis behind that M-Opinion were soundly rejected in federal court. The Endangered Species Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, as well as state laws and regulations, are not affected by the Solicitor’s Opinion M-37050 or the January 7 final regulation.

    All the documents related to the rulemaking process and further information are available at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s regulations page.

    Senate Passes $35 Billion Water Bill, but Bigger Infrastructure Fights Loom — The New York Times

    Water infrastructure as sidewalk art

    From The New York Times (Emily Cochrane):

    he Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a $35 billion measure to clean up the nation’s water systems, offering a brief moment of bipartisan cooperation amid deep divisions between the two parties over President Biden’s much larger ambitions for a multitrillion-dollar infrastructure package.

    Republicans and Democrats alike hailed passage of the bill on an 89-to-2 vote as evidence that bipartisan compromise is possible on infrastructure initiatives, but lawmakers in both parties suggested that the spirit of deal-making could be fleeting.

    Mr. Biden and Democratic leaders have said they want Republican support for a broad infrastructure package that aims to improve the nation’s aging public works system and address economic and racial inequities, after pushing a nearly $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill into law with just Democratic votes. But Republicans have panned those proposals, which are to be financed with tax increases on high earners and corporations, and Democrats have said they may have to move them unilaterally if no compromise can be reached.

    “We’re trying to work in a bipartisan way whenever we can — and this bill is a classic example,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, said of the water bill. “It doesn’t mean that we’ll be able to do the whole thing bipartisan, but we’ll do as much as we can.”

    The legislation approved on Thursday would authorize funding to shore up the nation’s water systems, particularly in rural and tribal communities that have long been neglected and suffer from poor sanitation and unclean drinking water. A House Democratic aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said House committees had their own substantial proposals and looked forward to negotiations.

    Archuleta County designated as #wolf reintroduction sanctuary — The #PagosaSprings Sun

    Image from Grand County on June 6, 2020 provided courtesy of Jessica Freeman via Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney):

    “Artificially introduced” wolves are not welcome in Archuleta County, according to the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC).

    At a work session held by the BoCC on April 6, the board discussed a trio of statewide concerns, including its opposition to the reintroduction of Canadian gray wolves within the county.

    Commissioner Alvin Schaaf expressed his concerns and dissatisfaction with the recent approval of Colorado Proposition 114, Gray Wolf Reintroduction Initiative, that was passed in November 2020.

    “It’s a hard pill to swallow when our citizens, the majority voted no on this topic and it’s still getting shoved down our throats just because there’s more population in the greater Denver area,” Schaaf said.

    Later that day, the BoCC approved Resolution 2021-26, reaffirming the county’s opposition to the reintroduction of the wolves and specifically designating Archuleta County as a wolf reintroduction sanctuary…

    “They’re already here. I don’t know why we’re reintroducing something that already exists,” Schaaf added.

    Resolution 2021-26 highlights how the proposition was approved by voters “in only five western slope counties, including Pitkin, Summit, San Miguel, San Juan and La Plata Counties.”
    At the work session, Schaaf stated, “It seems like a constant attack on the rural way of life and the ability of the American people to make a living and provide food.”

    Beef cattle on a feedlot in the Texas Panhandle. Photo credit: Wikimedia

    “A lot of people that live in the highly populated areas don’t understand the rural lifestyle,” Maez added. “I think in the populated areas, they need to teach them where their food comes from.”

    […]

    The resolution declares Archuleta County “to be a Wolf Reintroduction Sanctuary County, allowing only for the natural migration and repopulation of Gray Wolves without the competi- tion from artificially introduced wolves.”

    Colorado County Map via Geology.com

    Joint Statement from Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on the Western #Water Crisis

    Klamath River Basin. Map credit: American Rivers

    From The Department of Interior (Deb Haaland and Tom Vilsack):

    In response to worsening drought conditions in the West, including in areas like the Klamath River Basin, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack released the following statement:

    “Water is a sacred resource essential to feeding families, growing crops, sustaining wildlife and the environment, and powering agricultural businesses. Unfortunately, drought conditions in the West continue to worsen, including in areas like the Klamath River Basin, leading to the potential for historically low water allocations. The Departments of the Interior and Agriculture recognize the urgency of this crisis and its impacts on farmers, Tribes, and communities, and are committed to an all-hands-on-deck approach that both minimizes the impacts of the drought and develops a long-term plan to facilitate conservation and economic growth. Our agencies are actively working with Oregon, California and other western states to coordinate resources and identify immediate financial and technical assistance for impacted irrigators and Tribes. We are also committed to robust and continued engagement with state, local, and Tribal governments to develop longer term measures to respond to climate change and improve water security.”

    The Biden administration’s critical role in Indian Country — @HighCountryNews

    Graphic credit: The High Country News

    From The High Country News [March 18, 2021] (Anna V. Smith):

    Four important decisions will impact the forests, lands and waters of tribal nations.

    Tribal leaders see President Joe Biden’s administration as an opportunity to increase tribal consultation regarding issues like water management, oil and gas leasing, and land conservation. Here, we look at four major projects — all of them years in the making — that the new administration is tasked with advancing in the next four years. Most fall under the Department of the Interior, now headed by its first Indigenous secretary, Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo).

    Tongass National Forest near Ketchikan Alaska. By Mark Brennan from Oakton, Virginia, United States of America – Tongass National Forest, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3874880

    TONGASS NATIONAL FOREST MANAGEMENT

    On his first day in office, Biden issued an executive order to revisit the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Trump-era decision to exempt Alaska’s Tongass National Forest from a federal rule protecting 9.3 million acres of it from logging, mining and roadways. The Trump administration raced through the process despite the pandemic. The Tongass — the largest national forest in the U.S. — serves as a massive carbon sink and is of national importance. It also supports the old-growth red cedar, Sitka black-tailed deer and salmon that the Alaska Native tribes of the region rely on. None of the Southeast Alaska Native tribes who participated in the consultation process supported the exemption, and all withdrew in protest.

    In addition to reviewing the Tongass protections, the Biden administration also has to decide on a rule proposed by 11 Southeast Alaska Native tribes in July 2020. The Traditional Homelands Conservation Rule would increase the role of Alaska Native tribes in the management of the forest’s trees, wildlife and waters. The tribes proposed the rule after decades of inadequate tribal consultation on the Tongass, their ancestral and current homeland.


    From the 2018 Tribal Water Study, this graphic shows the location of the 29 federally-recognized tribes in the Colorado River Basin. Map credit: USBR

    COLORADO RIVER BASIN GUIDELINES BY 2026

    Negotiations among federal, tribal and state governments on water flows and allocations in the Colorado River Basin began last year and are set to conclude by 2026. At stake is the water supply for 40 million people.

    The current set of interim guidelines was created in 2007 by the seven basin states — Colorado, Arizona, Utah, California, Nevada, Wyoming and New Mexico — and the federal government. None of the 29 federally recognized tribes in the Colorado River Basin were consulted, despite having senior water rights that account for 20% of the river’s water.

    The negotiations are happening amid some of the most serious drought predictions the region has seen; in January, the river’s drought contingency plan was triggered for the first time. Climate change has brought extreme drought conditions to about 75% of the river’s Upper Basin, and that will no doubt influence the tenor of the negotiations.

    Klamath River Basin. Map credit: American Rivers

    KLAMATH RIVER DAM REMOVAL IN 2023

    After years of political, social and regulatory barriers, the undamming of the Klamath River is within sight. When — or if — it’s completed, it will be the largest dam removal effort in U.S. history, bringing down four out of six dams on the river in southern Oregon and Northern California , including one that’s 103 years old. For now, the project is on track to begin in 2023, and by 2024 there could be free-flowing water in the river, opening up some 400 miles of habitat in California for salmon, lamprey and trout. The nonprofit charged with the dam removals, the Klamath River Renewal Corporation, still needs the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee, which is headed by political appointees, to approve its current plan.

    Last year’s drought created more conflict over water allocations on the Klamath. In, August, the Bureau of Reclamation cancelled promised water flows for the Yurok Tribe’s Ceremonial Boat Dance. In response, the Yurok Tribe sued the agency. The federal government will need to bring stakeholders together for a large-scale agreement to end this cycle of seasonal litigation, something the Obama administration attempted unsuccessfully to do.

    Oil and gas development on the Roan via Airphotona

    OIL AND GAS LEASING PERMIT PAUSE ON FEDERAL LANDS

    In late January, when Joe Biden signed multiple executive orders to address the “climate crisis,” he ordered Interior to put a temporary moratorium on new oil and gas leases on public lands and offshore waters. The administration called for a review of the leasing and royalties process, citing climate impacts and their growing cost, and specifically requested a review of leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. President Donald Trump’s outgoing administration had opened ANWR for sale just weeks before Biden took office.

    Biden’s executive orders don’t impact existing leases, or oil and gas on tribal lands. But much of the tribal opposition involves activities on ancestral territory that is currently public land, sometimes carried out without adequate tribal consultation. The Arctic Refuge and places like New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon have been flashpoints of conflict over leasing, and many advocates want Biden to extend the pause as a permanent ban. This was a key sticking point for many Republican senators during Haaland’s confirmation hearings, which Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., described as a “proxy fight over the future of fossil fuels.”

    Anna V. Smith is an assistant editor for High Country News. Email us at editor@hcn.org.

    On day one, @DebHaalandNM addresses Indigenous media — @HighCountryNews

    Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland is sworn into office by Vice President Kamala Harris. Haaland’s family surrounds her, and her daughter Somah Haaland holds a Bible. Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images via The High Country News

    From The High Country News [March 18, 2021] (Graham Lee Brewer):

    On her first official day in office, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland met briefly with a group of 10 Indigenous journalists from national, local and tribal publications, including High Country News. The press conference, which was organized by the Interior Department and the Native American Journalists Association, appears to be a sign of the kind of increased access Haaland is willing to offer tribal media. As Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna, has noted many times, both in her capacity as a member of Congress and a Cabinet nominee, she intends to make tribal concerns and regular consultation a significant part of her agenda. Here are some highlights from the half-hour session:

    • Haaland spoke directly about her desire to involve tribes in federal decision-making in a new and unprecedented way. Tribal governments have long felt overlooked when it comes to consultation on federal contracts and land-management decisions, and their opinions have often been outright dismissed. Haaland said that she is determined to end that cycle. “So often everyone thinks that the BIA is the only location where Indian issues should be addressed, and we know that’s not true. Indian issues need to be addressed across the entire government.” She added that it’s important to consult with tribes early in any process, before decisions are made, and to give them proper access — no longer restricting public comments to online forums, for example, particularly when the tribal community in question might have limited broadband access. “I want the era when tribes were on the back burner to be over.”

    • Tribal consultation also came up concerning the Biden administration’s commitment to protecting 30% of the country’s lands and water by the year 2030. Haaland touched on the necessity to revisit the boundaries of Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments, as well as of New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon National Historical Park, an area that is part of some important ancestral homelands, including her own. Haaland said that management decisions have to be made between all the parties involved, including the public and tribes. “I know that a lot of people rely on pristine environment for the outdoor economy industry that is all over this country, so I think taking a balanced approach is absolutely something that we would like to do.”

    • Assistant Secretary to the Interior Brian Newland, a citizen of the Bay Mills Indian Community (Ojibwe), also participated in the press briefing, and he indicated that the tribal recognition process — through which tribes seek federal recognition and access to federal funding and cultural protections — could evolve under Haaland’s tenure as well. “The department is consulting right now on a remand from two federal courts to look at whether tribes can petition again after they’ve been denied federal recognition from the department. We’ve gotten some feedback from the tribal consultation process and is something we are actively working on.” He added that the Biden administration is making it a priority to examine how lands are moved into federal trust, which is the process by which tribes turn private land into tribal-held land within their jurisdiction.

    • Haaland shared an interesting anecdote from her early discussion with U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican and citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, regarding the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to restore the reservation of the Muskogee (Creek) Nation. The decision has rippled across eastern Oklahoma and will likely lead to the restoration of four other reservations. Haaland said that, after the decision, she called Cole to ask for his advice; an Oklahoma court decision this month reaffirmed the Chickasaw Nation’s reservation boundaries. “He said, ‘Let the tribes talk it out, let the tribes come to their own decision, they should not have any interference from Congress at this point. They need to be able to make their own decision.’ So, I want to respect tribes in every possible way.” Oklahoma’s attorney general, members of its congressional delegation, and some tribes, including the Chickasaw Nation, believe that Congress should play a role in resolving the lingering issues created when the state of Oklahoma, for over a century, illegally assumed criminal jurisdiction over the land in question.

    • Haaland also made what appeared to be her first public comments about the citizenship of Freedmen, the descendants of those formerly held in the bondage of slavery by tribes; she has been criticized for co-sponsoring the reauthorization of the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act in 2019, which excluded Freedmen descendants from housing assistance. Haaland acknowledged the complicated nature of the issue, noting that even some of her immediate family members cannot enroll in her tribe due to the Pueblo of Laguna’s citizenship requirements. Haaland said the housing bill must be reauthorized constantly to assist tribes. “Largely, for me, it is seen as a positive thing, helping tribes to navigate those issues so that they can provide.” She said she’s open to speaking with tribal governments that want to discuss the issue and is eager to “respect the tribes’ sovereignty and authority to determine membership.”

    • In her opening remarks, Haaland spoke of the devastating effects COVID-19 has had on Indigenous communities, noting that more than 80% of the Interior employees who died from the disease had worked in offices of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. A spokesperson for Interior later confirmed that 26 of the agency’s employees had died from the virus, and that 22 of them had been working in Indian Affairs.

    Graham Lee Brewer is an associate editor at High Country News and a member of the Cherokee Nation. Email him at grahamb@hcn.org.

    North American Indian regional losses 1850 thru 1890.

    Deb Haaland Becomes First Native American Cabinet Secretary — The New York Times

    Oil and gas development on the Roan via Airphotona

    From The New York Times (Coral Davenport):

    The Senate confirmed Ms. Haaland to lead the Interior Department. She’ll be charged with essentially reversing the agency’s course over the past four years.

    Dozens of tribal leaders have called upon Biden to appoint U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M, an enrolled tribal member of the Laguna Pueblo. Photo credit: Bridget Badore via High Country News

    Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico made history on Monday when the Senate confirmed her as President Biden’s secretary of the Interior, making her the first Native American to lead a cabinet agency.

    Ms. Haaland in 2018 became one of the first two Native American women elected to the House. But her new position is particularly redolent of history because the department she now leads has spent much of its history abusing or neglecting America’s Indigenous people.

    Beyond the Interior Department’s responsibility for the well-being of the nation’s 1.9 million Native people, it oversees about 500 million acres of public land, federal waters off the United States coastline, a huge system of dams and reservoirs across the Western United States and the protection of thousands of endangered species.

    “A voice like mine has never been a Cabinet secretary or at the head of the Department of Interior,” she wrote on Twitter before the vote. “Growing up in my mother’s Pueblo household made me fierce. I’ll be fierce for all of us, our planet, and all of our protected land.”

    Republican opposition to her confirmation centered on Ms. Haaland’s history of fighting against oil and gas exploration, and the deliberations around her nomination highlighted her emerging role in the public debates on climate change, energy policy and racial equity. She was confirmed on a 51-40 vote. Only four Republican senators — Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — voted for Ms. Haaland’s confirmation…

    The new interior secretary will be charged with essentially reversing the agency’s mission over the past four years. The Interior Department, led by David Bernhardt, a former oil lobbyist, played a central role in the Trump administration’s systematic rollback of environmental regulations and the opening up of the nation’s lands and waters to drilling and mining.

    Ms. Haaland is expected to quickly halt new drilling, reinstate wildlife conservation rules, rapidly expand wind and solar power on public lands and waters, and place the Interior Department at the center of Mr. Biden’s climate agenda.

    At the same time, Ms. Haaland will quite likely assume a central role in realizing Mr. Biden’s promise to make racial equity a theme in his administration. Ms. Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo who identifies herself as a 35th-generation New Mexican, will assume control of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Indian Education, where she can address the needs of a population that has suffered from abuse and dislocation at the hands of the United States government for generations, and that has been disproportionately devastated by the coronavirus…

    As the agency takes on a newly muscular role in addressing climate change, she added, the department “will have to deal with new strategies for managing more intense wildfires on public land and chronic drought in the West. It’s hard to overstate the challenges with water.”

    Among the first and most contentious items on Ms. Haaland’s to-do list will be enacting Mr. Biden’s campaign pledge to ban new permits for oil and gas projects on public lands…

    Ms. Haaland’s ability to implement that ban successfully could have major consequences both for the climate and for the Biden administration. According to one study by Interior Department scientists, the emissions associated with fossil fuel drilling on public lands account for about a quarter of the nation’s greenhouse gases. But the policy will most likely be enacted at a time when gasoline prices are projected to soar — spurring almost-certain political blowback from Republicans ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

    For the drilling ban to survive legal challenges, experts say, Ms. Haaland will have to move with care.

    “They may attempt a total ban, but that would be more vulnerable to a court challenge,” said Marcella Burke, an energy policy lawyer and former Interior Department official. “Or there’s the ‘death by a thousand cuts’ approach.”

    That approach would make oil drilling less feasible by creating such stringent regulations and cleanup rules that exploration would not be worth the cost…

    Ms. Haaland is also expected to revisit the Trump administration’s rollback of habitat protections under the Endangered Species Act. Under the Trump rules, it became easier to remove a species from the endangered list, and for the first time, regulators were allowed to conduct economic assessments — for instance, estimating lost revenue from a prohibition on logging in a critical habitat — when deciding whether a species warrants protection.

    Such rules led to an exodus of staff, particularly from the Fish and Wildlife Service, Mr. Clement said…

    The Interior Department also must submit a detailed new plan by June 2022 that lays out how the federal government will manage the vast outer continental shelf off the American coastline, an area rich in marine wilderness and undersea oil and gas resources.

    Given Mr. Biden’s pledge to ban new drilling, the new offshore management plan will quite likely reimpose Obama-era policies that barred oil exploration on the entire East and West Coasts of the United States — while possibly going further, by limiting drilling off the coasts of Alaska and in the Gulf of Mexico. But writing the legal, economic and scientific justifications will be difficult…

    As the department moves against offshore drilling, it is expected to help ramp up offshore wind farms. Last week, the agency took a major step toward approving the nation’s first large-scale offshore wind farm, near Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., a project that had been in the works for years.

    10th Circuit Lifts Injunction in #Colorado Challenge of [President 45] Waters of the United States Rule — Lexology #WOTUS

    Ephemeral streams are streams that do not always flow. They are above the groundwater reservoir and appear after precipitation in the area. Via Socratic.org

    From Lexology (Allison A. Torrence):

    On March 2, 2021, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a ruling from the United States District Court for the District of Colorado in the case of Colorado v. EPA, et al., Nos. 20-1238, 20-1262, and 20-1263, that had issued a preliminary injunction blocking implementation of the Trump Administration’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule (“NWPR”) in the State of Colorado. Under the Tenth Circuit ruling, the NWPR was put back into force, and the State of Colorado’s case was remanded back to district court for further proceedings challenging the rule…

    A number of lawsuits were filed challenging the NWPR, including Colorado v. EPA. The Colorado case was significant because Colorado sought, and was granted, a preliminary injunction blocking implementation of the NWPR in the State of Colorado. The State had argued that by reducing the reach of the Clean Water Act, the NWPR caused irreparable injury to the State because Colorado would be forced to undertake additional enforcement actions in place of the federal government to protect the quality of its waterways. While the district court had found this to be sufficient injury to support the State’s preliminary injunction, the Tenth Circuit found that it was too speculative and uncertain. Thus, the preliminary injunction was rejected and reversed because the State of Colorado could not show irreparable injury. Notably, the Tenth Circuit did not address the merits of the State’s challenge to the NWPR.

    Additionally, prior to the Tenth Circuit’s ruling, EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers had requested the court hold the appeal in abeyance for 60 days in light of the new leadership at the agencies following the election of President Biden. The court denied the request and issued its ruling lifting the preliminary injunction the following day. The Biden Administration has indicated it is reviewing the NWPR and may want to make changes to broaden the definition of “Waters of the United States” once again. If that is the case, the agencies may look to settle the Colorado case and other similar litigation with a promise of changes to come.

    Former @ColoradoStateU adviser Tom Vilsack confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture — The #FortCollins Coloradoan

    Tom Vilsack, was confirmed as secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture on February 23, 2021. Photo credit: Colorado State University

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Molly Bohannon):

    The U.S. Senate on Tuesday confirmed Tom Vilsack, a former Colorado State University System special adviser, as the agriculture secretary in the Biden administration.

    The Senate voted 92-7 to approve Vilsack’s nomination.

    Vilsack joined the CSU System in 2017 as a strategic adviser of food and water initiatives at CSU Spur for the Colorado State University System. He also worked as the global chair for the International Board of Counselors on Food and Water Initiatives.

    At his Feb. 2 hearing, Vilsack said he plans to prioritize pandemic recovery and climate change during his term. He also spoke of the importance of racial justice and equity and how he hopes to change the USDA…

    This will be Vilsack’s second term as the secretary of agriculture as he held the position for eight years in the Obama White House.

    Interior Department Welcomes Newest Members of Leadership Team — @Interior

    Here’s the release from the U.S. Department of Interior:

    The Department of the Interior today announced additional members of the agency leadership team working to steward America’s natural, cultural and historic resources, and honor our nation-to-nation relationship with Tribes.

    “As we work to advance President Biden’s vision for a clean energy future that creates good-paying jobs, protects the environment, and powers our nation, we are thrilled to welcome our newest teammates. The diverse experiences of our staff will help us address the four intersecting challenges that the president has made a priority for his administration: COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity and climate change — all of which disproportionately impact Tribal communities with whom we have a critical trust responsibility,” said Jennifer Van der Heide, Chief of Staff.

    Previous leadership announcements can be found here and here. Interior’s political team proudly reflects the diversity of America, with more than 50% identifying as BIPOC (black, Indigenous and people of color) and 80% as women.

    The appointees are listed below in alphabetical order along with their new role:

  • Shakiyya Bland, Ed.D. – Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow, Office of the Secretary
  • Daniel Cordalis – Deputy Solicitor, Water
  • Nada Culver – Deputy Director, Policy and Programs, Bureau of Land Management
  • Bryan Newland – Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Indian Affairs
  • Biographies are listed below:

    Shakiyya Bland, Ed.D. – Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow, Office of the Secretary
    Shakiyya Bland is an educator, mathematics curriculum designer, and equity leader with more than 10 years of experience. Shakiyya produces culturally responsive instructional strategies to support scholars’ racial and cultural identities as contributors to STEM education. Shakiyya is an educational consultant, Institute for Teachers of Color femtor, BetterLesson, Inc. Master Teacher, KSDE Culturally Relevant Pedagogy Consultant, and Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow. She has served as a Congressional Policy Fellow for the past seven months in Representative Deb Haaland’s office managing priority issues, conducting research, developing legislation and strategies for legislative priorities, and managing and responding to constituent correspondence.

    Daniel Cordalis – Deputy Solicitor, Water
    Daniel Cordalis has more than a decade of experience working on natural resource and complex water and land management issues on behalf of Tribal governments and conservation groups. Daniel most recently worked in private practice. He previously was an attorney with Earthjustice, the Yurok Tribe, and clerked for the Colorado Supreme Court and the Native American Rights Fund. After graduating from Rice University, Daniel received a M.A. focused on hydrology and a J.D. from the University of Colorado, Boulder. Raised in southwest Colorado, Daniel is a Navajo Tribal member and lives with his family outside Arcata, California.

    Nada Culver – Deputy Director, Policy and Programs, Bureau of Land Management
    Nada Wolff Culver most recently served as the Vice President, Public Lands and Senior Policy Counsel at the National Audubon Society. Prior to joining Audubon, Nada was the Senior Counsel and Senior Director for Policy and Planning at The Wilderness Society. Nada began her career in the private sector, working on a variety of environmental issues including energy development and environmental remediation, and was a partner with the law firm of Patton Boggs. She is a graduate of Northwestern University and the University of Pennsylvania School of Law.

    Bryan Newland – Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Indian Affairs
    Bryan Newland is a citizen of the Bay Mills Indian Community (Ojibwe), where he recently completed his tenure as Tribal President. Prior to that, Bryan served as Chief Judge of the Bay Mills Tribal Court. From 2009 to 2012, he served as a Counselor and Policy Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of the Interior – Indian Affairs. He is a graduate of Michigan State University and the Michigan State University College of Law. Bryan enjoys hiking and kayaking the shores of Lake Superior, and is a nature photography enthusiast.

    A member of the Yurok Tribe pulls salmon from his gill net on the Klamath River on the Yurok Indian Reservation in Northern California, July 2015. This April, a district court judge ruled that endangered salmon on the Klamath are entitled to prioritized protection. Photo credit: Terray Sylvester via High Country News

    Interior Announces Plans to Strengthen #LWCF

    Fly fishing below Olympus Dam (Colorado-Big Thompson Project) September 17, 2015 via the Bureau of Reclamation

    Here’s the release from the Department of Interior:

    The Interior Department today took steps to strengthen the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) by rescinding Trump administration policies that significantly undermined the landmark conservation program. Secretarial Order 3396 revokes an order signed on November 9, 2020 (Secretarial Order 3388) that unilaterally imposed new restrictions to inhibit the availability of LWCF funding for federal land and water acquisitions.

    “The Land and Water Conservation Fund has been crucial to protecting public lands, conserving wildlife habitats, and improving access to outdoor recreation. Interior’s actions today affirm our support for one of America’s most successful and popular conservation programs,” said Shannon A. Estenoz, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Fish and Wildlife and Parks. “We look forward to further strengthening this successful program to ensure that all communities – from hikers and sportsmen to urban and underserved communities – have access to nature and the great outdoors.”

    In addition to rescinding the November 2020 Bernhardt policy, Secretarial Order 3396 instructs the National Park Service to revise the Land and Water Conservation Fund Assistance Manual to remove the restrictive policies implemented in the previous order, and to reinstate pre-existing implementation of the LWCF state assistance program and Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership (ORLP) program. The ORLP program is the only LWCF competitive grant program dedicated to addressing the recreational gap in underserved urban areas.

    Since its inception in 1965, the LWCF has funded $4 billion worth of projects in every county in the country. Last year, Congress permanently funded the LWCF at $900 million per year with wide bipartisan support. At no cost to taxpayers, the LWCF supports increased public access to and protection for federal public lands and waters – including national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and recreation areas – and provides matching grants to state and tribal governments for the acquisition and development of public parks and other outdoor recreation sites.

    Interior department announces plans to strengthen #LWCF implementation, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers commends decision

    Elk mountains via the Colorado River District.

    Here’s the release from the Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (Walker Conyngham):

    Interior order reverses restrictions, restores funding for public access programs, repeals damaging changes put in place by the Trump administration

    The Interior Department today announced its intent to restore clarity to the implementation of and elevate conservation and access programs in the Land and Water Conservation Fund, reversing damaging measures put in place by former Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and reinstating bipartisan language passed overwhelmingly by Congress in the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act and the Great American Outdoors Act.

    The secretarial order from Acting Interior Secretary Scott de la Vega rescinds the order from the previous administration, removing a litany of rules governing deployment of LWCF funds that effectively eliminated funding for land acquisition projects by the Bureau of Land Management and stipulated that state and local officials could veto LWCF-funded land acquisitions from willing sellers (thereby infringing on the rights of private landowners). Interior’s new order also restores the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership program, LWCF’s only competitive grant program dedicated to underserved recreation needs in urban areas – a program experiencing increased demands and needs.

    Backcountry Hunters & Anglers for years has advocated for LWCF’s permanent reauthorization and full, dedicated funding and had strongly criticized the actions by the former administration at the time they were announced. BHA welcomed today’s action by the Biden administration.

    “No other federal program has achieved such substantial, durable outcomes – outcomes that have benefited every county and citizens nationwide – than the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” said BHA President and CEO Land Tawney. “Over and over again, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers members have joined with other sportsmen and women, recreationists, business owners and others to stand up for LWCF. Today we offer thanks to the Biden administration for heeding the wishes of the people and the intent of bipartisan lawmakers to restore clarity and purpose to LWCF implementation.

    “For over half a century, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has enhanced public access, conserved critical fish and wildlife habitat and bolstered state and local recreation infrastructure,” Tawney continued. “It’s well established as the most effective and popular conservation and access program in the country. BHA looks forward to working with the Biden administration to ensure that crucial LWCF funds are deployed in ways that will open up public recreational and access opportunities and sustain important populations of fish and wildlife, continuing a national outdoors legacy that is unique the world over.”

    Advanced by Congress and signed into law last August, the Great American Outdoors Act achieved a longtime BHA goal by securing resources for deferred maintenance needs on public lands and ensuring full and dedicated funding at $900 million annually for LWCF. The Dingell Act, which became law in 2019, responded to the outspoken advocacy by millions of Americans, including sportsmen and women, by permanently reauthorizing LWCF.

    @POTUS administration cancels last-minute Trump executive order on Land and Water Conservation Fund — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette #LWCF

    Mystic Island Lake, Holy Cross Wilderness Area, south of Eagle, Colorado. By CoMtMan – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12260170

    From Colorado Politics (Marianne Goodland) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

    The Biden administration Thursday canceled a Trump administration executive order, issued on the day before the former president’s last day in office, that stripped a program designed to improve access to federal recreation for underserved communities, among other provisions.

    On Jan. 19, then-Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt announced grants totaling $452 million. Colorado’s share was $5,172,872.

    Priority for grants totaling $302 million, according to an Interior news release, would be given “to projects that improve physical connectivity between federal and state-managed lands for recreational opportunities such as hunting, hiking, fishing, boating, camping and wildlife observation.”

    Another $150 million would be allocated in grants in a competitive bid process, allowed under the Great American Outdoors Act, a bill sponsored by then-Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma.

    But the total is about half of what Congress appropriated for the LWCF and left off projects approved for funding in the 2020 budget year.

    In addition, $125 million in funding for the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Program was rerouted to other Interior priorities. The program supports parks and greenspace projects in cities, urban areas and historically underserved communities.

    The LWCF was approved by Congress for permanent authorization in 2019. Through the Great American Outdoors Act, the LWCF was finally approved for full funding of $900 million per year.

    The program dates back to the 1950s and the Eisenhower administration. In 1965, the LWCF was fully funded for the first time; since then, Colorado has seen more than 1,000 projects covered by LWCF funding, according to the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife. Its funding comes from federal oil and gas drilling lease revenues from offshore sites. However, over its history, much of its funding has been siphoned off for other purposes, according to the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition, a nongovernmental nonprofit that advocates for the LWCF.

    Specifically, the coalition said, the order “misuses LWCF funds, patently violates LWCF’s underlying statutes as well as the FY 2021 appropriations law, and undermines conservation and recreation projects across the country. Particularly objectionable is the blatant attempt to simply erase the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership program and siphon away funding that Congress specifically directed to provide equitable and just park access to underserved communities who need it most.”

    On Wednesday, the coalition, backed by 100 members of Congress, called on the Biden administration to rescind the order. Among the signatories: U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette, D-Denver; Jason Crow, D-Aurora, and Joe Neguse, D-Boulder.

    The letter to the acting secretary of the Interior noted that the Trump administration undermined the LWCF for months after the Great American Outdoors Act was signed…

    In the Thursday announcement to rescind the order, the Interior Department news release said that Secretarial Order 3396 “instructs the National Park Service to revise the Land and Water Conservation Fund Assistance Manual to remove the restrictive policies implemented in the previous order, and to reinstate preexisting implementation of the LWCF state assistance program and Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership (ORLP) program.”

    The coalition cheered the decision Thursday. In a statement, coalition spokesman Tom Cors, director of government relations for lands at The Nature Conservancy, said the administration’s decision is “a swift and decisive step toward reversing the damaging policies of the previous Administration and unleashing the full potential of the Land and Water Conservation Fund in its first year of full funding.”

    @potus signs order that includes lease moratorium for oil and gas development on federal lands, #water — The #KiowaCounty Press #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Oil and gas development on the Roan via Airphotona

    From The Center Square (Derek Draplin) via The Kiowa County Press:

    President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed an executive order halting new leases for oil and natural gas development on federal land, a move criticized by the industry and some state governors.

    “We’re going to review and reset the oil and gas leasing program,” Biden said Wednesday at the White House.

    Biden said his administration is going to “properly manage lands and waterways in ways that allow us to protect, preserve them and the full value that they provide for us for future generations,” adding that his administration won’t ban fracking.

    The administration cites greenhouse gas emissions and “irresponsible leasing” that negatively affects communities as the reason for the order, which won’t affect existing oil and gas development on federal land and doesn’t apply to tribal land.

    The lease moratorium, which also applies to offshore leases, expands a secretarial order signed last week suspending new land leases and drilling permits for 60 days unless approved by Department of Interior (DOI) leadership. It’s also part of broader executive actions Biden took on Wednesday.

    The executive actions establish an Office of Domestic Climate Policy in the White House along with a National Climate Task Force. Biden is also directing DOI to establish a plan that will conserve 30% of the country’s land and water by 2030…

    Other states, like Colorado, welcomed Biden’s climate actions and pledge to work with his administration.

    “We will also work closely with the Biden administration as they begin a program-wide review of energy development policy on public lands to ensure that it works for Colorado,” Gov. Jared Polis said in a statement. “And as long as the review is completed expeditiously we don’t expect an economic impact in the short-term with current market factors and the many existing unused leases and permits.”

    Environmental advocacy groups praised the moratorium along with the administration’s broader efforts on fighting climate change.

    “Hitting pause on oil and gas leasing is a crucial first step toward reforming a rigged and broken system that for too long has put oil and gas lobbyists ahead of the American people,” said Jesse Prentice-Dunn, policy director for the Denver, Colo.-based Center for Western Priorities.

    The Sierra Club said the lease moratorium “will improve the health of our communities, our climate and our wild places.”

    “We look forward to working with the Biden administration to secure lasting solutions that address the climate impacts of coal, oil and gas leasing and put in place long-overdue protections for communities, taxpayers, and the climate,” said Athan Manuel, the Sierra Club’s director of Public Lands Protection.

    First #ColoradoRiver District project spending from tax to tackle #GrandCounty project — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel

    Restoring a river channel in the Upper Colorado Basin

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    The Colorado River District will spend the first $1 million in partner project funds made possible from a recent tax approval to help pay for a Grand County effort to address environmental impacts from a reservoir.

    The district board last week approved the contribution to a $23.5 million project for a channel to reconnect the Colorado River where the Windy Gap Reservoir blocks its flow.

    The decision means nearly a quarter of the annual amount that the tax approval will generate for such projects will be spent in just one of the 15 counties in the river district. But district General Manager Andy Mueller believes it’s a good place to start. And a district policy newly approved by the board aims to ensure that over the long run, funding is allocated fairly and broadly around the district…

    In November, voters, including in Mesa County, approved roughly doubling the district’s property tax rate to 0.5 mills. The measure is expected to boost its revenues by nearly $5 million in the first year. Some of the annual revenues from the new tax will help the district address operating budget needs, but most of it — about $4.2 million this year — is to go toward partnering on projects addressing agriculture, infrastructure, healthy rivers, watershed health and water quality, and conservation and efficiency.

    Under the board’s new policy to implement the program, it is seeking over time to spread funds among those categories and among counties and river basins in the district, while also considering factors such as the relative populations of counties and basins, and the district’s strategic goals.

    The district also plans to use funds to help lobby for contributions of funds from other sources, rather than paying for projects by itself…

    Mueller told the board the Windy Gap project is the kind of funding partnership he had in mind, in that “it really brings together all of these folks to fix something.”

    Among those who already have committed to the project are the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service (about $5.67 million), the Northern Colorado Water Conservation District and related entities ($5 million), the Colorado Water Conservation Board (more than $3.2 million) and Grand County ($1 million).

    With the river district commitment, the project remains more than $6.3 million short of full funding, but Mueller plans to use the district’s commitment to push for further funding from a variety of sources, including by pressuring the Northern Colorado Water to chip in more…

    The bypass project partly involves reconfiguring the reservoir through construction of a redesigned dam, and building a roughly mile-long natural channel around the reservoir to reconnect the river upstream and downstream of it.

    The project is expected to improve Gold Medal trout habitat and improve water quality for downstream irrigators…

    Steve Acquafresca, Mesa County’s representative on the river district board, told fellow board members that the project is necessary…

    He said it provides a lesson to the current generation of the water community about the need to “really pay attention to what you’re doing” to avoid unintended consequences…

    As for other projects that the new river district tax revenue could someday fund, the district more locally has pointed to possibilities such as helping rehabilitate the Grand Valley Roller Dam in Mesa County, and working to maintain for the long term Colorado River flows secured by the senior water right associated with the aging Shoshone hydropower plant in Glenwood Canyon.

    Outflow from the dam across the Colorado River that forms Windy Gap Reservoir. Taken during a field trip the reservoir in September, 2017.

    From The Montrose Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

    “This one was right up there, one of those the district thought was really qualified to be the initial (recipient),” said Catlin, of Montrose, who also represents State House District 58 in the Colorado Legislature. “Hopefully, it gets started right away, but all the communities will be able to apply for funding for projects across the district.”

    Montrose and the 14 other counties that make up the Colorado River District voted in November to increase the district’s mill levy to 0.5. The same ballot measure eliminated spending and revenue caps under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, but not the tax-rate cap, and allows the district to keep and spend state and local grant funds.

    The mill levy increase was projected to generate about $5 million in 2021, with the bulk going to partnerships for priority water projects.

    Applications may be made for the awarding of partnership funds, which are to be direct to priority projects; the money can also serve to leverage other funds from state, federal or private sources.

    “The projects supported by the Partnership Project Funding Program will protect and sustain West Slope water for all of us who rely on it,” River District General Manager Andy Mueller said, in a provide statement announcing the Windy Gap funding.

    “In launching this program and funding our first project, we’re fulfilling our promise to the voters who make our work possible. This and future projects will help build a brighter water future for Western Colorado.”

    Under the Partnership Project Funding framework, the river district has created a line item in its general fund budget, identifying the moneys available for such funding.

    Staff analyze requests for funding and forward those that match up with several criteria to the board for further consideration. Under those criteria, the proposed project must fit with the mission of the district and language of the 2020 ballot measure.

    Risk analysis is part of consideration and applicants need buy-in from their respective local governments. Mostly, the river district will offer partial financial support, although some projects may also receive technical, legal or administrative advocacy.

    District funds are not intended to be the sole funding source for any project.

    Projects may involve improvements related to agriculture, infrastructure, healthy rivers, watershed health/water quality, conservation and efficiency. The framework calls for geographic equity in awarding the funds.

    Tanya Trujillo named Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Water and Science #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Created by Imgur user Fejetlenfej , a geographer and GIS analyst with a ‘lifelong passion for beautiful maps,’ it highlights the massive expanse of river basins across the country – in particular, those which feed the Mississippi River, in pink.

    Here’s the release from the Department of Interior:

    The Department of the Interior today announced key members of agency leadership who will advance the Biden-Harris administration’s agenda to build back better and address the four intersecting challenges of our time: COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity, and climate change.

    “With today’s announcement, President Biden is delivering on his commitment to build teams that exude talent and experience, and look like America,” said Jennifer Van der Heide, incoming Chief of Staff. “We look forward to working with the dedicated civil servants at the Department to fulfill Interior’s missions, advance President Biden’s vision to honor our nation-to-nation relationship with Tribes and uphold the trust and treaty responsibilities to them, address the climate and nature crises, and build a clean energy future that creates good-paying jobs and powers our nation. We are ready to get to work on behalf of the American people.”

    Interior’s team reflects the Biden-Harris commitment to diversity, with more than 80% of First Day appointees identifying as people of color, women, or LGBTQ. Additional members of the Biden-Harris appointee team will be named in the days and weeks to come.

    The incoming leadership team possesses a broad range of expertise and perspectives — representing decades of experience in federal, state, and tribal governments; academia; and non-profit and advocacy organizations. As part of the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to the highest ethical standards, all appointees received an initial ethics training today following their swearing-in.

    The leadership team is listed here in alphabetical order along with their new role:

  • Robert Anderson, Principal Deputy Solicitor
  • Travis Annatoyn, Deputy Solicitor for Energy and Mineral Resources
  • Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes, Deputy Solicitor for Indian Affairs
  • Tyler Cherry, Press Secretary
  • Laura Daniel Davis, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Land and Minerals Management
  • Shannon Estenoz, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Fish and Wildlife and Parks
  • Morgan Gray, Deputy Director of Congressional Affairs – Senate
  • Ruchi Jain, Deputy Solicitor for General Law
  • Kate Kelly, Deputy Chief of Staff – Policy
  • Marissa Knodel, Advisor, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management
  • Shantha Ready Alonso, Director for Intergovernmental and External Affairs
  • Paniz Rezaeerod, Deputy Director of Congressional Affairs – House
  • Melissa Schwartz, Communications Director
  • Janea Scott, Counselor to the Secretary
  • Rachael Taylor, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Policy, Management and Budget
  • Maggie Thompson, White House Liaison
  • Maria (Camille) Touton, Deputy Commissioner, Bureau of Reclamation
  • Tanya Trujillo, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Water and Science
  • Jennifer Van der Heide, Chief of Staff
  • Andrew Wallace, Director of Congressional Affairs
  • Martha Williams, Principal Deputy Director, Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Biographies of the new team are listed below:

    Robert Anderson, Principal Deputy Solicitor
    Bob Anderson is a law professor with extensive experience in American Indian law, public land, and water law. He is an enrolled member of the Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. He taught at the University of Washington School of Law and directed its Native American Law Center for the past twenty years. For over a decade he has been an annual visiting professor at Harvard Law School. He served as the Associate Solicitor for Indian Affairs and Counselor to the Secretary under Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt. He began his career as a staff attorney for the Native American Rights Fund.

    Travis Annatoyn, Deputy Solicitor for Energy and Mineral Resources
    Travis Annatoyn joins the Department of the Interior from Democracy Forward Foundation, where he represented national and regional conservation organizations in novel challenges to the Trump administration’s environmental agenda. He began his litigation career as a trial attorney at the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, and holds a B.A. from the University of Michigan and a J.D. from Columbia University.

    Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes, Deputy Solicitor for Indian Affairs
    Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes most recently served as the Executive Vice President of Community Impact and Engagement at Ho-Chunk, Inc. She previously served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Economic Development for Indian Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior and as Interim Director of the Bureau of Indian Education. She was also Executive Director of the Indian Legal Program (ILP) at ASU. She received a B.A. from Wayne State College and a J.D. from Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. She is an enrolled member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska.

    Tyler Cherry, Press Secretary
    Tyler Cherry most recently served as Director of Rapid Response for the Biden-Harris Arizona coordinated campaign. Before joining the campaign, Tyler was Director of Public Affairs at the political consulting firm SKDK, where he crafted and executed strategic communications plans for dozens of political, advocacy, corporate, and legal clients. He also previously worked at Media Matters for America as a campaigns associate and researcher. Tyler is a Los Angeles native and graduated from UCLA with a political science degree. He lives in Washington, D.C. with his partner and two exuberant cats.

    Laura Daniel Davis, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Land and Mineral
    Management

    Laura Daniel Davis has more than two decades of experience in the public and non-profit sectors. She served as Chief of Staff to Interior Secretaries Sally Jewell and Ken Salazar in the Obama administration. She was most recently the Chief of Policy and Advocacy for the National Wildlife Federation.

    Shannon Estenoz, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Fish and Wildlife and Parks
    Shannon Estenoz most recently was the Chief Operating Officer of The Everglades Foundation. Previously, Shannon served as Interior’s Director of Everglades Restoration Initiatives and Executive Director of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force. Shannon’s twenty four-year career in conservation includes roles with the World Wildlife Fund and the National Parks Conservation Association, and appointments by three Florida Governors including to the Governing Board of the South Florida Water Management District. Shannon is a fifth generation native of Key West, Florida, and holds degrees in International Affairs and Civil Engineering from Florida State University.

    Morgan Gray, Deputy Director of Congressional Affairs – Senate
    Morgan Gray has nearly two decades of experience in the Senate and House of Representatives working on climate, energy and environmental policy. Prior to joining the Department, he served as Legislative Director for Senator Edward J. Markey, where he oversaw the Senator’s policy agenda. Morgan previously served as Senator Markey’s Senior Policy Advisor, directing his climate and energy policy, and before that as a senior staffer on the House Natural Resources Committee and on the staff of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. Morgan graduated from Pomona College and is originally from Lincoln, Massachusetts.

    Ruchi Jain, Deputy Solicitor for General Law
    Before joining Interior, Ruchi Jain was the Pro Bono Counsel for the Washington, D.C. office of Kirkland & Ellis LLP. Previously, Ruchi served as Special Assistant to President Obama, where she worked with other senior White House officials on federal agency management, Executive Branch nominations, and personnel matters. She held several other roles in the Obama-Biden White House and the Department of Justice. She began her career in private law practice. Ruchi has a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center and a B.A. from Rice University.

    Kate Kelly, Deputy Chief of Staff – Policy
    Kate Kelly most recently was the Public Lands Director at the Center for American Progress. During the Obama administration, Kate served as senior advisor to then-Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and also served as communications director on behalf of Secretary Jewell and former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. Prior to joining the Interior Department, Kate worked in the U.S. Senate. Kate received her bachelor’s degree from Washington University in St. Louis and hails from Colorado.

    Marissa Knodel, Advisor, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management
    Marissa Knodel is a passionate advocate for climate and environmental justice through a just and equitable transition to a clean energy-based society, and resilient adaptation to a changing climate. As Legislative Counsel with Earthjustice, her area of expertise included federal onshore, offshore, and Arctic oil and gas leasing and regulations. Prior to joining Earthjustice, Marissa managed a campaign at Friends of the Earth to stop new fossil fuel development on federal lands and waters. Marissa holds a dual J.D. and Master of Environmental Management degree from Vermont Law School and the Yale School of the Environment.

    Shantha Ready-Alonso, Director for Intergovernmental and External Affairs
    Shantha Ready-Alonso served as Executive Director of Creation Justice Ministries, Community Mobilization Manager for NETWORK Catholic Social Justice Lobby, and Director of the National Council of Churches Poverty Initiative. Shantha is listed among the 2018 “Grist 50 Fixers” and is the recipient of the 2020 National Council of Churches USA J. Irwin Miller Excellence in Ecumenical Leadership award. Shantha holds a Master of Social Work from Washington University in St. Louis and a Master of Pastoral Studies from Eden Theological Seminary. She did her undergraduate studies at the University of Notre Dame.

    Paniz Rezaeerod, Deputy Director of Congressional Affairs – House
    Paniz Rezaeerod previously served on the staff of Rep. Joe Cunningham (SC-01), where she was responsible for legislation to ban offshore drilling, protect irreplaceable natural resources, and secure full and permanent funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund through the Great American Outdoors Act. Prior to Rep. Cunningham’s office, Paniz worked for the House Financial Services Committee and for CoBank. A first-generation American born in Iran and raised in South Carolina, Paniz is a graduate of Sewanee: The University of the South.

    Melissa Schwartz, Communications Director
    Melissa Schwartz is a strategic communicator and adjunct professor with two decades of experience in government, the private sector, and at nonprofit organizations. She most recently served as Senior Advisor to Dr. Jill Biden. As Chief Operating Officer at The Bromwich Group for nine years, projects included coordinating communications strategy to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, raise awareness of the rape kit backlog and gender-based violence, defend national monuments and the ocean, and facilitate a just transition for coal communities. Melissa is a former senior spokesperson for the U.S. Departments of Justice and Interior, and Senator Barbara Mikulski.

    Janea Scott, Counselor to the Secretary
    Janea A. Scott was most recently a Commissioner and Vice Chair of the California Energy Commission. Janea also served as the Vice Chair of the Western Interconnection Regional Advisory Body and is a member of the Western Interstate Energy Board and the Department of Energy’s Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technical Advisory Committee. Janea previously worked at Interior as the Deputy Counselor for Renewable Energy and at Environmental Defense Fund as a senior attorney. She earned her J.D. from the University of Colorado Boulder Law School and her master’s of science and bachelor’s of science in earth systems from Stanford University.

    Rachael Taylor, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Policy, Management, and Budget
    Rachael Taylor most recently served on the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations for nearly 16 years. In her role as Democratic clerk of the Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, she negotiated a $38 billion annual appropriations bill and oversaw the budgets of Federal environmental, Tribal and cultural agencies. Rachael has also served in several other legislative and executive branch roles during her career, including in the Office of Vice President Al Gore. A West Virginia native, she received a B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Master in Public Administration from American University.

    Maggie Thompson, White House Liaison
    Maggie Thompson was most recently the North Carolina State Advisor and Chief of Staff for the Biden campaign and currently serves on the campaign’s Education Unity Task Force. Maggie was also the State Director for Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign. She is the former Executive Director of Generation Progress, the youth engagement arm of the Center for American Progress. Maggie also worked in the Obama administration at the White House Council on Environmental Quality and in the office of the Director at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. She graduated with a degree in economics and classical archaeology from Macalester College.

    Maria (Camille) Touton, Deputy Commissioner, Bureau of Reclamation
    Camille Calimlim Touton returns to Interior after serving as Professional Staff for the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. She was the staff lead on the resiliency provisions enacted as part of the Water Resources Development Act of 2020. Camille’s congressional experience also includes serving as Professional Staff for Interior’s authorization committees: the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee. Camille also served as Interior’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science under the Obama administration. Camille holds a BS in Engineering (Civil), BA in Communication Studies, and a Master of Public Policy.

    Tanya Trujillo, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary – Water and Science
    Tanya Trujillo is a water lawyer with more than 20 years of experience working on complex natural resources management issues and interstate and transboundary water agreements. She most recently worked as a project director with the Colorado River Sustainability Campaign. Before then, she served as the Executive Director of the Colorado River Board of California. She has served as Senior Counsel to the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and as Counselor to the Assistant Secretary for Water and Science at Interior. A native New Mexican, Tanya attended Stanford University and the University of Iowa College of Law.

    Jennifer Van der Heide, Chief of Staff
    Jennifer Van der Heide has over 25 years of federal, state and local experience in legislative, legal and electoral sectors. She most recently served as Chief of Staff for Congresswoman Deb Haaland, and had been Chief of Staff and Political Director for Rep. Mike Honda. Jennifer previously served as the Washington Director and on-reservation Tribal Attorney for the Hoopa Valley Tribe; Tribal Attorney for California Indian Legal Services; and in private litigation practice in CA. She has a B.A. in International Relations from Tufts University, and a J.D. from UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, with a focus on public interest law.

    Andrew (Drew) Wallace, Director of Congressional Affairs
    A native of Houston, Texas, Drew Wallace has worked in senior policy roles in both houses of Congress. Over the last twelve years, he has served in the office of former Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), finishing as Chief of Staff. Drew has a record of significant contributions to bipartisan legislative successes across a range of issues, in particular energy, the environment, and conservation. He received a B.A. in Political Science from Kenyon College in Ohio and a J.D. from George Mason University School of Law in Virginia. Drew lives in Arlington, Va. with his wife and two sons.

    Martha Williams, Principal Deputy Director, Fish and Wildlife Service
    Martha has spent her career fostering a love of the outdoors. Growing up on a farm, she gained an appreciation for place and all that comprises it. This passion led her to the wild places of the West where she focused on public lands and wildlife – first as attorney for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks, then as Deputy Solicitor Parks and Wildlife at the Department of the Interior, as a professor at the Blewett School of Law at the University of Montana, and most recently returning to the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks as its Director.

    Congratulations Vice President Kamala Harris and President Joe Biden

    Kamala Harris and Joe Biden November, 2020. Photo credit: JoeBiden.com

    From The New York Times (Megan Specia, Michael Crowley and Katie Glueck):

    On Wednesday, 232 years after John Adams became the nation’s first vice president, Kamala Harris became the first woman — and the first woman of color — sworn into the office. The history-making moment is a milestone for Americans who have fought tirelessly for generations to see faces that resemble their own in the government’s executive branch.

    But Ms. Harris’s role in the new administration will be much more than a symbolic one.

    With the Senate now split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, Ms. Harris may find herself casting the decisive vote in many crucial moments, as the vice president wields tiebreaking power. Ambitious legislation on the coronavirus, the economy, climate change and other policy matters will be high on President Biden’s agenda, and her vote may prove critical. One of her first official acts in her new role will be to swear in three new Democratic senators.

    Many expect Mr. Biden will also rely on her prosecutorial chops and her personal energy as a crucial member of the administration. And given speculation that Mr. Biden, who is 78, may not seek a second term, Ms. Harris is sure to face intense scrutiny over her own political future.

    But for many, it’s the voice she will offer to women and people of color that was being reflected on as she took office.

    “That’s so important, to have a Black woman, a South Asian woman’s perspective, on the big issues that this administration has to tackle,” said Representative Barbara Lee, Democrat of California and a longtime ally of Ms. Harris’s. “She’ll bring a justice lens, a racial justice lens, racial equity, to everything and every policy and every decision that’s going to be made.”

    Across the country, women are wearing pearls on Wednesday to mark the occasion, a nod to the signature pearls that Ms. Harris has worn throughout major milestones in her life, and is likely to wear again when she is sworn in for her history-making turn as the first female vice president. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who as the first woman of color to serve on the Supreme Court has broken barriers of her own, administered the oath.

    Hillary Clinton, the only woman ever to receive a major party’s presidential nomination, highlighted the barrier-breaking nature of Ms. Harris’s achievement in a tweet on Wednesday.

    “It delights me to think that what feels historical and amazing to us today — a woman sworn in to the vice presidency — will seem normal, obvious, “of course” to Kamala’s grand-nieces as they grow up,” she wrote, posting a photo of Ms. Harris with the two little girls. “And they will be right.”

    With the inauguration of Ms. Harris as vice president, her husband, Douglas Emhoff, 56, had two firsts of his own: the first “second gentleman” and the first Jewish spouse of a president or vice president. The details of what Mr. Emhoff, an entertainment lawyer, might do with the platform are unclear, but he has discussed focusing on “access to justice.”

    Wise Use Echoes: The rhetoric and ideology of today’s right-wing extremism mirrors that of a lesser-known anti-public lands movement of the 1990s — The Land Desk

    Photo credit: The Land Desk

    From The Land Desk (Jonathan Thompson):

    Like millions of people from around the globe, I watched the images of coup-pawns invading the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 with shock, rage, and sadness. But, like many others, I wasn’t surprised. After all, almost exactly five years earlier we had been transfixed and alarmed by another violent attack on an American institution, the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon by Sagebrush Insurgents. The Center for Western Priorities, an environmental group, aptly called Malheur a “dress rehearsal for what we saw at the Capitol.”

    Malheur, meanwhile, was the culmination of what my colleagues and I at High Country News coined the Sagebrush Insurgency, a more violent remake of the seventies-era Sagebrush Rebellion, a movement focused on transferring public lands to state and private hands, that rose up largely in reaction to tightening environmental regulations on public lands.

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    So it makes sense that observers are now tracing the roots of the Capitol attack to Malheur and then back to the Sagebrush Rebellion. But to find the true antecedent to the recent insurgency, which was initially sparked by the election of Barack Obama to the presidency, one needn’t go back so far. In the late 1980s, another anti-environmental regulation movement known as Wise Use arose from the Sagebrush Rebellion’s ashes. Wise Use would turn out to be more radical, insidious, and ultimately more influential than its more glamorously named predecessor. And today’s right-wing extremist movements reverberate with echoes from Wise Use and its concurrent cousins the Patriot and Militia movements.

    In the late 1980s, as President Ronald Reagan finished his second term and the Cold War neared its end, a right-wing, nationalist furor fulminated in the Heartland. Billboards sprouted along rural roadsides warning of black United Nations helicopters imposing a New World Order on the nation. And in Reno, Nevada, timber lobbyist and co-founder of the Center for Defense of Free Enterprise, Ron Arnold, held the inaugural Wise Use conference featuring sponsors such as Exxon, the National Rifle Association, Boise Cascade Corporation, the Mountain States Legal Foundation, and several cattlemen’s and motorized-recreation organizations.

    While the Sagebrush Rebellion had been a direct reaction to the tightening of regulations on public lands and the relatively green ethos of President Jimmy Carter, Wise Use had no clear catalyst. Reagan, after all, had opened up the lands to exploitation once again, and his vice-president, not exactly a liberal, took over from him. Instead, it appears that the movement was sparked by a myriad of causes, one of which was Reaganism, although they would never admit to it. Reagan’s mission was to dismantle the framework created by the New Deal, a framework that protected workers’ rights, staved off extreme wealth-inequality with progressive taxation, and built up a strong middle-class. Reagan took the shame out of unbridled greed and let corporations run rampant with the promise that all that wealth would trickle down to the working classes. It did not, and the very farmers, miners, ranchers, and roughnecks who had sought salvation in Reagan’s laissez faire public lands policies instead were dealt damnation from his free-marketeer ways.

    During Reagan’s two terms: Carter-era subsidies for oil shale production ended, triggering a deep recession in the Interior West. The oil boom spurred by energy crises busted, ending—for the time being—Denver’s Dynasty period. Metal mining went global, depressing prices in the U.S. and forcing the closure of numerous Western mines. The uranium mining industry in the West was diminished by Three Mile Island’s then Chernobyl’s impact on the nuclear power industry, followed by the end of the arms race. And the Farm Crisis ravaged agricultural communities everywhere. The middle class was hollowed out while a guy named Donald Trump became a celebrity simply by flaunting his wealth. Reagan’s policies aren’t responsible for all of this, but they did weaken the safety nets that should have caught these people when they were in trouble. Instead, the nets failed, and widespread economic malaise among the working class oozed across the land, spurring resentment that the Wise Use, Patriot, and Militia leaders seized upon to fuel their cause.

    Colorado Governor Richard Lamm once called the Sagebrush Rebellion a “murky fusion of idealism and greed” and a “movement of confusion and hysteria.” Wise Use had the fusion of idealism and greed part down, but it was anything but confused, and was more focused, more radical, more sinister, and ultimately more influential than its predecessor. Like Sagebrush Rebels, Wise Users were looking to get out from the yoke of environmental regulations on public lands. But the adherents of the latter campaign also saw themselves as soldiers in a culture war, and their credo carried more than a whiff of evangelical Christianity. The federal government and environmentalists weren’t just a threat to their profits and occupations, but to their “heritage” and “civilization.” Arnold summed up his crusade’s Western civilization-centric ideology in a 1993 speech:

    I see environmentalism as the destroyer of the economy, as the destroyer of material well being—as the destroyer of industrial civilization—as the destroyer of individual liberties and civil rights. For those reasons, I fight against environmentalism as a matter of principle, as a matter of ethics, as a matter of survival. The same reasons for which I see environmentalists fighting against industrial civilization.

    Wise Use put a nifty little twist on the land-transfer ethos of the Sagebrush Rebels: Instead of focusing on transferring public lands into private hands, they would extend private property rights—for livestock operators, corporations, and counties—to the public lands. It was a brilliant idea, really, because it essentially privatized public land without the need for politically untenable land transfers. One of the leading practitioners of this notion was Karen Budd-Falen, a Wyoming-based attorney and alumna of both the Mountain States Legal Foundation and James Watt’s Interior Department, who argued that public land grazing leases bestowed private property rights on the lessee.

    Budd-Falen was instrumental in crafting a slew of ordinances and a land-use plan for Catron County, New Mexico, declaring county authority over federally managed lands and, specifically, grazing allotments. The ordinances were “… about the legal authority of county governments and the legal rights of local citizens as regards the use of federal and state lands.” They were intended to preserve the “customs and culture” of the rural West—by which they apparently meant only the predominantly white, conservative, Euro-American settler-colonial culture and customs, with a big dose of corporate influence thrown into the mix. And the Catron County commissioners were ready to turn to violence and even civil war to stop, in the words of the ordinance, “federal and state agents {who} threaten the life, liberty, and happiness of the people of Catron County … and present danger to the land and livelihood of every man, woman, and child.” The Utah-based National Federal Lands Conference, launched in the late 1980s by Sagebrush Rebel and military-surplus-peddler Bert Smith, boiler-plated the ordinances and tried to sell them to other counties around the rural West.

    Rising up alongside Wise Use was the Patriot/Militia movement. Whereas Wise Use was worried about the BLM coming after “their” lands, the Patriots were more concerned about the IRS or the ATF or the United Nations coming for their money and their guns (in black helicopters, of course). While the details of their crusades may have differed, the two movements shared followers, philosophies, and ideological roots.

    One of those shared beliefs was the creed of county supremacy over the states and feds and that the county sheriff is the ultimate law enforcement authority. A prominent teacher of this philosophy was W. Cleon Skousen, an extreme right-wing author, Mormon theologian, and founder of the National Center for Constitutional Studies, née the Freeman Institute, known for its best-selling pocket-size versions of the U.S. Constitution. Skousen’s influence—indeed, his exact words—can be found in the Catron County ordinances, and Skousen and Bert Smith were contemporaries and collaborators. Skousen was also friends and ideological twins with Ezra Taft Benson, the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who played a leading role in steering the Church from its collectivist roots onto a right-wing course.

    Skousen, a former FBI agent and Salt Lake City police chief, gave talks to Rotary Clubs and other groups and taught classes to police officers. One of his students was a man named Richard Mack. Mack grew up in southern Arizona in a conservative Mormon family, graduated from Brigham Young University, then joined the Provo, Utah, police force in the 1980s. While he was a police officer, Mack attended one of Skousen’s classes in which he melded constitutional law with Mormon doctrine. Mack became a Skousen-convert and soon went back to Arizona to practice his new creed and where he was elected sheriff of Graham County in 1988 and was re-elected in 1992.

    The 1992 standoff at Ruby Ridge in Idaho, followed by Bill Clinton’s election to the presidency and his appointments of Janet Reno as Attorney General and Bruce Babbitt as Interior Secretary, was akin to throwing gasoline on the Patriot-Wise Use fire. The reactionary conflagration was further inflamed by the 1993 Waco fiasco and the passage of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, requiring people purchasing firearms to get background checks. Among other things, the Act charged local law enforcement with conducting the checks until a federal system was set up. That provided an opening into which then-sheriff Mack could step and propel himself into the glow of the inferno that was whipping across America.

    When the Brady Bill was passed, Mack, with backing from the National Rifle Association, joined up with other county sheriffs to sue the federal government over the background-check provision, and ultimately won a 5-4 ruling by the Supreme Court. Mack’s willingness to stand up to the federal government made him an instant folk hero among the anti-government factions (though he lost re-election in 1996) and he was soon headlining Patriot gatherings, railing at Clinton and his attorney general, Janet Reno, and he co-wrote a book with Randy Weaver, the man at the center of the Ruby Ridge shootout.

    Meanwhile, prominent Wise Use leaders took pains to distance themselves from the Patriot movement’s more violent elements, while at the same time espousing identical ideologies. The National Federal Lands Conference’s Federal Land Update, edited for a time by Wayne Hage, the rancher who became famous for doing battle with the federal government, regularly ran rants against the New World Order and gun control legislation. In 1994 the Update ran a long article touting the “need for the Militia in America.” That same year, Helen Chenoweth—a staunch Republican, Sagebrush Rebel (she held “endangered salmon bakes” to piss off the greens), and an early Wise User—was elected to represent Idaho in Congress. Chenoweth, who would go on to marry Hage, claimed that U.S. Fish and Wildlife officers were utilizing black helicopters to enforce the Endangered Species Act and that white, Anglo-Saxon males were the real endangered species. Even after a militia-follower named Timothy McVeigh blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 167 people, Chenoweth told a newspaper reporter that she would not condemn militias and that “public policies may be pushing people too far,” and therefore were partially responsible for the bloodshed.

    After George W. Bush was elected president he assembled an Interior Department staff that resembled the attendance roster for a petroleum association or Wise Use conference. It was led by Gale Norton, a disciple of James Watt’s and alumna of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, the litigating arm of the Sagebrush Rebels and then the Wise Users. Also on staff were J. Steven Griles, a lobbyist for energy companies; Rejane Burton, the former vice-president of an oil and gas exploration company; and David Bernhardt, a lobbyist for the extractive industry.

    Naturally, that played out on the public lands. During Norton’s years in Interior, the BLM issued drilling permits at a record pace. Norton favored drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, voided critical habitat on millions of acres, increased the number of snowmobiles in Yellowstone, and so on. Meanwhile, the Interior Department and its assorted agencies fell into a veritable orgy of ethical lapses, federal coffers were deprived of oil and gas royalties, fragile species denied protection, and industry was given yet more power to wreck public land in the name of greed.

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    With so many Wise Users in the government, the reactionary movement had nothing to push back against, and therefore lost a lot of steam. The same went for the Patriot movement. Mack’s pulpit dissolved as well and he became a used car salesman. But the movements were not dead, they were simply dormant, awaiting a new force against which to react and awaken them from their slumber. And that force arrived in the form of the 2008 election of President Barack Obama.

    “What if the elitists in power also used their paid political hacks to manipulate the voting process? We do know that ANY electronic voting machine can be rigged to make sure that only the elitist chosen candidates will win. That’s when it’s time for an alert and vigilant militia to be on guard. Don’t those in power, the elitists, realize that if they continue in their ways there could be some dire consequences?”

    That may sound like a rant from some Proud Boy’s Parler post, or—if it had more grammatical errors—President Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, in the days leading up to the 2020 election. In fact, these words were published in a 1994 article in the Federal Land Update, the Wise Use movement’s rag. The stolen-election trope that Trump and his followers have been spewing for months is just one of many current-day echoes of the Wise Use era. They are reverberating everywhere, whether it’s among the Tea Party or the Oath Keepers or the III-percenters or the Sagebrush Insurgency. Some examples:

    W. Cleon Skousen: Skousen died in 2006, but his legacy lives on. Following Obama’s election, right-wing commentator Glenn Beck began touting Skousen’s 1981 tome, The Five Thousand Year Leap. A re-issued version sold hundreds of thousands of copies and came to be known as the Tea Party’s “bible.” Meanwhile, the Bundys are often seen carrying the pocket-sized constitutions published by Skousen’s NCCS in, well, their pockets. At the 2014 ATV-protest down Recapture Canyon in southeast Utah, led by Neo-Sagebrush Rebel and Wise User Phil Lyman, Ryan Bundy himself handed me one of these booklets, peppered with Scripture. Also at the event were a number of self-proclaimed militia-men.

    “Sheriff” Richard Mack: Skousen-acolyte Mack was so distraught by Obama’s election that he wrote a book. The County Sheriff: America’s Last Hope, published in 2009, argues that the sheriff is the ultimate law enforcement authority and thus the “last line of defense” shielding individual liberties from out-of-control federal bureaucrats. Mack then launched the Constitutional Sheriffs and Police Officers Association. The organization’s 2012 conference attendance roster included Bert Smith, the Wise Use leader. Smith, who became wealthy from his giant military surplus business in Ogden, Utah, had provided seed money for the CSPOA and for the American Lands Council, created that year by Utah State Rep. Ken Ivory to push for transferring public lands to the states, counties, and private entities. Also speaking was Tom DeWeese, president of the American Policy Center, known for spreading fears that the United Nations, under Agenda 21, is taking over the world via bike paths and public transit, and Joe Arpaio, the notorious sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, whom Mack praised for launching an investigation into the validity of Obama’s birth certificate. Ivory gave a rousing speech at the September gathering about the “revolution of ideologies” in which he and the sheriffs were engaged. Mack would go on to lend support to Cliven Bundy during the Bunkerville standoff in 2014 and was a part of the 2016 protest against the prosecution of Wise Use rancher Dwight Hammond, a protest that would culminate in the Malheur takeover.

    Bert Smith: Until his death in 2016, Smith remained active in the new iterations of the Sagebrush Rebellion/Wise Use. After the Bunkerville fiasco, Smith penned a piece on the Bundy Ranch blog in which he called Cliven Bundy a “hero of the range livestock operator on public land,” who had “a sacred God-given right of unalienable rights, private property rights” to graze his cows on the American public’s land.

    Karen Budd-Falen: Falen emerged from Wise Use as a leading private property rights attorney, often fighting against the federal government, and gained new prominence in the latest Sagebrush Insurgency. She once represented Cliven Bundy. In 2011, she told a gathering of county sheriffs in Northern California that “the foundation for every single right in this country, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote, our freedom to petition, is all based on the right of ownership of private property.” Trump appointed her to be deputy Interior solicitor for wildlife and parks, an obscure but powerful position, in 2018.

    William Perry Pendley: Pendley worked under Sagebrush Rebel James Watt in Reagan’s Interior Department then became president of Mountain States Legal Foundation—the legal arm of Wise Use—just as the Wise Use movement was getting going. He stayed with the organization until just months before he went to work for the Trump administration. In 2019 he was named acting director of the BLM; in 2020 a judge found that he had been serving unlawfully.

    Rep. Helen Chenoweth-Hage: Chenoweth-Hage died in 2006, but her firebrand, gun-loving, lib-hating, militia-sympathizing, conspiracy-theory-flinging spirit lives on in the likes of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Rep. Lauren Boebert, who was recently elected to represent Colorado’s third congressional district. Boebert, who tweeted incendiary messages as the Capitol was being invaded, seems to be emerging as the leader of what I call the #ObnoxiousCaucus, which also includes Westerners such as Republican Rep. Paul Gosar, from Arizona.

    Fake Victimhood: Both Wise Use and the current right-wing movements have portrayed themselves and their culture, customs, and heritage, as the victims of persecution and even genocide by the “elitists,” the environmentalists, cancel culture, liberals, the deep state, black helicopters, Hugo Chavez, and rigged voting machines. By falsely portraying themselves as the little guys getting beaten up by bullies—despite the fact that they are almost invariably members of the dominant power structure and backed by corporations and wealthy benefactors—they can justify responding with violence.

    Now the question is whether these echoes will be amplified in reaction to a Biden-Harris administration, or whether widespread anger and alarm in response to the Capitol invasion will silence them. Will a Biden administration rollback of Trump’s environmental rollbacks and restoration of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments spark a new backlash? Or will the reactionaries finally learn that these protections aren’t an existential threat to their “way of life?”

    It’s worth noting that Western politicians who have adhered to the Wise Use/Sagebrush Rebel philosophies in the past are now emerging as some of the few Republicans willing to stand up to Trump, including: Sen. Mitt Romney, of Utah, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, and Rep. Liz Cheney, of Wyoming.

    It’s not a lot, and it may be too little too late, but it does provide a small glimmer of hope.

    @JoeBiden plans to fight climate change in a way no U.S. president has done before — The Conversation #ActOnClimate


    Managing climate change requires a systems approach, with strategic coordination across all sectors.
    Elenabs via Getty Images

    Bill Ritter Jr., Colorado State University

    Joe Biden is preparing to deal with climate change in a way no U.S. president has done before – by mobilizing his entire administration to take on the challenge from every angle in a strategic, integrated way.

    The strategy is evident in the people Biden has chosen for his Cabinet and senior leadership roles: Most have track records for incorporating climate change concerns into a wide range of policies, and they have experience partnering across agencies and levels of government.

    Those skills are crucial, because slowing climate change will require a comprehensive and coordinated “all hands on deck” approach.

    We did that with energy when I was governor of Colorado, and I can tell you it isn’t simple. Energy policy isn’t just about electricity. It’s about how homes are built, how they generate power and feed it into the grid and how the transportation, industrial and agriculture sectors evolve. It’s about regulations, trade rules, government purchases and funding for research for innovation. Coordination and collaboration among agencies and different levels of government is crucial.

    Gina McCarthy at the event where Biden introduced his climate policy leaders.
    The task of coordinating climate actions across the government falls to Gina McCarthy, a former EPA administrator who will be Biden’s national climate advisor.
    Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

    A coordinated approach also helps ensure that vulnerable populations aren’t overlooked. Biden has committed to help disadvantaged communities that have too often borne the brunt of fossil fuel industry pollution, as well as those that have been losing fossil fuel jobs.

    The Biden-Harris team’s depth of experience will be vital as they take over from a Trump administration that has been stripping government agencies of their expertise and eliminating environmental protections. With Democrats gaining control of both the House and Senate, the Biden administration may also have a better chance of overhauling laws, funding and tax incentives in ways that could fundamentally transform the U.S. approach to climate change.

    Here are some of the biggest challenges ahead and what “all hands on deck” might mean.

    Dealing with all those climate policy rollbacks

    From its first days, the Trump administration began trying to nullify or weaken U.S. environmental regulations. It had rolled back 84 environmental rules by November 2020, including major climate policies, and more rollbacks were being pursued, according to a New York Times analysis of research from Harvard and Columbia law schools.

    Many of these rules had been designed to reduce climate-warming pollution from power plants, cars and trucks. Several reduced emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from oil and gas production. The Trump administration also moved to open more land to more drilling, mining and pipelines.

    Some rollbacks have been challenged in court and the rules then reinstated. Others are still being litigated. Many will require going through government rule-making processes that take years to reverse.

    Michael Regan during Biden's announcement
    Michael Regan will contend with many of the Trump administration’s rollbacks as Biden’s choice to head the EPA.
    Alex Edelman/Getty Images

    Pressuring other countries to take action

    Biden can quickly bring the U.S. back into the international Paris climate agreement, through which countries worldwide agreed to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions driving global warming. But reestablishing the nation’s leadership role with the international climate community is a much longer haul.

    Former Secretary of State John Kerry will lead this effort as special envoy for climate change, a new Cabinet-level position with a seat on the National Security Council. Other parts of the government can also pressure countries to take action. International development funding can encourage climate-friendly actions, and trade agreements and tariffs can establish rules of conduct.

    Kerry, Stern and Deese walking.
    Then-Secretary of State John Kerry (right), with climate envoy Todd Stern and Brian Deese while negotiating the Paris climate agreement in 2015. Deese (left) is Biden’s choice to head the National Economic Council.
    Mandel Ngan, Pool photo via AP

    Cleaning up the power sector

    The Biden-Harris climate plan aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector to net zero by 2035.

    While 62 major utilities in the U.S. have set their own emission reduction goals, most leaders in that sector would argue that requiring net zero emissions by 2035 is too much too fast.

    One problem is that states are often more involved in regulating the power sector than the federal government. And, when federal regulations are passed, they are often challenged in court, meaning they can take years to implement.

    Reducing greenhouse gases also requires modernizing the electricity transmission grid. The federal government can streamline the permitting process to allow more clean energy, like wind and solar power, onto the grid. Without that intervention, it could take a decade or more to permit a single transmission line.

    What to do about vehicles, buildings and ag

    The power sector may be the easiest sector to “decarbonize.” The transportation sector is another story.

    Transportation is now the nation’s leading emitter of carbon dioxide. Decarbonizing it will require a transition away from the internal combustion engine in a relatively short amount of time.

    Again, this is a challenge that requires many parts and levels of government working toward the same goal. It will require expanding carbon-free transportation, including more electric vehicles, charging stations, better battery technology and clean energy. That involves regulations and funding for research and development from multiple departments, as well as trade agreements, tax incentives for electric vehicles and a shift in how government agencies buy vehicles. The EPA can facilitate these efforts or hamstring them, as happened when the Trump EPA revoked California’s ability to set higher emissions standards – something the Biden administration is likely to quickly restore.

    The other “hard to decarbonize” sectors – buildings, industry and agriculture – will require sophistication and collaboration among all federal departments and agencies unlike any previous efforts across government.

    A new comprehensive climate bill

    The best way to tackle these sectors would be a comprehensive climate bill that uses some mechanism, like a clean energy standard, that sets a cap, or limit, on emissions and tightens it over time. Here, the problem lies more in the politics of the moment than anything else. Biden and his team will have to convince lawmakers from fossil fuel-producing states to work on these efforts.

    Democratic control of the Senate raises the chances that Congress could pass comprehensive climate legislation, but that isn’t a given. Until that happens, Biden will have to rely on agencies issuing new rules, which are vulnerable to being revoked by future administrations. It’s a little like playing chess without a queen or rooks.

    Years of delays have allowed global warming to progress so far that many of its impacts may soon become irreversible. To meet its ambitious goals, the administration will need everyone, progressives and conservatives, state and local leaders, and the private sector, to work with them.

    The Conversation

    Bill Ritter Jr., Director, Center for the New Energy Economy, Colorado State University

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

    10 things to know about the 2021 #Colorado legislative session — The #Denver Post #COleg

    State Capitol May 12, 2018 via Aspen Journalism

    From The Denver Post (Saja Hindi and Alex Burgess):

    A new legislative session is kicking off this week in Colorado, but it won’t really get going until February.

    A batch of new Colorado state lawmakers will be sworn in Wednesday, and the legislature plans to pass about seven mostly minor bills this week. When they return Feb. 16, there will be backlogs of popular bills that were sidelined in the pandemic-shortened 2020 session, plus many new priorities.

    Democrats are still in control, now with an expanded Senate majority. That means until at least 2022, the GOP will have its say but rarely its way…

    Short, distanced start

    Lawmakers will work quickly this week to pass time-sensitive bills and meet constitutional requirements before their break…

    COVID relief

    Ask nearly any lawmaker what they’re plotting for 2021, and they’ll tell you they want to do everything possible to address the coronavirus’ ripple effects.

    But the public should temper its expectations, budget officials say, because there’s a limited pot of money for grants, direct payments and new programs…

    Restricted ambitions

    It is often the case that bills die — or never get introduced in the first place — not because of their merits but because lawmakers are nervous about how much they cost.

    We’ll likely be seeing a lot of that in 2021, given the budget outlook. Take, for example, the bipartisan and generally popular proposal to eliminate the wait list for state-funded in-home care for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Last year was supposed to be the year they committed more than $160 million over seven years to the program, but pandemic hits, plan scrapped…

    Is the momentum for social justice still there?

    The legislature last year repealed the death penalty and passed a police reform package inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. Lawmakers vowed then that they would not relent on matters of criminal justice and law enforcement.

    There’s plenty on the table for 2021, including banning no-knock warrants and restricting the use of ketamine against people detained by police. The latter is particularly close to home: First responders injected Elijah McClain with ketamine after he was violently detained by Aurora police in 2019…

    Public participation

    Members of the public will have the opportunity to testify on bills in person, remotely or submit written testimony as they were able to do during the special legislative session, but it will likely be limited. People interested in testifying will need to sign up ahead of time at http://leg.colorado.gov.

    They can also contact their lawmakers directly. To find out who your legislator is, go to http://leg.colorado.gov/find-my-legislator. To contact lawmakers by phone or email, go to http://leg.colorado.gov/legislators…

    Transportation funding, finally?

    Plenty of people on both sides of the aisle have sought and failed to obtain a funding boost for Colorado’s chronically underfunded transportation system. This year, there’s real optimism for a breakthrough.

    The latest plan involves raising certain fees — remember, Colorado lawmakers can’t raise taxes, but they can raise closely related fees — on things like gas and electric vehicle usage in order to generate money for transportation projects…

    Can House Republicans get along?

    Democrats have a strong 20-15 advantage in the Senate and in the House, it’s not even close — 41 of the 65 seats.

    Having hemorrhaged power and influence in the House in recent years, GOP state representatives turned on last year’s minority leader, Rep. Patrick Neville of Castle Rock, and replaced him with Rep. Hugh McKean of Loveland…

    Public option, take two

    Last year, sponsors shelved an effort to implement a hybrid public health insurance option that would have provided Coloradans who buy insurance on the individual market another option.

    Its return in 2021 amid the coronavirus pandemic will likely bring more conflict between supporters and hospital groups. But one of its sponsors, Avon Democratic Rep. Dylan Roberts said the bill will look very different, because it takes into account the changes to health care due to COVID…

    A renewed push for gun legislation

    Colorado House Rep. Tom Sullivan was beyond disappointed last year that proposed gun reforms were shelved when COVID arrived. The Centennial Democrat pledged last year to bring gun legislation to the forefront of the 2021 session, and he plans to make good on that promise…

    Climate response

    After a year of raging wildfires, shrinking water flows and record heat, Colorado’s Democratic lawmakers are planning to address climate and environmental policies.

    “Unfortunately, it’s been a big issues for years and I think we’re sort of behind in where we need to be,” Fenberg said. “We basically don’t have the luxury of being able to take a year off of thinking critically about getting our emissions under control.”

    Topics on deck include air-quality issues, improving the electric transmission grid in Colorado, addressing issues of methane leaks, a greenhouse road map and increasing the use of energy storage equipment in Colorado.

    Westminster Democratic Sen. Faith Winter said climate mitigation is also important for communities of color and others who are disproportionately affected by pollution. She’s working on a bill to better define environmental justice and impacted communities, and also intends to address issues of environment in transportation funding bills.

    “Climate change is a huge threat to our state,” she said. “It’s a threat to individual people’s health,” she said. “It’s a threat to our economy.”

    George Washington addresses the Continental Congress via Son of the South

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

    Because of the ongoing pandemic, lawmakers will only meet for three days this week, and then it will go into a recess until mid-February.

    “Clearly, there’s going to be a change to how the 73rd General Assembly is going to get started,” said House Speaker Alec Garnett, D-Denver. “Everything is going to look a lot different than it has in the past. We’re still in the midst of a once-in-a-hundred-years pandemic, and the bulk of our work won’t start in earnest until Feb. 16 when we all come back from our temporary adjournment.”

    Under the Colorado Constitution, the Legislature can only meet for 120 days. But after the pandemic hit at the start of last year’s session, Democratic leaders decided to recess for an extended period because of it, after Gov. Jared Polis issued his first COVID-19 executive order calling for a state of emergency…

    So as a result of this built-in recess, which could be extended or ended early depending on what happens with coronavirus infection rates, lawmakers don’t plan to do much in these first three days…

    Beyond typical beginning-of-session matters, including provisions to allow for lawmakers to participate in floor debates and committee hearings remotely, lawmakers have only a handful of bills they expect to address by Friday, one of which is to fix a problem with a bill approved during last month’s special session.

    That was on a $57 million Small Business Relief Program, which is intended to provide grants and fee waivers to businesses most impacted by the downturned economy, particularly to restaurants and night clubs.

    The bill also sets aside money for hard-hit minority-owned businesses, a provision that currently is facing a lawsuit filed by the white owner of a Colorado Springs barbershop…

    Starting on Thursday, counties across the state are accepting applications for that money, and will do so until early February.

    Businesses that qualify will then get their share, but how much will depend on how many apply and how much each county is allocated.

    Under the bill, money is to go to very small businesses, primarily those hardest hit by the pandemic, such as restaurants, bars, distilleries, wineries, caterers, movie theaters, fitness centers and other recreational facilities, but only those with annual revenues of less that $2.5 million and only if they are following local public health orders.

    Because of the monthlong recess, individual lawmakers were given more time to introduce their first three bills — under the law, they are allowed up to five — until the Legislature reconvenes in February.

    Meanwhile, the four leaders in the House and Senate from both parties have approved committee assignments for legislators.

    Locally, that means that Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, will serve on the Senate Transportation & Energy and Finance committees, while Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, will be on the Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources and transportation committees.

    Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Vail Democrat whose district includes Delta County, will serve as chairwoman of the agriculture committee. She also will serve on the transportation panel, and is the newly chosen Senate pro temp, the second highest-ranking position.

    In the House, Rep. Janice Rich, R-Grand Junction, will be on the House Transportation & Local Government, Appropriations and Finance committees, while Rep. Perry Will, R-New Castle, will be on the House Agriculture, Livestock & Water Committee with Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose.

    Will also will serve on the transportation committee, while Catlin also will be on the House Energy & Environment Committee.

    Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta, was taken off the House Judiciary Committee where he served during his first term in office. Instead, he will be on the House Health & Insurance Committee and the energy panel.

    Meanwhile, Sen. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, and Rep. Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, will continue to be on the Joint Budget Committee. The two local lawmakers also will serve on the appropriations committees in their respective chambers.

    From The Colorado Sun (John Frank):

    Here’s a look at the bills lawmakers will debate this week before taking a break

    Legislative leaders said not to expect a robust policy agenda at the start of the session, but rather “minor things we need to get done that are time sensitive,” Garnett said.

    So far, nine bill drafts are on the table. One of the first would allow lawmakers to participate remotely in legislative meetings and conduct certain committee hearings even while the General Assembly is temporarily adjourned. Democratic leaders said they plan to conduct oversight hearings — known as SMART Act reviews — for state departments and agencies before returning in February. The public would be allowed to participate remotely.

    In addition, the Joint Budget Committee will continue to meet behind closed doors with the public not permitted to attend but allowed to listen online.

    The other legislation being considered in the first days would:

  • Change the requirements for a small business relief fund approved in December’s special session to apply to more than just minority-owned businesses, a move designed to nullify a lawsuit stating that the new law was unconstitutional and discriminatory.
  • Extend the deadlines to continue to allow for electronic wills and further suspend debt collection due to the pandemic.
  • Recreate regulations and licensing benchmarks on occupational therapists after lawmakers inadvertently repealed the requirements.
  • Federal leaders have two options if they want to rein in the President — The Conversation


    President Donald Trump gestures during a Jan. 6 speech in Washington, D.C.
    AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

    Kirsten Carlson, Wayne State University

    As the world reacts to the Jan. 6 armed attack on the U.S. Capitol encouraged by President Donald Trump, many Americans are wondering what happens next. Members of Congress, high-level officials and even major corporations and business groups have called for Trump’s removal from office.

    Prominent elected and appointed officials appear to have already sidelined Trump informally. Vice President Mike Pence was reportedly the highest-level official to review the decision to call out the D.C. National Guard to respond to the assault on the Capitol.

    Informal actions like this may continue, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s reported request that Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, restrict Trump’s ability to use the nuclear codes. But political leaders are considering more formal options as well. They have two ways to handle it: impeachment and the 25th Amendment.

    A scene of the Senate voting in Trump's impeachment trial in 2020
    Donald Trump has already been impeached once, but was not convicted.
    Senate Television via AP

    Impeachment

    Article II of the U.S. Constitution authorizes Congress to impeach and remove the president – and other federal officials – from office for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” The founders included this provision as a tool to punish a president for misconduct and abuses of power. It’s one of the many ways that Congress keeps the executive branch in check.

    Impeachment proceedings begin in the House of Representatives. A member of the House files a resolution for impeachment. The resolution goes to the House Judiciary Committee, which usually holds a hearing to evaluate the resolution. If the House Judiciary Committee thinks impeachment is proper, its members draft and vote on articles of impeachment. Once the House Judiciary Committee approves articles of impeachment, they go to the full House for a vote.

    If the House of Representatives impeaches a president or another official, the action then moves to the Senate. Under the Constitution’s Article I, the Senate has the responsibility for determining whether to remove the person from office. Normally, the Senate holds a trial, but it controls its procedures and can limit the process if it wants.

    Ultimately, the Senate votes on whether to remove the president – which requires a two-thirds majority, or 67 senators. To date, the Senate has never voted to remove a president from office, although it almost did in 1868, when President Andrew Johnson escaped removal from office by one vote.

    The Senate also has the power to disqualify a public official from holding public office in the future. If the person is convicted and removed from office, only then can senators vote on whether to permanently disqualify that person from ever again holding federal office. Members of Congress proposing the impeachment of Trump have promised to include a provision to do so. A simple majority vote is all that’s required then.

    The 25th Amendment
    The 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
    National Archives via AP

    25th Amendment

    The Constitution’s 25th Amendment provides a second way for high-level officials to remove a president from office. It was ratified in 1967 in the wake of the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy – who was succeeded by Lyndon Johnson, who had already had one heart attack – as well as delayed disclosure of health problems experienced by Kennedy’s predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower.

    The 25th Amendment provides detailed procedures on what happens if a president resigns, dies in office, has a temporary disability or is no longer fit for office.

    It has never been invoked against a president’s will, and has been used only to temporarily transfer power, such as when a president is undergoing a medical procedure requiring anesthesia.

    Section 4 of the 25th Amendment authorizes high-level officials – either the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet or another body designated by Congress – to remove a president from office without his consent when he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” Congress has yet to designate an alternative body, and scholars disagree over the role, if any, of acting Cabinet officials.

    The high-level officials simply send a written declaration to the president pro tempore of the Senate – the longest-serving senator from the majority party – and the speaker of the House of Representatives, stating that the president is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. The vice president immediately assumes the powers and duties of the president.

    The president, however, can fight back. He or she can seek to resume their powers by informing congressional leadership in writing that they are fit for office and no disability exists. But the president doesn’t get the presidency back just by saying this.

    The high-level officials originally questioning the president’s fitness then have four days to decide whether they disagree with the president. If they notify congressional leadership that they disagree, the vice president retains control and Congress has 48 hours to convene to discuss the issue. Congress has 21 days to debate and vote on whether the president is unfit or unable to resume his powers.

    The vice president remains the acting president until Congress votes or the 21-day period lapses. A two-thirds majority vote by members of both houses of Congress is required to remove the president from office. If that vote fails or does not happen within the 21-day period, the president resumes his powers immediately.

    It is possible that Trump will remain in office through the end of his term on Jan. 20. But once he leaves office, he will no longer have the presidential immunity that has at least partially shielded him from many criminal and civil inquiries about his time in office and before.

    Editor’s note: This article was updated on Jan. 9, 2021, to include additional informal measures taken to limit Trump’s power.

    [Get our most insightful politics and election stories. Sign up for The Conversation’s Politics Weekly.]The Conversation

    Kirsten Carlson, Associate Professor of Law and Adjunct Associate Professor of Political Science, Wayne State University

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

    #Drought developments, @JoeBiden moves likely to be big natural-resource, public-land stories in 2021 — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map January 6, 2021 via the NRCS.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    Drought continues to grip the entire state of Colorado, and drought more regionally continues to drive increasing concerns about the adequacy of water supplies throughout the Colorado River Basin given the drier and warmer weather that generally has prevailed through much of the 21st century. That has added urgency to efforts by Upper Basin states such as Colorado to continue exploring measures to reduce water demand by agriculture, cities and other users in times of drought to help head off the possibility of a mandatory curtailment of uses under an interstate compact.

    With snowpack below average so far, this winter has offered little promise of reversing the continuing dry trend. But the winter is young and a few big storms can improve the outlook quickly, which is why everyone from ranchers to municipal water providers to firefighters will be listening closely in coming months to what forecasters have to say about what weather is in store…

    Meanwhile, the Biden administration’s actions on other matters related to public lands and the environment should prove interesting in coming months. For example, Biden could decide to reverse the Trump administration’s decision to shrink the size of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah.

    Among other actions that would draw strong reactions pro and con, he could follow through on a campaign promise to ban oil and gas leasing and drilling on federal lands. Such a move likely would be cheered heartily by some conservationist and activist groups concerned about the greenhouse-gas, public health and other impacts of oil and gas development.

    But the Western Energy Alliance industry group already has promised a legal challenge of such an action, which a University of Wyoming professor has estimated would result in Colorado in an annual average loss of $73 million in tax revenues from 2021-25 and average annual job losses in the state nearing 5,200 over that same timeframe…

    LOVED, HOPEFULLY NOT TO DEATH

    Public-land use is yet one more issue where what has happened in 2020 raises questions about what might come in 2021. With all the limitations that COVID-19 forced on people, one way they responded was to head in huge numbers into the great outdoors where the socially distanced solace of scenery and fresh air has provided a balm for the malaise of pandemic-related restrictions.

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the BLM, the Forest Service and the National Park Service all reported strong visitation numbers, from hikers to boaters to back-country skiers.

    While those agencies love the fact that people are enjoying the lands and facilities they manage, they cringe at the many problems that can result, such as trail heads overflowing with cars, illegal camping and improper disposal of human waste.

    This year, we can only hope, the threat from COVID-19 will subside as vaccination rates increase. It will be interesting to watch if public land visitation eases as well. Here’s guessing that it won’t, at least not by much.

    Who, having discovered the joys of getting outdoors and enjoying the lands that belong to all of us, wants to then go backward, retreating to a life involving more indoor pursuits?

    We love our public lands, perhaps now more than ever. The trick for us, and for those challenged with managing those lands, is how to prevent our loving them to death.

    What Has the Administration Meant for #Water? — Circle of Blue #WOTUS

    From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

    The fires burning in the American West were the prompt. Turning to the president, Wallace asked Trump what he believed about climate science and what he would do in the next four years to confront carbon pollution. Trump, at first, demurred.

    “I want crystal clean water and air,” Trump responded. Then he pivoted to a familiar talking point: railing against cluttered forests as the cause of wildfires in California and other western states.

    The initial line — the desire for crystal clean water — is one that the president repeats frequently, even dating to his 2016 presidential campaign. Immaculate water, he has also said. Clear water. Beautiful water. But the focus on appearances is superficial, according to a number of water advocates and analysts. Revisions to environmental rules that the administration has pursued during the first term of the Trump presidency will be detrimental to the nation’s waters, they said.

    “President Trump loves to say that he wants crystal clear water,” Bob Irvin, president and chief executive of the conservation group American Rivers, told Circle of Blue. “But his administration has adopted policies that will result in dirtier water across the country.”

    Irvin, an environmental lawyer by training, has worked in Washington D.C. for more than three decades, starting out as a trial attorney in the Justice Department during the Reagan administration. He was senior counsel for fish and wildlife for the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. He worked for conservation organizations like the World Wildlife Fund and the National Wildlife Federation. His career has spanned Republican and Democratic administrations and there was always at least some common ground for environmental priorities, he reflected.

    Not during the Trump administration, though. Irvin could not name any beneficial administration policy for waterways. “It is stunning for me to say that,” he said.

    Others interviewed for this story were not as absolute, but they echoed, to varying degrees, Irvin’s thoughts: “This administration has been unrelentingly hostile to the idea of conservation and environmental protection, and has been single-minded in its determination to undermine that protection.”

    […]

    Failure to secure a big win for infrastructure was surpassed by an agenda to undo environmental protections.

    First under Scott Pruitt and currently led by Andrew Wheeler, who lobbied for fossil fuel industries he now regulates, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took the reins in the administration’s plan to weaken federal authority and relinquish power to the states.

    Like his boss, Wheeler made public statements that lifted water to a place of prominence.

    “My frustration with the current dialogue around environmental issues is that water issues often take a backseat,” Wheeler told the audience at the Wilson Center on March 20, 2019, in an event to mark World Water Day. “It’s time to change that.”

    And yet, many critics and analysts say that the administration did not change that. Regulatory rollbacks not only at the EPA but from the Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, and the Department of Energy leave the country’s waters more vulnerable to pollution and development, they say. States, which are enduring budget cuts to their environmental units, are not in a position to be a backstop, argues Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project.

    “The assumption that states are going to come in and fill the gap is not warranted,” Schaeffer told Circle of Blue. Schaeffer was the director of EPA’s Office of Civil Enforcement from 1997 to 2002. His group released a study showing that 31 states reduced funding for state pollution control agencies from 2008 to 2018. “When EPA leaves the field, it leaves a lot of work undone,” he said.

    The list of places where EPA has left the field or stepped back from it is long. The administration gave coal power plants more time to close unlined waste pits and relaxed standards for pollutants in power plant wastewater that is discharged to rivers and lakes. It narrowed the scope of state reviews of pollution impacts under the Clean Water Act. It withdrew a proposal that would have required mining companies to provide more financial assurance that they could clean up future water contamination. Reversing an Obama-era decision, it decided not to regulate perchlorate in drinking water. Draft rules for lead in drinking water appear to give utilities more time to replace lead service lines.

    The U.S. Forest Service, for its part, overturned an Obama-era prohibition on mining leases in about 234,000 acres of Superior National Forest in northern Minnesota. The administration is proceeding with an environmental review of the contested Twin Metals mine, a proposed copper-nickel mine that would be located in the national forest some five miles from Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

    The Bureau of Reclamation, meanwhile, has sought to increase the height of Shasta Dam over the objections of the state of California and the Winnemem Wintu tribe, which do not want higher waters to submerge salmon habitat and cultural sites along the McCloud River. And the Bureau is carrying out an executive order to maximize water exports from the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta.

    Laura Ziemer, the senior counsel and water policy advisor for Trout Unlimited, said that there is a lot of opportunity for the Bureau of Reclamation to invest in drought and climate preparedness in the western states through certain forms of natural water storage and irrigation efficiency. But projects like the Shasta Dam raise are not that…

    Rewriting WOTUS

    Out of all these deregulatory actions, one stood out. Most people interviewed for this story singled out the administration’s changes to the scope of the Clean Water Act — the definition of what counts as a water of the United States, or WOTUS — as the most damaging policy for water.

    “It’s going to have consequences that are irreversible and far-reaching,” Kyla Bennett, New England director and science policy director at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, told Circle of Blue.

    Photo credit from report “A Preliminary Evaluation of Seasonal Water Levels Necessary to Sustain Mount Emmons Fen: Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests,” David J. Cooper, Ph.D, December 2003.

    Written by the EPA and Army Corps, the WOTUS rule reduces protections for wetlands and ephemeral streams that only flow after rainfall. Agency staff used national hydrological datasets to calculate that as many as half of the nation’s wetlands and 18 percent of streams would be excluded under the new rule. That means developers will not have to seek permits to fill in wetlands and stream segments that formerly had protection. It also means that requirements to minimize damage and offset unavoidable impacts by restoring wetlands elsewhere have been stricken.

    Ziemer noted that western rivers are particularly vulnerable to the removal of protections for ephemeral streams…

    Watersheds that are connected from headwater channels to floodplains absorb high flows and retain that water through drought periods. “If we allow all of our hydrologic function to be paved over, we are going to expose ourselves to both flood and drought risk moving forward,” Ziemer said.

    The EPA press office declined requests from Circle of Blue for interviews with Wheeler and David Ross, head of the Office of Water. It is the agency’s position that no existing map depicts accurately the boundaries of federal regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act. Several federal agencies are now working to publish such a guidepost.

    Tipping the Balance of Power

    What is the effect of this overhaul? In most cases, it is too early to say. Narrowing the scope of the Clean Water Act took effect this June for every state but Colorado. “It takes a while between the time you push the lever on a new policy or decision and the time the impacts show up in water quality,” Schaeffer said.

    The administration touts other steps it has taken to secure the nation’s water: a national plan to coordinate the reuse of water, orders to speed up reviews and permitting of things like the management plan for federally managed dams on the Columbia River, and formalizing a water “subcabinet” of department heads who will coordinate policy, a determination that it will regulate two toxic PFAS substances in drinking water. FEMA, to the pleasure of green groups, also quietly advanced new guidance that allows greater use of federal flood prevention funds for natural infrastructure such as wetlands.

    In general, the administration’s rules have tipped the balance of power to users of water: mining companies, energy developers, farmers, homebuilders. Even as it moves to regulate two PFAS in drinking water, the EPA is allowing the chemical industry to produce and sell new PFAS substances.

    Among the president’s most ardent supporters is the American Farm Bureau Federation. Don Parrish, senior director of regulatory relations for the Farm Bureau, told Circle of Blue that the administration has assisted in three ways: collaborating with states on nutrient pollution, encouraging market-based systems for trading pollution credits, and simply listening to farm groups.

    “One of our biggest priorities coming into this administration was a more realistic definition of waters of the United States,” Parrish told Circle of Blue. Narrowing the scope of the Clean Water Act accomplished that, Parrish said, though the Farm Bureau did not get everything it wanted in the revised rule.

    The Utility Water Act Group, a coalition of energy utilities and industry groups that sued to overturn Obama-era coal ash regulations and to support the Trump administration’s environmental policies, declined to comment for this story.

    It’s not just the policies that have drawn ire. The Trump administration has sought to transform the process by which those decisions are made: by sidelining scientific evidence and shrinking the environmental review process.

    According to a survey of federal scientists, political appointees in the Trump administration raised barriers to using science in policy decisions. More than 4,200 federal scientists responded to the survey, which was conducted in 2018 by the Union of Concerned Scientists and Iowa State University. Half of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that political considerations outweighed scientific conclusions.

    The legacy of these four years is still being written. The administration’s policy changes have fared poorly in court. Many have been overturned because of procedural missteps and hastily written justifications. Other rules like the definition of waters of the United States are in the early stages of litigation.

    In Trump election fraud cases, federal judges upheld the rule of law – but that’s not enough to fix US politics — The Conversation


    Rudy Giuliani, lawyer for President Donald Trump, speaks on Nov. 19 at a news conference about lawsuits related to the presidential election.
    Sarah Silbiger for The Washington Post via Getty Images

    Charles Gardner Geyh, Indiana University

    A healthy constitutional culture, in which the people and their leaders respect the authority of their Constitution, requires a baseline of trust in the government – a baseline that, in the United States, has eroded from 77% in the early 1960s to 17% today.

    This collapse of public confidence paved the way for a populist form of leadership that redirected public faith away from the institutions of government toward a more autocratic leader – Donald Trump – whom voters trusted to consolidate power, neutralize opposition and “drain the swamp” of the experts and bureaucrats he deemed responsible for the government’s malaise.

    In the past four years, President Trump has consolidated power to such an extent that the Republican Party has literally declined to adopt a party platform and effectively embraced the president as its alter ego.

    After losing the 2020 election by a comfortable margin,
    Trump counted on the populist power he had accumulated to force the hands of Republican officials across the country to invalidate the election, despite no creditable evidence of widespread fraud.

    The gambit almost worked. Trump’s influence – made muscular by an energetic base poised to punish disobedient elected officials – quieted intraparty criticism, moved a legal team to launch a battery of meritless lawsuits and inspired 18 state attorneys general to request that the Supreme Court overturn a presidential election.

    But that strategy ultimately failed, because Trump’s populist control did not extend to the federal courts.

    A protestor outside Giuliani's apartment building with a sign that says 'How many lawyers does it take to screw a democracy'
    Lawyers who helped with Trump campaign lawsuits faced protests, like this one outside Rudy Giuliani’s apartment building in New York.
    Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

    Cases need facts

    The legal assault on the election was spearheaded by attorneys who were willing to file suits based on unsupported suspicions and beliefs to perpetuate the president’s populist regime by any means necessary. These groundless suspicions and beliefs – bellowed loudly and often by the president and his entourage – may have gotten traction in politics, but they got none in courts of law. The judiciary’s firewall withstood the populist bomb that President Trump detonated.

    Apart from the fact that neither the president nor his enthusiasts could threaten the tenure of unelected federal judges who are appointed for life, judges are a different kind of public official, and the lies, bullying and bombast that work well in populist politics fall flat in courts of law.

    When judges hear cases, they follow a uniform system of procedural rules that enable them to evaluate the claims that the parties make and amass a body of information on which they rely to determine facts and ascertain truth. It’s a system that has served the judiciary well for generations, and served it well in the postelection cases that the courts decided in recent weeks.

    Judges are lawyers who have been steeped in the rule of law for decades. It begins with three years of law school, where they “learn to think like lawyers” and are graded on their command of substantive and procedural law. Upon graduation, they must demonstrate their proficiency in law by passing a bar exam, and then practice law for years and typically decades before ascending the bench.

    ‘Trump judges’ aren’t Trump judges

    Trump has been criticized for appointing an unprecedented 10 judges whose credentials and experience the American Bar Association deemed so deficient as to warrant an “unqualified” rating. But the vast majority of his 227 appointees possess the traditional qualifications needed to perpetuate the federal judiciary’s entrenched commitment to the rule of law.

    Some of the judges who dismissed the Trump election cases were appointed by the president. That may have shocked Trump and his followers, but is unlikely to have surprised Chief Justice John Roberts. In 2018, Roberts called out Trump for attacking “Obama judges.”

    “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” Roberts said in a statement. “What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them. That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.”

    Some criticized Roberts as naïve or duplicitous. After all, the data show that federal judges are influenced by their ideological preferences. Voters know this and choose a president who will appoint ideologically compatible judges.

    These critics, however, miss the mark. Yes, judges are subject to ideological influences in close cases, when the law is subject to conflicting interpretations, and judges tend to favor interpretations that align with their common sense and policy perspective.

    But this does not refute Roberts’ point: Federal judges are trained to take law seriously and do their best to uphold the law as they understand it to be written. So when confronted with postelection fraud cases that were not close – that lacked factual allegations essential to proceeding with the case – judges ruled against the president.

    As one judge said to Trump campaign lawyers, “Come on now!

    Chief Justice John Roberts and President Trump shake hands at the Feb. 4, 2020 State of the Union address.
    Chief Justice John Roberts, right, once chastised President Trump for saying that judges make rulings based on their politics. Here, the two shake hands at this year’s State of the Union address Feb. 4.
    Leah Millis-Pool/Getty Images

    Facts and truth

    Thanks to those judges, the rule of law held firm against a populist assault.

    Celebrating the triumph of the rule of law in the courts, however, obscures the reality that innumerable voters, public officials and lawyers who were ostensibly committed to that rule of law stood ready – for the first time in U.S. history – to overturn a presidential election.

    In the past, the majority of Americans drew their conclusions from a common body of information received from the same evening news and morning newspapers.

    With the explosion of the information age and the decline of traditional media, that common body of information has disappeared, as the marketplace of ideas has been flooded with limitless information, the truth or falsity of which is increasingly difficult to assess. The consequences are voiced by a nihilistic spy in the latest “Call of Duty” video game: “There is no truth – only who you choose to believe.” And this, it would seem, has become the mantra for many public officials and their constituents.

    Americans encountered a similar problem once before, during industrialization, when the nation was deluged with a flood of false and misleading information about new drugs, foods and consumer products – a problem that the administrative state ultimately emerged to regulate.

    The trouble is that the government can’t regulate the marketplace of ideas the way it does the marketplace of goods and services – the First Amendment won’t allow it. In most cases, the government cannot prohibit you, media outlets or politicians from telling lies.

    So the challenge is to reestablish a way to evaluate the reliability of information upon which we must depend for finding facts and ascertaining truth. Because if that can’t be done, the nation’s ability to elect its leaders and govern itself in an orderly and principled way will be lost.

    The Constitution is fragile. It works because we the people will it to work, and that will is being tested, perhaps as never before. The judiciary passed its latest test. The American people will be tested again in the years to come – and the future of the democracy hangs in the balance.The Conversation

    Charles Gardner Geyh, John F. Kimberling Professor of Law, Maurer School of Law, Indiana University

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

    The Energy 202: Biden’s choice of ex-#Michigan governor as energy secretary points to focus on #electriccars — The #Washington Post

    Leaf Byers Canyon August 21, 2017.

    From The Washington Post (Dino Grandoni):

    President-elect Joe Biden’s choice of Jennifer Granholm to be his energy secretary is a sign the president-elect’s team will try to spur automakers to sell cars that need little to no gasoline.

    The relationship that Granholm, the former two-term governor of Michigan, has with Detroit automakers may prove crucial to the incoming administration’s effort to cut climate-warming emissions spewing from the millions of cars and trucks on American roads.

    Biden intends to nominate Granholm to run the sprawling department also responsible for overseeing the nuclear weapons arsenal and managing radioactive waste, Will Englund, Juliet Eilperin and I report.

    Cleaning up the transportation sector, now the largest source of greenhouse gas pollution in the United States, will be critical to meeting Biden’s lofty goal of net-zero emissions by the middle of the century.

    Biden, the son of a car salesman, pitched no- and low-emissions vehicles not only as a way to combat climate change, but also to create domestic manufacturing jobs. To preserve Michigan’s industrial base undercut by foreign competition, Granholm has also become a vocal proponent of building electric vehicles at home…

    The Transportation Department – which under Biden will be run by former South Bend. Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg, our colleagues Michael Laris, Ian Duncan and Seung Min Kim also reported Tuesday – has “transportation” in its name.

    But it is the Energy Department that is the main funder of research into the battery technology responsible for a potential transition to electric vehicles…

    During the campaign, Biden promised to install 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations by 2030, provide bigger tax breaks to those who purchase electric vehicles and to tighten fuel-efficiency standards on new cars and trucks…

    Today, electric vehicles make up less than 2 percent of new cars and SUVs sold each year domestically. But GM, Ford and other automakers have told investors they plan to build out their fleets of electric vehicles in coming years.

    Tribal leaders respond to the idea of an Indigenous Interior secretary — @HighCountryNews

    From The High Country News [December 14, 2020] (Graham Lee Brewer and Anna V. Smith):

    Representation is important, and so are policy decisions impacting tribes on the ground.

    President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to make his administration the most diverse in history, a promise that so far he has fulfilled with several key appointments. For weeks now, momentum has been building behind a push for the Department of the Interior to be run by an Indigenous person for the first time in history. Dozens of tribal leaders have called upon Biden to appoint U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M, an enrolled tribal member of the Laguna Pueblo.

    Beyond the obvious symbolic importance of having an Indigenous person lead Interior, a department with a long history of defying the best interests of tribal nations, the possibilities such a position would bring for tribal administrations and citizens alike are endless. Native leaders and advocates are hoping that a Haaland appointment would result in improved tribal consultation on everything from land protections to how agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, interact with tribal communities. As the country awaits Biden’s decision, Native communities are bracing for what could prove a seismic change in the way the federal government treats the interests of Indian Country.

    Dozens of tribal leaders have called upon Biden to appoint U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M, an enrolled tribal member of the Laguna Pueblo. Photo credit: Bridget Badore via High Country News

    “It will be a moment to exhale for tribal leaders,” said Judith Le Blanc, a citizen of the Caddo Tribe of Oklahoma and director of the Native Organizers Alliance, a national Native training and organizing network. An Indigenous person leading Interior, she said, would mean having someone who understands the legal and inherent rights of Indigenous peoples to govern their own lands.

    “We’re the only peoples in this country who have a collectively owned land base that has been self-governed since the beginning of time,” Le Blanc said. “To have someone who understands that historic fact and therefore the rights and responsibilities to consult and to discuss before a decision is made that will affect treaty lands will be amazing. It creates opportunities and possibilities that tribal leaders will have to step into.”

    The possibility of an Indigenous person leading Interior comes after an election in which Indigenous voters supported the Biden/Harris ticket in critical states like Arizona, Nevada and Wisconsin. As IllumiNatives — a nonprofit working to increase Native visibility — put it in a social media post, “Joe, Native people showed up for you. Now, show up for them.” If Haaland — or someone like Michael Connor, a member of Taos Pueblo and former deputy Interior director, whose name has also been floated as a possible nominee — were to run the department, it would have a significant impact on Indian Country policy for the next several years not only for department policies and representation, but also for on-the-ground realities.

    Under the Trump administration, environmental laws were significantly weakened, protections of places like the Tongass National Forest were rolled back and large-scale, high-impact projects like the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines were expedited. Many of those policies included a rushed — or, in the case of the U.S.-Mexico border wall, nonexistent — tribal consultation process. While all bureaucracies have flaws, both Haaland and Connor understand that including tribal nations in a government-to-government consultation process is non-negotiable. They could also reverse some of the Trump administration’s controversial decisions. Whoever is chosen, the stakes are high.

    The Yurok Tribe was one of a host of tribes to sign a letter to President-elect Joe Biden, urging him to choose Haaland. The tribe has had a protracted battle with the federal government over keeping enough water in the Klamath River to support their lifeways and the river’s salmon population. In 2001, a government decision caused the largest fish kill in Yurok and U.S. history. Vice Chairman Frankie Myers says the representation and experience that would come with Haaland as an Indigenous person and lawmaker would be a welcome change: “Ensuring that Indigenous voices are at the highest level of government, specifically when it comes to resources, is critical for us moving this country in a better, more positive way.”

    Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, agrees. In November, the Trump administration announced that it would auction off oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge just two weeks before Biden takes office. The refuge, which lies within the ancestral lands of the Gwich’in, supports the sensitive populations of Porcupine caribou, polar bears and walruses. The Gwich’in Steering Committee has filed numerous lawsuits to stop the sale. “This current administration has done nothing but disrespect and violate the rights of our people,” Demientieff wrote in a statement to High Country News. As for an Indigenous leader of Interior, “I can’t believe it has taken this long. We have never been included in decisions that will affect our future.”

    While Native voters tend to lean left, Indian Country issues on the Hill have typically found support with both Republicans and Democrats. The six Indigenous people who will join the next Congress are split evenly between the parties. And even though the political atmosphere has been considerably polarized under the Trump administration, the prevailing sentiment is that Haaland’s ability to work across the aisle will keep Indian Country policy from becoming a politically divisive issue.

    “There’s a reason why people like (Republican U.S. Reps.) Don Young and Tom Cole have publicly spoken out in very positive ways regarding Deb,” said Keith Harper, a member of the Cherokee Nation and an Obama appointee who was the first Indigenous person to represent the U.S. on the United Nations Human Rights Council. “Because they’ve worked with her and know she’s willing to put the party politics aside and get pragmatic about challenges.”

    “Because we understand that Native American issues are not a matter of conservative versus liberal, we have accomplished a great deal together,” said Rep. Cole. Out of all representatives in the House, Haaland’s bills have had the most bicameral support, and often bipartisan. And the political allies and partners she’s made in Congress have some predicting that this would translate to consensus building across the government on issues affecting Native people.

    “Oftentimes, Interior is looked as the agency that handles Indian affairs,” said Kim Teehee, the Cherokee Nation’s congressional delegate. “We have HUD (Housing and Urban Development) that handles Indian housing, we have the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) that handles broadband, education, the USDA (Department of Agriculture). There is such a cross-cutting nature of Indian Country issues, and I think she has the unique ability as a Cabinet secretary to convene the agencies.”

    One non-Native whose name has been floated for the position is retiring Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat from New Mexico, who has long been a champion of Indigenous affairs in Congress. His father, Stewart Udall, was secretary of Interior from 1961-1969 under presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. A number of progressive Native-led organizations have called on him to remove his name from consideration. When asked what it could mean for an Indigenous person to lead Interior, Udall told High Country News that “Native Americans should be in high positions throughout government in the White House and various agencies – it’s not just about the Interior Department,” adding that the next secretary must prioritize tribal nation’s needs with inclusive consultation, and put in “the hard work to make sure Native voices are front and center throughout the department.”

    Graham Lee Brewer is an associate editor at High Country News and a member of the Cherokee Nation. Email him at grahamb@hcn.org.

    Anna V. Smith is an assistant editor for High Country News. Follow @annavtoriasmith.

    This story was originally published at High Country News (hcn.org) on December 14, 2020.

    Colorado River District lays out framework for new taxpayer-funded grant program — @AspenJournalism

    The dam at Windy Gap Reservoir. The dam that forms Windy Gap Reservoir on the Colorado River, just below its confluence with the Fraser River in Grand County. A project to build a connectivity channel for the Colorado River is included in the River District’s fiscal implementation plan and could be on the short list for funding through the organization’s new Partnership Project Funding Program. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    Colorado River Water Conservation District officials have laid out a framework for how they will spend their new tax revenue with an emphasis on equity across water sectors and gaining the support of local government.

    At a Dec. 3 board meeting, River District General Manager Andy Mueller presented a framework for the organization’s new Partnership Project Funding Program, which creates a system for how entities can apply for funding and how River District staff and board members will evaluate those applications.

    In November, an overwhelming 72% of voters approved ballot measure 7A, which raises property taxes across the district and will add about $5 million annually to the River District’s coffers. Eighty-six percent, or $4.2 million, of that will go toward funding water projects.

    The new program is designed to be more nimble and responsive than other federal or state grant programs, with the River District board considering projects on a rolling basis throughout the year. It also gives Mueller the power to approve smaller amounts of project funds without the board’s involvement.

    The River District plans to doll out funding for projects in five categories: productive agriculture; infrastructure; healthy rivers; watershed health and water quality; and conservation and efficiency.

    Each of these categories will receive roughly equal funding on a five-year running average. The project money also will be distributed as evenly as possible across the district’s 15-county region. River District staff will evaluate project applications and decide which ones to bring to the board for approval.

    Mueller said he wants “to memorialize within this program our commitments that we made to the voters with respect to how we are going to spend the money. … I think it’s really critical going forward that future board members, future staff members, members of the public can turn to a document and find what it is we have committed to and what are the guiding principles of our program.”

    Water travels through a roller dam, generating power, then continues downstream. Roller Dam near Palisade. The Grand Valley Diversion Dam in DeBeque Canyon sends water from the Colorado River into the Grand Valley Project Canal. Rehabilitation of the structure could be one of the projects funded by the River District’s new Partnership Project Funding Program. Photo credit: Hutchinson Water Center

    Local support requirement

    The River District also is making good on a commitment laid out in the ballot measure’s fiscal implementation plan: that it funds projects that have the backing of local elected officials.

    According to the framework, project proponents should get buy-in from local governments in the form of a letter of support from the board of county commissioners in the county in which the project is located. If proponents can’t get a letter of support, they must explain why not.

    Mueller said the requirement does not amount to veto power for local governments, but whether a project has the backing of local officials could be a deciding factor in the River District’s choice to fund that project.

    “We want to make sure our projects are aligning with the priorities of our local communities,” he said in a separate interview.

    Mueller’s initial framework proposed that he, as general manager, be allowed to greenlight projects of as much as $25,000 with an annual cap of $250,000 without board approval. But directors at last week’s meeting said they wanted to up those numbers.

    “I think it should be increased to $50,000,” said board president and Garfield County representative Dave Merritt. “We have the criteria laid out here, and if the board is going to get down into the weeds, we will never get through what we need to get through as a board. We’ve got a lot of money that needs to get expended with these partnership programs.”

    The board is scheduled to adopt the framework at its January meeting, at which time Mueller said it also will consider the first projects for funding.

    According to Jim Pokrandt, the River District’s director of community affairs, no entities have officially applied for grants yet and the grant application is still being developed. Examples of projects that could get funding as laid out in the fiscal implementation plan include forest restoration on the Yampa River, rehabilitation for the Grand Valley Roller Dam, and the Windy Gap Reservoir Connectivity Channel project, which would reconnect the Colorado River through the reservoir.

    Mueller said he is excited that the infusion of tax money will allow the River District to remain fully staffed and thrive as an organization. But he acknowledged the new grant program still won’t solve the biggest problem on the Colorado River.

    “All the money in the world is not going to solve the diminishing flows in the river caused by our warming temperatures and by climate change,” he said. “We can mitigate, we can adapt, we can make our communities more resilient, but it’s a daunting challenge we are all going to face in the next 20 years.”

    Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative news organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the Dec. 10 edition of The Aspen Times.

    Setting the @EPA Back on Track — The Natural Resources Defense Council

    Coyote Gulch’s Leaf charging in the Town of Kremmling Town Park August 21, 2017.

    Here’s the release from the Natural Resources Defense Council (Gina McCarthy):

    After 50 years, what does the future of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hold?

    By a margin of more than 6.2 million votes, Americans elected Joe Biden president, largely on his promise to help unite the country and restore the public’s faith in our democracy.

    It’s a tall order, but he can make a good start on both by setting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) back on track. Few arms of the government touch all of us more directly or have suffered more harm under Donald Trump.

    It was 50 years ago, on December 2, 1970, when Richard Nixon, a Republican president, established the EPA to protect the public from runaway pollution that damaged our health and put our communities at risk.

    Since then, the agency has become the worldwide gold standard for environmental protection, dramatically reducing the air pollution, water contamination, and toxic chemicals that make us sick, even as our economy has nearly quadrupled.

    The public benefits have been huge. Reductions in air pollution alone saved Americans up to $3.8 trillion just this year, preventing up to 370,000 premature deaths and more than 30 million lost days of work or school. Those benefits accrue to all of us, Republicans and Democrats alike.

    The Trump administration, though, has turned the EPA mission on its ear—protecting polluters, not people.

    The administration has tied the agency’s hands, crippled or eliminated commonsense safeguards, curbed enforcement of environmental laws, and turned its back on climate change, the central environmental crisis of our time.

    Biden has made it clear that polluters have had their day—every day that Team Trump has been in office. Their time’s up. Biden’s EPA will get back to protecting people and restoring the agency to the mission it was founded on 50 years ago.

    That begins with naming what I like to call an “Anthony Fauci of the environment” to head the EPA; someone who, whether they’re a scientist or not, has unassailable credibility among scientists, advocates, and the public.

    Much as the Trump administration has put our health at heightened and needless risk by ignoring the science behind the coronavirus pandemic and dismissing experts like Dr. Fauci, it has also recklessly disregarded the truth about environmental hazard and harm.

    The next EPA administrator must make it clear from the start that sound science, public health, and the rule of law will guide agency actions and decisions. We need an environmental champion who makes equity a core agency value, listens and learns from public comments and concerns, and puts protecting our people’s health, communities, and future first.

    That means taking action on climate change now since the last administration squandered four years we couldn’t afford to lose.

    The Biden administration is going to hit the ground running. Biden has named former secretary of state John Kerry to oversee international climate policy; former deputy secretary of state Antony Blinken as Secretary of State; and senior foreign service officer Linda Thomas-Greenfield as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

    This marks a clear return to U.S. climate leadership, at home and abroad. It puts effective climate action at the top of the agenda. And it sends the message to our friends and allies around the world that they can once again take us at our word and depend on our partnership in the vital effort to confront a global crisis that demands global solutions.

    That’s 180 degrees from where we’ve spent the past four years.

    The Trump administration rolled back vital standards and rules the EPA had put in place to clean up the cars, trucks, and dirty power plants that generate nearly two-thirds of the U.S. carbon pollution that’s driving climate change. We need a new generation of even more ambitious standards now to cut our carbon footprint in half by 2030, as the science tells us we must.

    That’s how EPA actions can support the $2 trillion Biden has pledged to invest in energy efficiency, electric vehicles, wind and solar power, modern electricity distribution and storage, and other clean energy infrastructure. Congress should work with Biden from day one to make a substantial down payment on this investment as part of a broader economic recovery package.

    When the pandemic hit, there were 3.4 million Americans working in the clean energy sector, making 25 percent more, on average, than the national median wage. Clean energy investment can help to ensure the strong, durable recovery we need, creating millions more good jobs in every community in the country.

    Biden has pledged to structure public investment in clean energy in a way that protects low-income communities, people of color, tribal nations, and other vulnerable groups from climate impacts that fall disproportionately on those least able to cope with them. Under his plan, these groups will also receive the benefits of clean energy—better health, improved quality of life, and good jobs—by receiving at least 40 percent of clean energy investment.

    Hand in glove with clean energy is the need to conserve more of our public lands and oceans, and to reinstate clean water protections the Trump administration dismantled. By strengthening wetlands, forests, and croplands, we can enhance their natural capacity to absorb carbon from the atmosphere and lock it away in healthy soils.

    Fifty years after the EPA was born, we are positioned to restore the agency to being the gold standard for public health and environmental protection, as it was created to be. We have elected a new president with the strongest plan we’ve ever seen to fight the climate crisis in a way that helps to build a healthier, more prosperous, more equitable future for everyone.

    This plan shouldn’t divide us into red state or blue. It should unite us, as American people, confident in the road ahead and sure of our ability to travel it together.

    #Colorado Looking to Issue Comprehensive Guidance for Waters of the United States (#WOTUS) — Lexology

    Photo credit from report “A Preliminary Evaluation of Seasonal Water Levels Necessary to Sustain Mount Emmons Fen: Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests,” David J. Cooper, Ph.D, December 2003.

    From Lexology.com (Spencer Fane):

    How is Colorado Dealing with “Gap” Waters?

    The scope of federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act remains perplexing, particularly now that Colorado is the only state in the nation where the Navigable Water Protection Rule did not take effect June 22, 2020. In the context of a lengthy “stakeholder” process, on November 20, 2020, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) issued a White Paper addressing its regulatory options in light of the new federal WOTUS rule. Construction companies, developers, and other businesses seeking to permit activities around wetlands, ephemeral waters, and intermittent streams in Colorado would benefit from reviewing this comprehensive discussion of the multitude of dilemmas Colorado and others states face in light of the new rule.

    See White Paper here.

    The state’s White Paper includes background on these topics –

  • Federal permitting including Section 402 and 404 permits.
  • State waters and the state’s regulation of discharges to state waters.
  • The Supreme Court’s Rapanos decision and subsequent guidance.
  • The 2020 Navigable Waters Protection Rule.
  • Litigation of the 2020 Navigable Waters Protection Rule.
  • And perhaps most importantly –

  • Potential impacts of the 2020 Navigable Waters Protection Rule if it were to go into effect in Colorado.
  • Of most significance in terms of the impacts to state regulatory programs, the White Paper states:

    The rule includes several definitions that further limit how the EPA and the Corps will define WOTUS in contrast to the existing regulatory framework. First, it restricts the definition of protected “adjacent wetlands” to those that “abut” or have a direct hydrological surface connection to another jurisdictional water “in a typical year.” 33 C.F.R. § 328.3(c)(1); 40 C.F.R. § 120.3(3)(i). Wetlands are not considered adjacent if they are physically separated from jurisdictional waters by an artificial structure and do not have a direct hydrologic surface connection. The 2020 Rule also limits protections for tributaries to those that contribute perennial or uncertain levels of “intermittent” flow to traditional navigable waters in a “typical year,” a term whose definition leads to additional uncertainty. 33 C.F.R. § 328.3(c)(12); 40 C.F.R. § 120.2(3)(xii); 33 C.F.R. § 328.3(c)(13); 40 C.F.R. § 120.2(3)(xiii).

    Collectively, these new definitions in the 2020 Rule will reduce the scope of waters subject to federal jurisdiction in Colorado far below that of the 2008 Guidance. The state waters that would no longer be considered “waters of the United States” under the 2020 Rule have been referred to as “gap waters” and are further described in Section II below. Historically, not all of Colorado’s state waters have been considered WOTUS. However, the [CDPHE] has maintained that the number of state waters considered WOTUS under the 2008 Guidance is far more than would be considered WOTUS under the 2020 Rule. [Emphasis added.]

    Colorado Rivers. Credit: Geology.com

    On environmental protection, @JoeBiden’s election will mean a 180-degree turn from [the current administration’s] policies — The Conversation


    President-elect Joe Biden opposes proposals to allow uranium mining around the Grand Canyon, which the Trump administration supports.
    Michael Quinn, NPS/Flickr, CC BY

    Janet McCabe, Indiana University

    The Trump administration has waged what I and many other legal experts view as an all-out assault on the nation’s environmental laws for the past four years. Decisions at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Interior Department and other agencies have weakened the guardrails that protect our nation’s air, water and public lands, and have sided with industry rather than advocating for public health and the environment.

    Senior officials such as EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler assert that the Trump administration has balanced environmental regulation with economic growth and made the regulatory process less bureaucratic. But former EPA leaders from both Democratic and Republican administrations have called this administration’s actions disastrous for the environment.

    Rolling back laws and hollowing out agencies

    The Trump administration has used many tools to weaken environmental protection. For example, Trump issued an executive order in June 2020 to waive environmental review for infrastructure projects like pipelines and highways.

    The EPA has revised regulations that implement the Clean Water Act to drastically scale back protection for wetlands, streams and marshes. And the administration has revoked California’s authority under the Clean Air Act to set its own standards for air pollution emissions from cars, although California is pressing ahead.

    The Trump administration has also changed agency procedures to limit the use of science and upended a longstanding approach to valuing the costs and benefits of environmental rules. It has cut funding for key agency functions such as research and overseen an exodus of experienced career staff.

    Worker at Iowa wind turbine plant
    A worker installs components at the base of a wind turbine blade at the Siemens plant in Fort Madison, Iowa. President-elect Joe Biden views renewable energy as a major source of high-wage manufacturing jobs.
    Timothy Fadek/Corbis via Getty Images)

    A quick about-face

    I expect that the Biden administration will quickly signal to the nation that effectively applying the nation’s environmental laws matters to everyone – especially to communities that bear an unfair share of the public health burden of pollution.

    With a closely divided Senate, Biden will need to rely primarily on executive actions and must-pass legislative measures like the federal budget and the Farm Bill to further his environmental agenda. Policies that require big investments, such as Biden’s pledge to invest US$400 billion over 10 years in clean energy research and innovation, can make a big difference, but may be challenging to advance. Coupling clean technology with infrastructure and jobs programs to build back better is likely to have broad appeal.

    I expect that officials will move quickly to restore the role of science in agency decision-making and withdraw Trump-era policies that make it harder to adopt protective regulations. A Biden EPA will end efforts to impede states like California that are moving ahead under their own authority to protect their residents, and will make clear to career staff that their expertise is valued.

    The agency is likely to withdraw or closely scrutinize pending Trump proposals, such as the ongoing review of the current standard for fine-particle air pollution. Officials also will review pending litigation, much of which involves challenges to Trump administration rule revisions and policies, and decide whether to defend any of them. There likely won’t be many.

    In their final campaign debate, President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden offered sharply contrasting views of how environmental protection affects the economy.

    One area where EPA can quickly change course is enforcement. Biden’s climate and energy plan pledges to hold polluters accountable, and his administration reportedly plans to create a new division at the Justice Department focused on environmental and climate justice. Biden has promised greater attention to environmental justice communities, where neighborhoods are heavily affected by concentrations of highly polluting sources such as refineries and hazardous waste sites.

    [Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]

    Many of these actions can be done quickly through new executive orders or policy changes. Regulatory changes will take longer. In my view, Biden’s biggest challenge will be deciding what to prioritize. His administration will not be able to do (or undo) everything. Even with a revitalized career workforce and political staff all rowing in the same direction, there won’t be enough bandwidth to address all the bad policies enacted in the past four years, let alone move forward with a proactive agenda focused on public health protection and environmental justice.The Conversation

    Janet McCabe, Professor of Practice of Law, Indiana University

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

    “The Trump administration has been probably the most anti-environmental administration in history” — Will Toor

    Denver’s Brown Cloud via the Denver Regional Council of Governments.

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    The state officials overseeing efforts to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, conserve natural landscapes and beat rising heat in Colorado anticipate better opportunities for federal help under Democratic President-elect Joe Biden.

    And they’re preparing for teamwork with the Environmental Protection Agency, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service and the departments of energy, transportation and agriculture, among other federal agencies, to move beyond planning to aggressive action on challenges from saving dying forests to cutting vehicle emissions.

    “It’s going to be a 180-degree shift,” Colorado Energy Office director Will Toor said in a video call with state agency chiefs. “The Trump administration has been probably the most anti-environmental administration in history. Certainly when it comes to addressing the challenges of climate change, they’ve done a surgical attack on virtually every federal policy that would support climate action… making it harder to act at the state level…

    Biden’s pledge to rejoin the Paris climate agreement and an expected push to contain warming sync with efforts under Democratic Gov. Jared Polis to reduce heat-trapping pollution within Colorado by closing coal-fired power plants and increasing regulation of the fossil fuel industry.

    Colorado ranks among the leading oil-and-gas producer states, exporting fossil fuels that when burned elsewhere accelerate climate warming. Biden has called for a $2 trillion stimulus investment to hasten a shift to clean energy and create jobs — funds that Colorado officials planned to tap.

    Biden also has promised reversals of Trump rollbacks of environmental regulations for protecting air, land and water. If Congress doesn’t collaborate, Biden has indicated he’ll wield executive power where possible to act unilaterally, which may reduce oil and gas drilling on western public lands.

    And Biden transition team officials are reviewing proposals that would advance climate action Colorado officials have begun to consider. For example, they’re mulling creation of a “carbon bank” run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that would pay farmers who adopt no-till methods and store more carbon in soil — helping a draw-down of heat-trapping air pollution that causes climate warming…

    At the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, state efforts dealing with air pollution, emerging water contaminants such as PFAS “forever” chemicals and degradation of waterways traditionally have hinged on cooperative support from federal agencies.

    John Putnam, director of the state public health department’s environmental programs, anticipated a reinvigoration of agencies for better enforcement of national clean air and clean water regulations that under Trump were weakened…

    State officials cited examples where they felt the Trump administration stymied Colorado environmental efforts, including legal action against California’s stricter fuel-efficiency standards, which Colorado recently decided to follow. Trump officials also pressed Colorado to take the lead on toxic mine cleanups, and assume liability if things went wrong. And the weakening of Clean Water Act protections removed safeguards for many streams across Colorado.

    The increasing costs of dealing with climate change are falling largely on local communities where extreme weather and wildfires linked to warming hit home. In Boulder County, commissioners recently allocated $1.5 million to help deal with erosion and destruction of homes caused by the Calwood and Lefthand Canyon fires. A consultant hired by the county estimated costs for building resilience to climate warming will top $150 million a year for non-disaster impacts on infrastructure such as roads.

    The shift from Trump to Biden “means the world — the future of our planet,” said Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones, who also serves on Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission.

    “We have to get on track on climate change in the next decade,” Jones said. “If we spent four more years under a climate change denier, we might have dug ourselves into a hole bigger than we can get out of.”

    “Apparently, they’ve [the administration] already lost their interest in taking care of our public lands” — Senator Michael Bennet

    From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):

    Funding details promised by the Great American Outdoors Act were due Nov. 2, but state and federal land managers are still waiting for specifics of what is supposed to be a record amount of money for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and deferred maintenance projects.

    The Great American Outdoors Act — brokered in part by Colorado’s U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner and trumpeted by President Donald Trump as they both ran for re-election — directed the full $900 million a year to the LWCF, which uses royalties paid by energy companies to buy federal land for protection. And the legislation spread $9.5 billion over five years toward catching up on an estimated $21.6 billion in delayed upkeep on public lands. It also promised to more than double federal funding to several Western states that rely on LWCF support to acquire and protect public lands and access.

    But fear is growing that the promises of the Great American Outdoors Act — which had bipartisan support this election year — were more about politics than public lands.

    The deadline for the Department of Interior and Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service to submit its project lists for deferred maintenance and LWCF projects was last week. The agencies submitted lists for maintenance projects on time. But the LWCF lists arrived a week after the Nov. 2 deadline, following a Nov. 9 memo from the Trump Administration that delegated authority to the Interior and Agriculture departments to release the LWCF funding lists.

    The broad-stroke lists have left state and federal land managers scratching their heads.

    The lists included no details on specific projects or costs, even though those details — like $116 million for 61 ready-to-go BLM, Fish and Wildlife and National Park Service projects — were circulated by federal land agencies earlier this year when lawmakers were studying the Great American Outdoors Act. (The act requires “a detailed description of each project, including the estimated expenditures from the fund for the project for applicable fiscal years.”)

    And perhaps most troubling is the Interior Department’s Nov. 9 plan for spending the LWCF’s $900 million. The note from Interior Sec. David Bernhardt to the U.S. Senate allocated only $2.5 million to the Bureau of Land Management for land acquisition. The Forest Service’s list of 36 LWCF projects totaling $100 million included a note that one project was in Colorado’s White River National Forest. The White River National Forest’s only request for LWCF funding for Fiscal 2021 was for $8.5 million to acquire and protect Garfield County’s 488-acre Sweetwater Lake property.

    Sweetwater Lake, Garfield County, Colorado. Photo credit: Todd Winslow Pierce with permission

    Calls and emails to state BLM and Park Service officials were directed to the Interior Department in Washington, D.C., which did not respond. White River officials said they had not received any information about LWCF funding for Sweetwater Lake, which was acquired by conservation groups this spring with a plan to transfer the property over to the Forest Service.

    “The monumental nature of the Great American Outdoors Act deserves more information so the private sector can engage and we know where these investments will be made,” said Jessica Turner with the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, a coalition of 33 outdoor organizations representing more than 110,000 businesses…

    “Apparently they’ve already lost their interest in taking care of our public lands,” Colorado’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet said in an emailed statement. “Coloradans worked for years to secure full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The fact that the Trump Administration is failing to follow through and meet LWCF deadlines, while not surprising, demonstrates a serious lack of commitment to conservation.”

    A spokeswoman with Colorado Parks and Wildlife said the agency is waiting for information on project lists, official funding, timelines and whether the state grants the agency applied for have been approved…

    The U.S. Senate’s Appropriations Committee on Nov. 10 released funding recommendations for the Interior Department and Forest Service that provides specific details. The committee plan directs $54.1 million to the BLM and $120 million to the Forest Service for land acquisition. The committee’s list for LWCF acquisition projects includes $8.5 million for the Forest Service for Sweetwater Lake, $20.5 million for “recreational access” on BLM lands, $1 million for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s San Luis Valley Conservation Area and $850,000 for Dinosaur National Monument.

    The committee, in its allocation recommendations said it was “disappointed by the lack of specific bureau- and project-level information” offered by the Interior and Agriculture department secretaries and dismissed Bernhardt’s issues with precise price tags for repairs as “insufficient reason to withhold more specific costs by project.”

    The committee directed the two departments “to provide specific project information, including estimated costs by project, as soon as possible,” noting that it intended to fund LWCF through final appropriations — without or without the department lists.

    @JoeBiden Can Leverage Larger Trends to Make #Climate Progress — The Revelator

    Leaf, Berthoud Pass Summit, August 21, 2017.

    From The Revalator (Dan Farber):

    Even if Republicans hang onto the Senate, Biden can use these three strategies to make major progress on climate issues.

    With the next president of the United States finally decided, we can now begin moving on to the work at hand.

    Joe Biden’s election creates an exciting opportunity for climate action. But there’s one clear hurdle: Unless the January runoff elections in Georgia for two Senate seats deliver surprising success to the Democrats, President-elect Biden will face a Senate led again by Mitch McConnell. That narrows the range of available policy instruments, but Biden should still be able to make real progress.

    He has the advantage of the tide moving in the direction of clean energy. Market forces are shifting strongly away from fossil fuels and toward renewables and energy storage. State governments are moving in the same direction. And public opinion has shifted, with more people recognizing the importance of climate change and the benefits of clean energy. The trick will be to leverage these trends into faster and larger changes.

    I’d advocate a three-pronged approach to take advantage of these trends: (1) aggressive use of established regulatory tools; (2) funding to improve and deploy new technologies; and (3) government support for state and private sector climate efforts.

    The first prong was utilized heavily by the Obama administration.

    Like Obama Biden needs to make aggressive use of existing law. Given a 6-3 conservative Supreme Court, it would be best to avoid anything that looks legally innovative and instead push as hard as possible on legally established channels.

    That would mean strictly regulating conventional pollution from fossil fuels, using the Clean Air Act as well as other environmental statutes. Additional avenues include ramping up standards for methane emissions, cutting back on leasing public lands for fossil fuels, and higher fuel-efficiency standards.

    There will be industry resistance to these efforts, but economic trends may help dampen that.

    Storm clouds are a metaphor for Republican strategy to politicize renewable energy for the November 2020 election. Photo credit: The Mountain Town News/Allen Best

    The second prong is legislative.

    Although a GOP or 50-50 Senate will be a challenge, some kinds of legislation may have a chance of sneaking through.

    Sen. Lisa Murkowski has an energy bill she has been trying to get to the floor that seems to have bipartisan support. The bill focuses on spending for research and demonstration projects. Even when the GOP controlled Congress during the first two years of Trump’s presidency, Congress voted to increase funding for renewable energy for the Defense Department and to increase funding for research into innovative new energy technologies.

    If Murkowski and fellow Republican Sen. Susan Collins can be brought on board, it may also be possible to adopt energy-related amendments to must-pass bills.

    Finally, increased funding for adaptation-related spending by FEMA, the Defense Department and the Army Corps of Engineers may also be feasible.

    The third prong involves climate efforts outside the federal government.

    During the Trump administration, many states increased their use of renewable energy and a smaller group have adopted serious carbon reduction targets. The federal government can defend these efforts in court; can provide states technical resources; and can use its regulatory powers over energy markets to reinforce state climate programs.

    We’ve also seen a serious movement by investors away from fossil fuels and toward renewables. The federal government can support these trends through its regulation of financial markets.

    And the power of presidential jawboning should not be underestimated. Presidential appeals to business leaders can carry considerable clout, as can public praise or shaming.

    Even if Biden is handicapped by the lack of Senate control, a lot can still be done. And the climate crisis is too urgent for us to pass up any available tool for addressing it.

    The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Revelator, the Center for Biological Diversity or their employees.

    600,000 new #environmental voters — Heated #ActOnClimate

    From Heated (Emily Atkin):

    The Environmental Voter Project, a non-partisan get-out-the-vote group, tells HEATED it spent $2.05 million this year targeting 1.8 million self-identified environmentalists who had never voted before in 12 states, including the critical battlegrounds of Arizona, Nevada, Georgia and Pennsylvania.

    Of those 1.8 million environmentalists targeted by Environmental Voter Project, more than 600,000—or about 33 percent—voted early. It’s “a truly astounding number when you consider that these are almost all first-time voters,” said Nathaniel Stinnett, EVP’s president.

    It’s also astounding when you consider that, in many cases, those voters outnumber the margin between Trump and Biden in key battleground states.

    For example:

  • 54,976 new environmental voters cast early ballots in Pennsylvania, where Biden is leading by about 45,400 votes
  • 56,990 new environmental voters cast early ballots in Arizona, where Biden is leading by 16,730 votes;
  • 69,332 new environmental voters cast early ballots in Georgia, where Biden is leading by 11,596 votes; and
  • 20,705 new environmental voters cast early ballots in Nevada, where Biden is leading by 36,186 votes.
  • Of course, these aren’t necessarily votes for Biden. EVP only encourages environmentalists to vote; it doesn’t say who they should vote for. But given the environmental hellscape of Trump’s presidency, it’s safe to assume many, if not most of those votes did not go in his direction.

    In addition, these are only early vote numbers, and therefore only show part of EVP’s impact. The group will know its full impact in February or March when states release their final voter lists.

    Above all, EVP’s results only constitute one part of the climate movement’s broader impact on voter turnout and fundraising in the 2020 election.

    How #Indigenous voters swung the #2020election — @HighCountryNews

    From The High Country News (Anna V. Smith) [November 6, 2020]:

    In Arizona and Wisconsin, Native turnout — which often leans liberal — made the difference in Biden’s slim but winning margin.

    Biden/Harris supporter Cindy Honani stands outside the Navajo Nation Council Chamber while holding a sign above her head to protect herself from the snow in Window Rock in late October. Sharon Chischilly/Navajo Times via The High Country News

    Note: This article has been updated with voter data as of Nov. 9 at 2 p.m. mountain standard time.

    This year’s presidential election has been a close race in a handful of states, including Arizona. On Wednesday, for just the second time in 70 years, the Associated Press called the race for a Democratic presidential candidate, in part due to the Native vote.

    Indigenous people in Arizona comprise nearly 6% of the population — 424,955 people as of 2018 — and eligible voters on the Navajo Nation alone number around 67,000. Currently, the margin between Democratic candidate Joe Biden — who has released a robust policy plan for Indian Country — and incumbent President Donald Trump is 17,131 as of Monday. (Votes continue to be counted, so numbers may change)

    Precinct-level data shows that outside of heavily blue metropolitan areas like Phoenix and Tucson, which also have high numbers of Indigenous voters, much of the rural blue islands that have voted for Biden and Mark Kelly, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, are on tribal lands. On some Tohono O’odham Nation precincts, Biden and Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris won 98% of the vote. As of Nov. 9, the three counties that overlap with the Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation went for Biden at a rate of 57%, as opposed to 51% statewide. Voter precincts on the Navajo Nation ranged from 60-90% for Biden.

    That pattern is consistent with 2016, when the rest of the state went for Trump. “Partisan groups have long ignored Native voters, including in states such as Arizona, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana,” says Jordan James Harvill (Cherokee), chief of staff of the nonpartisan group VoteAmerica, which worked directly with Navajo Nation and community partners to get out the vote. “We view these voters as some of the highest-potential voters in the electorate and we’ll continue to invest in voters in Indian Country for years to come.”

    Indigenous people in Arizona were hit hard by the pandemic, which was exacerbated by Republican state officials who did little to limit the spread of COVID-19 through public safety measures like required mask wearing, business closures, or adequate translations for COVID-19 resources. All this was compounded by an inadequate federal response that delayed financial relief to tribal governments.

    At one point in May, the Navajo Nation had the highest ratio of COVID-19 cases in the U.S., surpassing New York City. President Jonathan Nez has criticized the Trump administration for its botched response, and the Navajo Nation has joined other tribal nations in a lawsuit over the dispersal of the funds. Recent exit polls showing how Indigenous voters favored Biden overall in Arizona also showed the pandemic response to be the most important issue on their minds.

    In the weeks before the election, several Navajo citizens filed suit against the state of Arizona over the deadline for mail-in ballots. Pointing to the myriad challenges Indigenous communities face with vote-by-mail, they asked the court to allow ballots to be postmarked — instead of received — by 7 p.m. on Election Day. They lost the case, but because of efforts by groups like VoteAmerica, Four Directions, Rural Utah Project and the Nez administration, counties like Apache County, which overlaps the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe, saw 116% voter turnout compared to the 2016 election. (Votes are still being counted, so total numbers and percentages are likely to change.)

    On the Tohono O’odham Nation, which spans Pima, Maricopa and Pinal counties, most precincts were above 90% for Biden, according to a statewide map pulled together by ABC15 Arizona. Throughout the Trump administration, O’odham citizens and the tribal government have been vocal in their opposition to the border wall, which Trump has forced through without tribal consultation, even as it severs the landscape and destroys ancestral O’odham sites. Those high numbers were repeated throughout precincts covering the lands of the Hualapai, Havasupai, White Mountain Apache, Gila River, San Carlos Apache, Pascua Yaqui, Cocopah and Colorado River tribes, generally within the range of 70-90% for Biden.

    Indigenous voters are by no means a monolith, and the majority of Indigenous people live in urban areas, which makes it likely that many more voted in metro areas and therefore don’t appear in voting data from tribal lands. (In fact, a survey done by a coalition of Indigenous organizations called Building Indigenous Power showed that Indigenous voters on reservations were less likely to vote compared to those in the city or small towns.) Still, clear voting patterns can be seen across Indian Country:

  • In Montana, though the state went for Trump overall, counties overlapping with the reservations of the Blackfeet Nation, Fort Belknap Tribes, the Crow Tribe and Northern Cheyenne Tribe went blue. The divides were often stark; Glacier County, encompassed by the Blackfeet Nation, went for Biden by 64%, the highest in the entire state, while the neighboring county voted for Trump by 75%. The Native vote in Montana has made the difference before, when Indigenous voters helped Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat who has advocated for Indian Country in legislation regarding water settlements, missing and murdered Indigenous women, and tribal recognition, get elected the last three terms in often-close races.
  • Wisconsin, a closely watched swing state, went narrowly for Biden by around 20,500 votes. There, the Indigenous population is 90,189 people as of 2018. Wisconsin counties overlapping the lands of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, the Menominee Tribe and the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans show that voters there helped tip the count to a Democratic majority. Menominee County, which overlaps the Menominee Tribe’s reservation, voted for Biden 82%, compared to the state as a whole at 49.4%.
  • South Dakota went for Trump by 61% — except on tribal lands. Counties overlapping the lands of the Standing Rock Sioux, Cheyenne River Sioux, Oglala Sioux, Rosebud Sioux and Crow Creek tribes went for Biden. In Oglala Lakota County, which overlaps with the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s Pine Ridge reservation, Biden won with 88%. In Todd County, which overlaps the Rosebud Sioux Reservation, Biden won 77% of the vote.
  • Additionally, Indigenous candidates did well: A historic six Native candidates will be heading to the U.S. Congress next term, New Mexico has made history by becoming the second state after Hawaii whose delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives will now be made up entirely of women of color, two of whom are Native. That’s in addition to dozens of Indigenous candidates elected to state and local offices, 11 of which were elected to state office in Arizona.

    As the 2020 election comes to a close, James Harvill says this election illuminates the importance of the Native vote, which is likely to only grow because of an increasing young population aging into the electorate and a strong level of community support. “When we’re looking on to the next several years, we’re going to see that Native American voters become one of the defining members of the electorate, much like we’re seeing of Latinx and Black voters.”

    Anna V. Smith is an assistant editor for High Country News. Email us at editor@hcn.org or submit a letter to the editor.

    This story was originally published at High Country News (hcn.org) on November 6, 2020..

    The #Colorado #Climate Voter’s Guide To The #2020Election Results — Colorado Public Radio

    Gothic mountain shrouded in clouds behind several cabins in the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic, Colorado, USA. By Charlie DeTar – Own workby uploader, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4795644

    From Colorado Public Radio (Joe Wertz, Michael Elizabeth Sakas, and Sam Brasch):

    After days of uncertainty and delayed counting, Joe Biden was elected the 46th president of the United States on Saturday — a historic vote that will likely have profound effects on federal environment and energy policy, and the country’s response and adaptation to the hazards of climate change…

    In Colorado, voters broke 52.3 percent for Biden and 42.1 percent for Trump, preliminary data shows.

    Throughout the campaign, Biden pledged to restore environmental regulations reversed or weakened during the Trump administration, including the Endangered Species Act and rollbacks of methane and mercury rules. Biden also talked up a more-progressive environmental agenda that would see the U.S. rejoin the Paris climate agreement, ban new oil and gas drilling on public lands and promote renewable energy.

    Climate change is an increasingly critical motivating issue for a segment of the Colorado electorate. Recent polling finds that well over half of Coloradans think the U.S. government should do more than its doing now to address it.

    Here’s a quick review of some key climate change and environmental outcomes from Colorado’s 2020 election.

    John Hickenlooper

    U.S. Senate

    Winner: John Hickenlooper

    Background: Colorado’s former two-term Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper, defeated Republican incumbent Cory Gardner in the race for the Senate by nearly 10 percentage points. Both candidates touted their environmental records, but only Hickenlooper highlighted climate change as a major platform issue, calling it “the defining challenge of our time.”

    In his acceptance speech, Hickenlooper said that, “Regardless of which party ends up controlling the Senate, I want you to know that I will work with anyone and everyone to help Coloradans… to protect our planet, and address the nightmare of these endless wildfires by tackling climate change.”

    If Biden wins the presidency, he would need support from both the House and the Senate to pass major pieces of his $2 trillion climate plan…

    Gardner has often refused to acknowledge human-caused climate change, and focused instead on his public lands and conservation record, including the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act. But conservationist saw Gardner’s record as problematic, for things like not stopping the Trump administration from rolling back clean air and water rules.

    Denver’s Brown Cloud via the Denver Regional Council of Governments.

    Denver Climate Tax

    Result: Ballot Measure 2A passes

    Background: Denverites signed off on 2A, a measure that increases sales and use taxes levied on most goods by .25 percent, according to unofficial election results. The proposal should generate about $36 million a year to fund programs to combat and adapt to climate change, including cleaner transportation, upgrades to infrastructure and improving the energy-efficiency of streets and local homes and buildings.

    Other cities have adopted more direct taxes on carbon emissions, but the Denver climate tax is unique. Opponents worried about the disproportionate impact of hiking the sales tax, which many consider “regressive” because they’re paid equally by people with different income levels.

    Image from Grand County on June 6, 2020 provided courtesy of Jessica Freeman via Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

    Wolf Reintroduction

    Result: Proposition 114 passes

    Background: Coloradoans approved Proposition 114, which clears a path for state wildlife authorities to bring wolves back to the Western Slope by 2024.

    The Associated Press had not officially called a winner in the campaign by the time this story was published, but proponents of the measure declared victory, opponents conceded defeat and state wildlife officials expect the measure to pass.

    Supporters said reintroducing wolves will positively affect other animals’ evolution and support biodiversity in an ecosystem that was long shaped by the predators.

    Boulder. By Gtj82 at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Patriot8790., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11297782

    Boulder: 2C and 2D

    Result: Ballot Measure 2C and 2D likely to pass

    Background: Ten years ago, Boulder voters rejected a new franchise agreement with Xcel Energy and decided instead to pursue a city-run electric utility, which proponents said would give residents more control over the source of the county’s electricity and pollution that fuels climate change.

    In approving 2C, Boulder voters agreed to pause the municipalization effort and re-enter a 20-year franchise arrangement with Xcel, part of a settlement agreement in which the utility said it will slash carbon emissions from Boulder operations at least 80 percent by 2030.

    Boulder voters also appear to have voted to pass 2D, which extends a city utility tax originally enacted to pay for municipalization expenses. The measure repurposes the tax to fund to-be-determined green energy projects.

    Colorado River “Beginnings”. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Colorado River Water Conservation District: Ballot Measure 7A

    Result: Approved, according to preliminary count — 163,384 votes in favor; 61,689 opposed

    Background: Western Slope voters approved a property tax increase to fund various projects designed to improve and secure water supplies for the 15-county Colorado River Water Conservation District, preliminary results show

    Ballot Measure 7A will raise property taxes by a half-mill in 2021 and is expected to bring in $4.9 million, most of which will fund projects that improve the quality and availability of water throughout the Colorado River watershed, which is threatened by climate change.

    @KamalaHarris becomes first Black woman, South Asian elected vice president — The #Colorado Sun

    Kamala Harris. By United States Senate – This file has been extracted from another file: Kamala Harris official photo.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64332043

    From The Associated Press via The Colorado Sun:

    Kamala Harris has been a rising star in Democratic politics for much of the last two decades

    Kamala Harris made history Saturday as the first Black woman elected as vice president of the United States, shattering barriers that have kept men — almost all of them white — entrenched at the highest levels of American politics for more than two centuries.

    The 56-year-old California senator, also the first person of South Asian descent elected to the vice presidency, represents the multiculturalism that defines America but is largely absent from Washington’s power centers. Her Black identity has allowed her to speak in personal terms in a year of reckoning over police brutality and systemic racism. As the highest-ranking woman ever elected in American government, her victory gives hope to women who were devastated by Hillary Clinton’s defeat four years ago.

    Harris has been a rising star in Democratic politics for much of the last two decades, serving as San Francisco’s district attorney and California’s attorney general before becoming a U.S. senator. After Harris ended her own 2020 Democratic presidential campaign, Joe Biden tapped her as his running mate. They will be sworn in as president and vice president on Jan. 20.

    Biden’s running mate selection carried added significance because he will be the oldest president ever inaugurated, at 78, and hasn’t committed to seeking a second term in 2024.

    Harris often framed her candidacy as part of the legacy — often undervalued — of pioneering Black women who came before her, including educator Mary McLeod Bethune, civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer and Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the first Black candidate to seek a major party’s presidential nomination, in 1972.

    “We’re not often taught their stories,” Harris said in August as she accepted her party’s vice presidential nomination. “But as Americans, we all stand on their shoulders.”

    […]

    Harris is the second Black woman elected to the Senate. Her colleague, Sen. Cory Booker, who is also Black, said her very presence makes the institution “more accessible to more people” and suggested she would accomplish the same with the vice presidency.

    Harris was born in 1964 to two parents active in the civil rights movement. Shyamala Gopalan, from India, and Donald Harris, from Jamaica, met at the University of California, Berkeley, then a hotbed of 1960s activism. They divorced when Harris and her sister were girls, and Harris was raised by her late mother, whom she considers the most important influence in her life…

    “British 19th Century, East Indian Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera), late 19th century, gouache on oriental paper, overall: 42.2 x 33.4 cm (16 5/8 x 13 1/8 in.), Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection, 1970.19.1”. By British 19th Century – This file was donated to Wikimedia Commons as part of a project by the National Gallery of Art. Please see the Gallery's Open Access Policy., CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=81415124

    Kamala is Sanskrit for “lotus flower,” and Harris gave nods to her Indian heritage throughout the campaign, including with a callout to her “chitthis,” a Tamil word for a maternal aunt, in her first speech as Biden’s running mate. When Georgia Sen. David Perdue mocked her name in an October rally, the hashtag #MyNameIs took off on Twitter, with South Asians sharing the meanings behind their names.

    The mocking of her name by Republicans, including Trump, was just one of the attacks Harris faced. Trump and his allies sought to brand her as radical and a socialist despite her more centrist record, an effort aimed at making people uncomfortable about the prospect of a Black woman in leadership. She was the target of online disinformation laced with racism and sexism about her qualifications to serve as president.

    Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of Washington said Harris’ power comes not just from her life experience but also from the people she already represents. California is the nation’s most populous and one of its most diverse states; nearly 40% of people are Latino and 15% are Asian. In Congress, Harris and Jayapal have teamed up on bills to ensure legal representation for Muslims targeted by Trump’s 2017 travel ban and to extend rights to domestic workers…

    “That’s the kind of policy that also happens when you have voices like ours at the table,” said Jayapal, who in 2016 was the first South Asian woman elected to the U.S. House. Harris won election to the Senate that same year.

    Harris’ mother raised her daughters with the understanding the world would see them as Black women, Harris has said, and that is how she describes herself today.

    She attended Howard University, one of the nation’s historically Black colleges and universities, and pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha, the nation’s first sorority created by and for Black women. She campaigned regularly at HBCUs and tried to address the concerns of young Black men and women eager for strong efforts to dismantle systemic racism.

    Her victory could usher more Black women and people of color into politics.

    Voters overwhelmingly pass #ColoradoRiver District tax hike — @AspenJournalism #COriver #aridification

    A boater paddles the Roaring Fork River near Carbondale May 16, 2020. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    Western Slope voters have overwhelmingly passed a proposal by the Colorado River Water Conservation District to raise property taxes across its 15-county region.

    According to preliminary results as of 10:45 p.m. Tuesday, encompassing about 246,245 ballots, about 72% of voters said yes to the measure. Saguache County was the lone county to vote against the measure.

    Pitkin County voters passed ballot question 7A with 80% in favor, despite three of five county commissioners and Pitkin County’s representative to the River District board John Ely opposing the measure. Nearly 69% of voters in Mesa County, which has the largest population base in the district, supported the measure.

    The River District announced that the measure had received voter approval in a news release at 7:55 p.m. Tuesday, saying the organization is ready to get to work implementing water projects across the district.

    River District general manager Andy Mueller said the results prove that water is the one issue that can unite voters in western Colorado.

    “It was the one issue that’s not partisan, that was about uniting a very politically diverse region,” he said. “Everybody is so sick of the nasty, divisive, partisan politics. People with (Donald) Trump signs and (Joe) Biden signs voted for the same thing.”

    Ballot measure 7A raises property taxes by a half-mill, or an extra $1.90 per year for every $100,000 of residential home value. The measure will raise nearly an additional $5 million annually for the River District, which says it will use the money for fighting to keep water on the Western Slope, protecting water supplies for Western Slope farmers and ranchers, protecting drinking water for Western Slope communities, and protecting fish, wildlife and recreation.

    According to numbers provided by the River District, the mill levy will increase to $40.28 from $18.93 annually for Pitkin County’s median home value, which at $1.13 million is the highest in the district. In Eagle County, where the median home value is $660,979, the mill levy will increase to $23.63 from $11.11 annually.

    Property owners can expect to see the mill-levy increase on their 2021 tax bill.

    The proposal received wide support among county commissioners, agricultural organizations and environmental groups.

    Eagle County Commissioner and River District board member Kathy Chandler-Henry, who also served as vice-chair of the political action committee Yes on 7A, said it would have been nearly impossible for the River District to protect Western Slope water without the tax increase.

    “I’m glad people throughout the district saw the value in that, even though it’s a tough time to be asking for a tax increase,” she said. “I think that’s a huge win and a huge vote of confidence in the work the River District’s been doing.”

    The River District, based in Glenwood Springs and created by the state legislature in 1937 to develop and protect water supplies in western Colorado, spans Grand, Summit, Eagle, Pitkin, Gunnison, Garfield, Rio Blanco, Routt, Moffat, Mesa, Delta, Montrose, Ouray, Hinsdale and Saguache counties.

    The River District’s fiscal implementation plan for the revenue that would be raised by the tax hike says 86% would go toward funding water projects backed by roundtables and local communities. Those projects would fall into five categories: productive agriculture; infrastructure; healthy rivers; watershed health and water quality; and conservation and efficiency.

    This story ran in The Aspen Times, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the Summit Daily News, the Vail Daily, the Steamboat Pilot and Today and the Sky-Hi News.

    The Colorado River Water Conservation District spans 15 Western Slope counties. River District directors are asking voters this fall to raise the mill levy.

    Millions in new taxes approved for #WestSlope, #FrontRange #water districts — @WaterEdCO

    From Water Education Colorado (Sarah Kuta):

    Water won big in Colorado on Election Day as voters in two multi-county districts approved property tax increases to fund water projects and programs.

    Voters in two local water districts — the Colorado River Water Conservation District on the West Slope and the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District on the Front Range — said yes to ballot measures that will generate millions of dollars in new money for conservation, water education, stream health, storage and agriculture.

    Based on vote totals as of 4:30 a.m. this morning, 72 percent of voters in the Colorado River District approved ballot issue 7A, with nearly 28 percent voting against the measure.

    Meanwhile, 69 percent of voters in the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District approved a separate ballot issue 7A, with 31 percent voting against.

    Though statewide funding for water projects has historically been a tough sell for Colorado voters, local initiatives with a more direct connection to residents are finding more success at the polls in recent years. These 2020 water funding ballot measures come on the heels of similar successes in 2018, when voters in Denver, Eagle, Chaffee and Park counties approved tax increases, new taxes, and tax extensions for water and land-focused initiatives.

    “Passing any type of fiscal measures statewide in Colorado is going to continue to be an extreme challenge but it’s a much different story on the local level and the regional level,” said Matt Rice, director of the Colorado Basin Program for American Rivers, which supported the Colorado River District measure. “People in Colorado like to make their own decisions locally about fiscal issues, but also about how we manage and protect and restore our rivers for the environment, for agriculture and for local economies.”

    In deciding to ask voters for more money this year, the two districts’ leaders cited factors like growing demand for water, drought, higher temperatures, population growth, declining oil and gas revenue, and declining property tax levels under the state’s Gallagher Amendment.

    Those reasons resonated with voters on both sides of the political spectrum across the state. On the West Slope, for example, voters in right-leaning counties like Mesa and Montrose and left-leaning counties like Pitkin and Summit approved the ballot measure. (Of note: Nearly 80 percent of voters in Pitkin County approved the ballot measure, despite opposition by three county commissioners and the county’s representative on the district’s board.)

    “It’s really a testament to what can happen if people put aside partisan differences on water issues,” said Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River District. “Voters in Colorado are seeing the effects of rising temperatures, changing climate and the impact it’s having on water resources, and they know that we need to adapt and mitigate and that it’s going to cost money to do that.”

    An angler casts a line on the Roaring Fork River upstream of Basalt in Pitkin County. West Slope voters said yes to millions in new taxes for the Colorado River District. Credit: Jerd Smith, Fresh Water News

    West Slope says yes

    In the large Colorado River District, which includes 15 counties and some 500,000 residents, voters approved a mill levy increase that will double the district’s budget by generating an additional $4.9 million every year starting in 2021.

    The district spans an area that covers 28 percent of the state and encompasses the Colorado River and its major tributaries, which include the Yampa, the White, the Gunnison and the Uncompahgre rivers.

    With the passage of the ballot measure, West Slope voters approved a median residential property tax increase of $7.03 per year for residents of Grand, Summit, Eagle, Pitkin, Garfield, Routt, Moffat, Rio Blanco, Mesa, Delta, Ouray, Gunnison and parts of Montrose, Saguache and Hinsdale counties. The increase represents an additional $1.90 per year for every $100,000 of home value.

    The district, which has 22 employees, will use the new funding for projects related to agriculture, infrastructure, water quality, conservation, efficiency, and other key priority areas determined by local communities and river basin roundtables.

    District leaders say they will also stretch the extra money further by using it to solicit matching funds from state, federal and private sources.

    Water funding on the Front Range

    It was also a historic night for the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District, where voters approved a property tax increase for the next 10 years. This is the first time in nearly 50 years — since its founding in 1971 — that the district has asked voters for more funding.

    The district’s board thought long and hard about how best to approach voters — and whether this was the right year to do it. But in the end, their approach paid off.

    “The discussions were good and essentially resulted in consensus and agreement with the board,” said Chris Smith, board vice president representing district 3, which encompasses northwest Longmont and parts of unincorporated Boulder County. “It was all done in a very thoughtful manner, which speaks a lot to having a board that represents, geographically, the entire watershed.”

    Smith said he was happy to see the West Slope ballot measure pass, too.

    “The people of Colorado have really keyed in on the importance of water,” he said. “There are so many new people moving to Colorado, it’s good to see that they’re carrying on that mantle of protecting our most important resource.”

    The St. Vrain and Left Hand district encompasses some 500 square miles along the St. Vrain and Left Hand creeks in Boulder, Weld and Larimer counties. Voters agreed to a mill levy increase from 0.156 mills to 1.25 mills through 2030.

    The tax increase will generate an additional $3.3 million per year for the district starting in 2021, up from the $421,000 generated annually by the current mill levy. On a $350,000 home, the tax increase represents an additional $2.61 per month; on a $500,000 commercial building, it’s an extra $15.10 per month.

    District leaders say they will use the extra money for projects related to water quality, river and creek health, water education, agriculture, storage and conservation, among others.

    Sarah Kuta is a freelance writer based in Longmont, Colorado. She can be reached at sarahkuta@gmail.com.

    Water for #Colorado Coalition Applauds the Passage of $8 Million to Protect Colorado’s Rivers — Western Resource Advocates

    Here’s the release from Western Resource Advocates (Jennifer Talhelm):

    Today, the Water for Colorado coalition celebrates the passage of two key local ballot measures that will increase investment in Colorado’s rivers and streams. Together these measures will generate nearly $8 million annually to support critical water-related needs.

    Voters approved a property tax increase for the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District, which will provide $3.3 million a year to protect water quality, safeguard drinking water, maintain healthy forests, rivers and creeks, plan ahead for dry years and grow food locally. The funds will be allocated using the District’s recently developed 5-Point Water Action Plan that will protect rivers, forests, and local water quality.

    On the West Slope, voters approved a mill levy increase for the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which will bring in nearly $5 million a year to support healthy rivers, local agriculture, watershed health, and water quality in the 15 counties that make up the district. According to its Fiscal Implementation Plan, the District will allocate these funds through partnerships with water users and communities for priority projects identified by local communities and Basin Roundtables.

    Local funding from both measures will support the types of solutions and water management projects outlined in Colorado’s Water Plan. The Water Plan, finalized in 2015, provides a blueprint to address the gap between water supply and demand across the state.

    “Whether they’re on the Front Range or the West Slope, Coloradans know that water is essential for life; they value protecting our rivers and streams, and that’s why an incredibly diverse group of Coloradans unified in support of the two funding measures,” said Bart Miller, Western Resource Advocates’ Healthy Rivers Program Director. “The passage of these two ballot measures will mean communities will have $8 million more a year working to ensure there is enough water for everyone – for drinking, farming and ranching, recreation, and wildlife. But while we’re justifiably celebrating today, the wildfires that have been burning across the state this fall are a destructive reminder that climate change and drought will keep stressing our water, and we all need to keep working for full funding for Colorado’s Water Plan.”

    “Both measures provide an essential blueprint to these river districts to better manage water supplies and, in turn, support the communities and economies that rely on them,” said Matt Rice, Director of the Colorado Basin Program for American Rivers. “Voters have clearly rallied around water as a shared priority and recognized the urgent need to safeguard our drinking water, protect forests that are critical to water supplies, and maintain healthy rivers and creeks.”

    “Our economy depends on a healthy, reliable Colorado River System, and Colorado voters realized that in the passage of two ballot issues on water yesterday. Billions of dollars are generated every year in Colorado by river-related recreation, and we know that healthy rivers mean a thriving economy across our communities. The St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District can now implement their five-point plan to protect that area’s rivers and water sources, and the Colorado River District can continue its important, locally driven work throughout the 15 counties they serve,” said Molly Mugglestone, Director of Communications and Colorado Policy for Business for Water Stewardship.

    “The passage of these measures comes as Colorado continues to grapple with extreme wildfires and ongoing drought conditions across the state. The water Coloradans use to drink, irrigate crops, recreate, and sustain our communities is water that we share with wildlife that depend on our rivers, streams, and lakes. In the face of a historic drought and the ongoing threat of climate change, these kinds of forward-looking investments in how we care for and sustain our water supplies are critical to ensuring the collective future of the people and wildlife of Colorado,” said Abby Burk, Western Rivers Regional Program Manager for Audubon Rockies .

    “I want to applaud Coloradans who voted to keep our rivers healthy and flowing. The wise investment they approved will protect clean drinking water and iconic waterways now and for future generations,” said Kelly Nordini, Executive Director of Conservation Colorado.

    Coloradans continue to prioritize water by voting to approve ballot measures that use tax revenues to invest in healthy rivers, clean drinking water, resilient agriculture, and a thriving recreation economy. This year’s double win marks another voter-approved effort to fund work that supports the Water Plan. In November 2019, voters passed Proposition DD to legalize sports betting and use the resulting taxes to help fund Colorado’s Water Plan.

    However, the Water for Colorado Coalition will continue its efforts to fully fund the Water Plan. This is essential, because even though these local ballot measures will generate significant funding for water in Colorado, a larger funding gap for implementing Colorado’s Water Plan remains. The Water Plan estimates that $100 million dollars per year is needed to protect scarce water resources and to prevent future water shortages in the state.

    About the Water for Colorado Coalition
    The Water for Colorado Coalition is dedicated to ensuring our rivers support everyone who depends on them, working toward resilience to climate change, planning for sustained and more severe droughts, and enabling every individual in Colorado to have a voice and the opportunity to take action to advocate for sustainable conservation-based solutions for our state’s water future.

    The community of organizations that make up the Water for Colorado Coalition represent diverse perspectives and share a commitment to protecting Colorado’s water future to secure a reliable water supply for the state and for future generations.

    #ColoradoRiver District Issue 7A: Voters overwhelmingly pass River District tax hike — The #Aspen Times #COriver #aridification

    The Colorado River Water Conservation District spans 15 Western Slope counties. River District directors are asking voters this fall to raise the mill levy.

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett) via The Aspen Times:

    According to preliminary results as of 10:45 p.m. Tuesday, encompassing about 246,245 ballots, about 72% of voters said yes to the measure. Saguache County was the lone county to vote against the measure.

    Pitkin County voters passed ballot question 7A with 80% in favor, despite three of five county commissioners and Pitkin County’s representative to the River District board John Ely opposing the measure. Nearly 69% of voters in Mesa County, which has the largest population base in the district, supported the measure.

    River District general manager Andy Mueller said the results prove that water is the one issue that can unite voters in western Colorado. [ed. emphasis mine]

    “It was the one issue that’s not partisan, that was about uniting a very politically diverse region,” he said. “Everybody is so sick of the nasty, divisive, partisan politics. People with (Donald) Trump signs and (Joe) Biden signs voted for the same thing.”

    Ballot measure 7A raises property taxes by a half-mill, or an extra $1.90 per year for every $100,000 of residential home value. The measure will raise nearly an additional $5 million annually for the River District, which says it will use the money for fighting to keep water on the Western Slope, protecting water supplies for Western Slope farmers and ranchers, protecting drinking water for Western Slope communities, and protecting fish, wildlife and recreation.

    According to numbers provided by the River District, the mill levy will increase to $40.28 from $18.93 annually for Pitkin County’s median home value, which at $1.13 million is the highest in the district. In Eagle County, where the median home value is $660,979, the mill levy will increase to $23.63 from $11.11 annually.

    Property owners can expect to see the mill-levy increase on their 2021 tax bill.

    The proposal received wide support among county commissioners, agricultural organizations and environmental groups…

    The River District’s fiscal implementation plan for the revenue that would be raised by the tax hike says 86% would go toward funding water projects backed by roundtables and local communities. Those projects would fall into five categories: productive agriculture; infrastructure; healthy rivers; watershed health and water quality; and conservation and efficiency.

    Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative news organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. For more, go to aspenjournalism.org.