Tag: "land use"

War on Domestic Energy Supply

Anti-energy activists are planning to attack the oil and natural gas supply in the United States through a critical strategy. They want the federal government to stop new leases for oil and natural gas development. The damage to our domestic supply and energy output could:

  • Increase oil imports and greater dependence on foreign oil. As EIA projects, the United States will continue to use oil well into the future, and more imports would increase U.S. dependency on others for its energy needs.
  • Diminish U.S. energy security. At home and abroad, less domestic energy production and increased dependency would make the U.S. less secure in the world, more vulnerable to global energy pressures.
  • Weaken the economy. Oil and natural gas are the engines of our economy, and cutting domestic development will mean job losses, lower GDP, less revenue for government and higher household costs.

The Golden-cheeked Warbler and Piecemeal Environmental Policy

A tiny, migratory songbird is causing a big ruckus in Texas. At issue is the Golden-cheeked warbler’s status according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The bird caused a related stir in 1990 when it was the subject of a petition by members of the anarchist environmental group, Earth First! The petition moved the FWS to exercise its emergency authority to declare a species endangered under the 1973 Endangered Species Act (ESA). In December 1990, the agency issued its final rule designating the bird to be an endangered species.

However, a recent comprehensive study has motivated several groups to call for the removal of the golden-cheeked warbler from the list. The findings, as presented by Texas A&M, has been peer reviewed, published in respected journals, and judged as scientifically sound. It appears the golden-cheeked warbler is not endangered. Even more concerning, the species may not have been in peril in 1990, the year FWS declared an emergency protected status.

What does this mean to the hundreds of private property owners who have suffered land restrictions, substantial fines, and criminal prosecution as a result of the warbler’s status? For example, one such case saw a Texas rancher penalized for clearing Ashe Juniper (Cedar) from his property. An activity FWS deemed damaging to the protected bird’s breeding habitat. In a negotiated settlement, the landowner transferred 48 acres to a public preserve and paid $220,260 in land management fees.

Even if one were to believe the earlier, mostly anecdotal based evidence that the golden-cheeked warbler was threatened, the latest research supports its removal from the list of endangered species. Still, some ask since recovery efforts have been so successful, why should the warbler be delisted to face uncertainty?

Simple answer first, the endangered species listing is for species that are, in fact, endangered. To maintain a status that is not evidenced based, delegitimizes the significance of the entire list. Second, although there is no geographical designation of warbler habitat, Ashe Juniper (Cedar) trees are recognized as essential to warbler nesting. So, while the bird is a protected species, landowners are subject to restrictions, in what amounts to a regulatory taking of property rights in regards to Ashe junipers.

Finally, the listing of the warbler has caused a clash of agencies, pitting federal against state in a battle of species management. As well, the limited focus on warbler breeding habitat protection has contributed to serious health issues, particularly for children.

To explain, while the FWS strictly enforces habitat (a tree) protection, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPW) calls the golden-cheeked warbler issue, “A single-species approach to wildlife management“. As a result of federal restrictions, the invasive characteristics of Ashe juniper has negatively impacted the natural ecosystem. According to TPW, in areas where the tree has been left to survive, it has depleted groundwater, increased soil erosion, and impacted the diversity of other plant species. The rise of Ashe juniper, being of little food value, has disrupted the natural habitat of other animal species. In fact, TPW has worked to limit, even eradicate the Ashe juniper while the FWS punishes citizens for clearing the tree from their land.

The increase in Ashe Juniper has also resulted in an upsurge of illness during its pollination cycle. Termed “cedar fever” the effects of Ashe juniper allergies can range from itchy eyes to pneumonia and even trigger asthma attacks. The Ashe juniper tree has one of the most allergenic pollens. In fact, The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) has named seven Texas cities in its 2015 list of the most challenging places to live in regards to annual pollen scores.

So here we have the question, should the golden-cheeked warbler be removed from the list of endangered species? Yes. If not merely for the logic the bird is not threatened, then for the impact the designation has to other sensitive areas. More consideration should be made to the causal sequence of government agency decisions prior to making rules. Consideration should be given to economic impact to private citizens, potential health issues, and an analysis of the possible harm to other plant and wildlife species. When pondering the importance of diverse species to a healthy environment, too often the human element is not represented in the equation. A more holistic approach would better assure a healthy, balanced ecosystem.

White House Releases Quadrennial Energy Review for Earth Day

Yesterday, the Obama administration released the first installment of the new Quadrennial Energy Review (QER), a four-year cycle of assessments deigned to provide a roadmap for U.S. energy policy. This first installment focuses on the needs and opportunities for modernizing the nationwide infrastructure for transmitting, storing, and distributing energy. Dr. John Holdren and Dan Utech said:

Today, America has the most advanced energy system in the world. A steady supply of reliable, affordable, and increasingly clean power and fuels underpins every facet of our nation’s economy. But the U.S. energy landscape is changing dramatically, with important implications for the vast networks of pipelines, wires, waterways, railroads, storage systems, and other facilities that form the backbone of America’s energy system.

The administration hopes that careful analysis and modernization of energy infrastructure will promote economic competitiveness, energy security, and environmental responsibility.

This first QER installment comes just in time for Earth Day, which has spurred many sectors of the government into action. Over the past two days, the House of Representatives sent an energy efficiency bill to the president’s desk, the Department of Justice and the EPA levied $5 million in penalties against ExxonMobil for a 2013 oil spill, Democratic House members introduced the “strongest anti-fracking” bill yet brought to the House, which would ban fracking on all federal lands. The president is also doing his part, touting his plans to impact climate change at debates in Florida.

Though Earth Day has a tendency to bring out people’s far-fetched energy plans, it does do some good as well. According to the Annual Energy Outlook, improvements in energy efficiency, increases in energy demand, and the stabilization of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions have all benefited since the first Earth Day 45 years ago.


Local Support for Keystone XL, Despite Political Affiliation

The Keystone XL Pipeline continues to remain in a locked up battle mainly between political parties. However, a recent study suggests that while politics prevents the pipeline from completion, local support shows a different picture. Those that live close to the proposed pipeline route are in favor of the project despite their political party affiliation. A possible reason for this is the greater media attention in localized areas that focus on jobs and economic benefits.

TransCanada has run into a new problem while working on alternative to the Keystone XL pipeline. Native groups in Canada are blocking most development in their territory, at least without consent and benefits directly to those nations. Until they are on board with developments like the proposed pipeline to the Pacific coast, these local groups will stall an alternative to the Keystone XL.


Federal Land Regulation Continues to Strangle Energy Production…

Federal land ownership in the United States continues to grow despite the federal government already owning more than half of most of the western states. While some have been advocating for the return of this land to the states or protect it from being closed off from oil and gas operations, the Obama Administration has worked just as hard to increase the federal government’s land grab. Contrast:  As President Bush’s second term as president was coming to an end, 4 million acres of land in Alaska was released by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for drilling and exploration. Seven years later, President Obama has proposed to set aside 12 million acres in Alaska, designating it as “wilderness” and off-limits to up to 42 billion barrels of oil.

Most recently, the Obama administration has proposed the largest critical habitat designation ever, setting aside 226 million acres of ocean off Alaska’s coastline (an area twice the size of California) to protect the Arctic ringed seals who were listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act in 2012 after environmental activists petitioned the Obama administration.

Even though NOAA says that oil and gas activities have occurred in areas with protected species in the past, designating these Alaskan waters as a critical habitat would mean that all oil and gas activity would have to be evaluated based on how much it would impact ringed seals. Alaska’s outer continental shelf is considered to be one of the world’s largest untapped oil and gas reserves boasting as much as 27 billion barrels of oil and 132 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Other federal lands expansion that slipped into the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would add 250,000 acres of new wilderness in western states and put thousands more acres off limits to drilling and mining in states.

In 2011, the U.S. Forest Service originally tried to ban fracking in the 1 million acre George Washington National Forest, but failed. It would have been the first outright ban on the practice in a national forest.

Much of the land targeted for government takeover holds great oil and natural gas resources which could provide jobs in the energy industry and a flow of resources from our own American supply. Once those lands become “monuments,” access to those natural resources is limited and in the hands of the federal government. The government currently owns 650 million acres, or 29 percent of the nation’s total land.

The Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 and the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act (NREPA). The Omnibus bill was passed with over 100 land grab measures. The NREPA included federal takeover of nearly 24 million acres of land in the American west and northwest; however, NREPA never made it out of the House subcommittee.

The ability of the White House to simply snatch land from under the feet of the American people comes from the Antiquities Act of 1906. The Act was initially intended to set aside small portions of land for monuments and national parks, but has since been abused by lawmakers to control large quantities of property. Federal government land control and land acquisition takes away opportunities for development, particularly when it comes to much needed energy resources. The land designated as “monument” space could have created jobs, boosted the economy and enhanced our energy security.

Alaskan Oil Put on Ice With New Proposal

Last week, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management issued a five-year strategy that would open offshore drilling from Virginia to Georgia, but put previously deferred areas off the Alaskan coast off-limits, reports Politico.

While possibly good news for the Atlantic coast ― as well as the oil and gas industry ― the Alaskan delegation is far from pleased. Just last week, the Obama administration announced its intention to close of 12.28 million acres of Alaskan land from oil and gas exploration in the name of wildlife preservation.

“This administration is determined to shut down oil and gas production in Alaska’s federal areas ― and this offshore plan is yet another example of their short-sighted thinking,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski, the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in a statement. “The president’s indefinite withdrawal of broad areas of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas is the same unilateral approach this administration is taking in placing restrictions on the vast energy resources in ANWR and the NPR-A.”

While the Interior’s proposed plan does included three proposed lease sales in Alaska’s federal waters, Murkowski says it’s not enough. “The proposed lease sales we’re talking about right now aren’t scheduled until after President Obama is out of office,” Murkowski said. “Forgive me for remaining skeptical about this administration’s commitment to our energy security.”

Obama’s recent give-and-take oil and gas policy is particularly confusing in the wake of his State of the Union address, where he lauded the U.S.’s growth in production and drop in oil prices over the past year.

Obama Starts Tug-Of-War over 12 Million Acres

The Obama administration’s proposal to expand federally protected lands in Alaska has sparked huge controversy with the state’s entire government.

Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) currently protects about seven million acres from oil and gas exploration. Obama’s new proposal would close off another 12.28 million acres. Closing off this land “is a stunning attack on our sovereignty and our ability to develop a strong economy,” said Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska:

It’s clear this administration does not care about us, and sees us as nothing but a territory. The promises made to us at statehood, and since then, mean absolutely nothing to them. I cannot understand why this administration is willing to negotiate with Iran, but not Alaska. But we will not be run over like this. We will fight back with every resource at our disposal.

Alaska’s Governor Bill Walker also expressed displeasure with the proposal, and is considering increasing oil development on state-owned lands in response to the proposal:

Having just given to Alaskans the State of the State and State of the Budget addresses, it’s clear that our fiscal challenges in both the short and long term would benefit significantly from increased oil production. This action by the federal government is a major setback toward reaching that goal. Therefore, I will consider accelerating the options available to us to increase oil exploration and production on state-owned lands.

The Obama administration says that Murkowski’s reaction to the announcement was “unwarranted.” However, this is not the first time Alaska and the Obama administration have butted heads. In 2013, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell rejected the construction of a gravel emergency road across Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, to the ire of Alaska lawmakers.

While the proposal requires congressional approval, the Interior can still create extra protections on the region. This proposal is already being heralded as one more example of the Obama administration’s federal overreach, and could continue to incite major discontent from Alaskan legislators.


Endangered Listing for Monarch Butterfly = Wrong Direction

While the federal government has already been involved and helping the monarch butterfly populations in the United States, recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it is going to protect the butterfly under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The act has been used to save a number of species in the past. However, more and more evidence is showing that the ESA is also being used for other purposes. By placing species on the list, land use by the species can be turned over to the federal government. Recently, the prairie chicken was put on the list along with the infamous spotted owl standoff.

The butterflies mate, lay eggs and feed on milkweed plants while they are temporarily in the United States. Potentially, the federal government could gain control over all of the milkweed plant land.

Even a well-respected monarch butterfly expert (Chip Taylor) said that he does not welcome this form of protection of the butterfly. Taylor, an insect ecologist at Kansas University said:

Nobody wants the government to tell them what to do with their property. The real challenge is to get the message out and get the public involved. This really is the way to go.

The federal government can continue to grow its size and power through many actions including using the Endangered Species Act. As Taylor pointed out, there are other ways to protect a species. Public response and efforts to endangered species around the globe is really having great success. Federal government intervention is the wrong direction.

Move Over Spotted Owl, Make Room for the Sage Grouse

The federal government is aggressively protecting the sage grouse. A few weeks ago, the Feds listed the Gunnison sage grouse as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. The Feds want to add the greater sage grouse to the list. The greater sage grouse:

  • lives in 11 western U.S. states
  • covers 165 million acres, almost as big as Texas
  • population dropped from around 16 million over 200 years ago, to under half-million today

Conservationists believe that the sage grouse numbers are getting dangerously low. Human activity, specifically energy exploration and development, is the main cause of this issue, they claim.

However, local efforts in conservation and local economies are overlooked when considering listing under the Endangered Species Act in these cases. Overzealous efforts could have irreversible consequences to local economies and hinder growth. Much of the land in western United States is owned by the federal government. Imagine if that same amount of land in the eastern U.S. was also owned by the Feds. More than likely, the United States would not be the global leader that it is today.

NE Expanding Waste Management Program

In places like Nebraska, a city’s trash could become one group’s treasure. A new project from Nebraska Organic Waste Energy (NOW) and Uribe Refuse Services Inc. is looking to turn a portion of the city’s organic waste into energy, compost and fertilizer.

The project will take 1,450 of the 52,000 tons of organic waste produced by Lincoln residents and convert it into electricity, as well as compost and liquid fertilizer for lawn care, gardens and golf courses, reports The Journal Star.

Uribe Refuse predicts that the project will save them $39,000 in landfill gate fees and $20,000 in electricity bills per year. The overall return from the 20-year project is estimated to total $1.2 million.

Currently, Nebraska is a net-exporter of energy. But the state’s energy expenditures have been steadily rising over the last decade, from $4.4 billion in 2000 to $9.1 billion in 2008. The total cost for the Lincoln project is unknown, and the verdict on the efficiency of waste-to-energy programs is still out. If the profits outweigh the costs, the program could be a good way to generate clean energy and eliminate waste.

The project intends to target commercial customers, including restaurants, schools and corporations, and will offer sign-up incentives to customers who commit to becoming “zero waste” businesses.

Another aspect of the project excites city planners: the corporate involvement. As part of the state’s energy plan, Nebraska is seeking to address more energy issues through public-private partnerships. Gene Hanlon, Lincoln’s City Recycling Coordinator, says he’s pleased to see private companies taking initiative.

“Local governments can’t do it alone,” says Hanlon. “We need to work in full partnership with the private sector to develop innovative efforts to conserve resources and reduce waste sent to the landfill.”

To get the project up and running, NOW Energy has applied for a $735,000 grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust to cover its start-up costs. Uribe Refuse and NOW intend to push through with a scaled-down version of the project if the grant doesn’t come through.

Megan Simons is a research associate at the National Center for Policy Analysis