TONGASS LOGGING GETS GREENLIT AGAIN: The Trump administration is teeing up plans to reverse a long-standing limit on logging in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.
The draft environmental impact statement announced by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) on Tuesday opens the door to land-use options that would significantly roll back protections currently in place in the country’s largest national forest.
The proposed rule would open up nearly half of the 16.7 million-acre Tongass National Forest to logging by removing it entirely from a 2001 Clinton-era regulation known as the “Roadless Rule.” The rule established prohibitions on road construction and timber harvesting across 58.5 million acres of roadless lands in the National Forest System.
Under the Trump administration’s proposed changes, the 9.2 million acres of inventoried roadless land in the Tongass forest would once again be considered suitable timber lands. The forest yields 165,000 acres of old growth trees and 20,000 acres of new growth trees, according to the agency.
The draft environmental impact statement will be submitted to the Federal Register later this week, according to the USFS.
Several Alaskan lawmakers have long sought an exemption to the rule in the area, arguing it would be a boost to the local economy.
The Post reported that multiple conversations between Trump and Alaska Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy (R) played a part in the administration’s decision to change the rule.
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said in a statement to the Post that the rule “should never have been applied to our state” and added that it is “harming our ability to develop a sustainable, year-round economy for the Southeast region, where less than one percent of the land is privately held.”
“The timber industry has declined precipitously, and it is astonishing that the few remaining mills in our nation’s largest national forest have to constantly worry about running out of supply,” she added.
Nearly 6 million acres of the Tongass forest is designated as wilderness by Congress, and will remain off limits.
Several other lawmakers blasted the decision Tuesday.
Republican Rep. Ruben Gallego, a subcommittee chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, said the decision would open the forest to “clear-cutting.”
“The administration’s rushed and reckless plan to allow clear-cutting and road-building in huge swaths of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest will cause harm for generations to come,” Gallego said in a statement. “Tongass National Forest is not only a pristine national treasure, the largest intact temperate forest in the world, and a key part of local tourism and recreation economies – it is also one of our most effective tools to mitigate climate change for future generations.
Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee called the decision a victim of a “backroom political deal.”
Read more here.
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THE OTHER BIG SUBPOENA NEWS: House committees are nearing the tipping point on their threat to issue subpoenas to agencies like the Interior Department and Environmental Protection Agency, arguing Trump officials are failing to meet deadlines for document requests.
Top lawmakers on the House Natural Resources Committee will meet this week to discuss subpoena actions they could soon take to force the Interior Department to respond to dozens of unmet records requests, a senior Democratic aide told The Hill.
The move would be an escalation in the committee’s attempt to obtain information from an agency that has drawn criticism from both sides of the aisle.
Lawmakers are seeking information surrounding plans for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a division of the Interior Department, to move its headquarters to Grand Junction, Colo., as part of a bureau-wide restructuring that would leave just 61 employees in Washington.
Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) has on multiple occasions threatened to subpoena Interior for information on the topic. In early September, after a hearing with the acting director of BLM William Pendley, the congressman called a subpoena “the next step.”
“The hearing validated some things we had been considering and also justifies us going further in the consideration of a subpoena to get those reorganization papers. I think that’s the next step,” Grijalva said at the time.
Near the end of the month, frustration with Interior had extended to both parties.
At a Sept. 26 hearing with Interior’s newly confirmed solicitor, Grijalva said the committee had sent 24 requests to Interior, with only three responses providing enough information to be deemed satisfactory.
“Interior’s refusal to cooperate means this committee cannot do the oversight envisioned in our Constitution,” Grijalva said at the hearing. “That has not stopped the Trump administration from delaying, obstructing and sometimes just ignoring our efforts to conduct oversight.”
Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), a member of the committee, voiced similar concerns.
“There are many of us on the other side of the aisle that may not share the Democrats’ policy positions, but do recognize the role of oversight, and are frustrated when legitimate requests, bipartisan requests are made and not answered,” he said at the hearing.
Interior Solicitor Daniel Jorjani told the committee at the time that Interior’s policy for responding to congressional requests was no different now than under the Obama administration. He promised lawmakers he would follow up on a number of requests they made, including a request for planning documents tied to Interior’s decision to move 300 Washington-based BLM employees to various offices across the West.
The senior staffer said many of those requests, some of which had Oct. 4 deadlines, have not been fulfilled.
Read more here.
NOT A CROWD PLEASER: New details released Thursday as part of the Trump administration’s plan to boost ethanol are getting low marks from key corners of President Trump’s base: corn farmers and the oil and gas industry.
The proposal gets to the heart of what has angered farmers across the Corn Belt — waivers given to small refineries that exempt them from adding ethanol to the fuel they produce.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced earlier this month that it would require other larger refineries to add those exempted gallons into their fuels. But the formula unveiled by the agency Tuesday would require those refineries to add ethanol based on projections rather than the actual number of gallons exempted.
This is angering ethanol groups that had praised the policy just a little over a week ago.
“If the Oct. 4 announcement from EPA was a big step forward, today’s supplemental proposal is a step backward,” Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Geoff Cooper said in a release, asking for an intervention from Trump himself. “This proposal is not what was promised by the administration.”
Ethanol producers worry there will be a major disconnect between the actual number of gallons of ethanol that are not blended into the fuel supply after the EPA doles out waivers and the number of gallons the government projects will be exempted.
“We are outraged the Environmental Protection Agency did not implement the details that were presented and outlined by the president only eleven days ago,” the Iowa Corn Growers Association said in a statement. “Any proposal that does not account for actual waived gallons under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) fails to restore the integrity of the law.”
The EPA in August announced it was giving out 31 such waivers to small refineries, bringing the total to 85 under the Trump administration, a sharp uptick from the fewer than 10 that were issued under former President Obama.
That proved a catalyzing event for farmers, particularly in Iowa, who have been putting political pressure on Trump for find a fix.
Trump has since been struggling to please both corn farmers and the oil and gas industry with his attempts to reform the RFS program, alternatively angering one side or the other with each hint at a new proposal.
On Tuesday, both groups were united in their displeasure. The oil and gas industry opposes changes to the waiver process mainly because it doesn’t think larger refineries should have to take on the gallons small refineries pass up.
“While the granting of widespread small refinery exemptions should not be occurring in the first place, there is simply no logic in forcing complying refineries to bear the burden of decisions outside of their control. We are evaluating our options and fully intend to vigorously challenge this misguided policy,” Frank Macchiarola, vice president of downstream and industry operations at the American Petroleum Institute, said in a statement to The Hill.
Read more here.
ON TAP TOMORROW:
On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing on aquaculture.
Later that day, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will hold a hearing on how disease impacts wildlife management.
OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:
-Two Washington tribes make first call for removal of Columbia River dams, The Seattle Times reports.
-Shrinking ice leaves subsistence hunters with little in Alaska town, Alaska Public Media reports.
-Oregon may allow BYO food containers in stores, restaurants, the Associated Press reports.
ICYMI: Stories from Tuesday…
Democrats inch closer to issuing subpoenas for Interior, EPA records
Trump’s latest plan to boost ethanol miffs both corn groups and the fossil fuel industry
University of Iowa faculty told not to promote Greta Thunberg appearance
Trump administration issues plan to reverse limits on logging in Tongass National Forest