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 western business roundtable 12/16/08

Senator Salazar To Head Interior:
Other Regulatory Developments Of Note

On the regulatory front, there are several important developments to note.

1)  SENATOR KEN SALAZAR TO HEAD INTERIOR DEPARTMENT

President Obama signaled that he intends to take a more moderate course in public lands management issues by selecting Colorado Senator Ken Salazar (D) to lead the Department of the Interior, rather than U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-NM).  Rep. Grijalva was the near unanimous pick of environmental activists because of his vehement opposition to virtually any use of public lands for energy, mineral and forest product development. Senator Salazar's philosophy of public lands management is a much more balanced approach.

The Roundtable has worked with Senator Salazar on a number of issues, including Good Samaritan abandoned mine legislation and clean coal and carbon capture technology development issues. He was one of the Senate's "Gang of 16" bipartisan group that worked to craft a more moderate approach to energy production issues. And, he voted for final passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

Still, as the Los Angeles Times notes, Senator Salazar's appointment does signal the onset of more stringent regulation of activities such as development of domestic oil and gas and oil shale.

2. ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT RULES ARE FINALIZED

The Department of the Interior has given its final approval to new regulations designed to clarify the interagency consultation process under section 7 of the Endangered Species Act.  The rule is expected to be officially published in the Federal Register sometime next week

The Roundtable, long an advocate for fundamental ESA reform, viewed this rule as an important initiative. We were actively engaged in the public input process.   See the Roundtable's filed comments here.  

The final rule is important because it affords federal agencies more discretion in determining whether or not consultation is required with the Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS).  Agencies can avoid consultation in the following circumstances:

  • Where the action has no effect on a listed species or critical habitat;
  • Where the action is wholly beneficial;
  • Where the effects of the action cannot be measured or detected in a manner that permits meaningful evaluation using the best available science; or
  • Where the effects of the action are the result of global processes and cannot be reliably predicted or measured on the scale of species current range, or would result in an insignificant impact to a listed species, or are such that the potential risk of harm to a species is remote.

Whether the reforms ever get put to use or not is an open question.  Environmental groups are putting tremendous pressure on Congressional leaders to use their authority to roll-back the regulations.  Oversight hearings have already occurred on this Bush rule, among others.

3.  ADMINISTRATION PULLS BACK FLAWED EFFORT TO RE-WRITE FLAG AIR EMISSIONS GUIDELINES

Hit with strong criticism from all camps, the Bush Administration has abandoned its plans to finalize a rule to revise the so-called FLAG guidelines.  

Established in April 2001, the Federal Land Managers' Air Quality Related Values Workgroup ("FLAG") report was adopted as a guidance document to be followed by all federal land managers (FLMs) to evaluate the impacts of air pollution on Air Quality Related Values (AQRVs) in both Class I and Class II areas. (AQRVs include protection of flora, fauna, soil, water, visibility and recreation.)  This arcane set of federal air emissions standards affect power generation, upstream and midstream oil and gas operations, refining, manufacturing facilities and other heavy industry operations throughout the West.  

The Roundtable has had FLAG as among its top priorities since shortly after the 2001 Guidelines emerged. We have spent tremendous energy and resources over the past seven years educating policymakers on the issue, working closely with Members of Congress, Administration officials and Western governors to encourage much-needed reforms.  

Early in 2008, it appeared our arduous efforts might finally be bearing fruit, as the U.S. Departments of Interior and Agriculture announced they were, indeed, planning to issue revised guidelines.  In July, 2008, the new guidance was published for review and comment by the public.   A copy of the  proposed rule can be accessed here

Our staff, and interested Roundtable members, spent much of the summer evaluating the proposed rule. Unfortunately, the consensus position that emerged from that process is that the proposed FLAG revisions, though making a few technical improvements, have overall added even more confusion to an already cumbersome and fundamentally flawed process. We were compelled to oppose the Administration's product.   You can access the Roundtable's comments here.

Since filing our comments on September 8, 2008, we have been busy informing key Administration officials of our concerns regarding the proposed rule.  Here is a sampling of our communications:   Letter to Secretary of Interior Dirk Kempthorne.

Thanks for your continued interest and participation in the Roundtable's public policy process.

Holly Propst
Director of Policy
Western Business Roundtable
200 Union Blvd., #105
Lakewood, CO  80228
office: 303-216-9278
fax: 303-496-0334

The Roundtable is a non-profit, 501(c)(6) organization that unites a wide variety of business and industry leaders to work on a bipartisan basis for public policies that promote a common sense balance between economic growth and environmental conservation. 

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