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Context of 'January 7, 2004: Alteration to Mining Rule Said to Be Damaging to Environment'

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On his first day in office, President Bush has his chief of staff, Andrew Card, issue directives to every executive department with authority over environmental issues, and orders them to immediately put on hold dozens of regulations passed by the Clinton administration. The Clinton regulations include lowering arsenic levels in drinking water; reducing the release of raw sewage into rivers and streams; setting limits on logging, drilling, and mining on public lands; increasing energy efficiency standards; and banning snowmobiles from Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. [Carter, 2004, pp. 127]

Entity Tags: Andrew Card, Clinton administration, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

On the day before Thanksgiving, the Bush administration releases proposed rule changes that would lead to increased logging of federal forests for commercial or recreational activities by giving local forest managers the authority to open up the forests to development without requiring environmental impact assessments and without specific standards to maintain local fish and wildlife populations. Administration officials claim the changes are needed because existing rules—approved by the Clinton administration two months before Bush took office—are unclear, in addition to being costly and difficult to implement. Critics charge the changes are aimed at pleasing the timber industry at the expense of forest ecosystems. The proposed changes would affect roughly 192 million acres of US forests and grasslands. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 11/27/2002; CBS News, 11/27/2002] The proposal closely follows the timber industry’s wish list—a “coincidence” according to the Forest Service. [Native Forest Network, 11/27/2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Forest Service, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton, Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman, and Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Chairman James L. Connaughton meet with President Bush to discuss the implementation of the administration’s “Healthy Forest Initiative.” After the meeting, they announce proposed changes that would expedite the approval of “fuels treatment” projects (forest thinning) by weakening the review process and restricting public input. [US Department of Interior, 12/11/2002; Associated Press, 12/11/2002] Critics say the changes would make it easier for the timber industry to cut the larger, more fire resistant trees, making the forests more vulnerable to wildfires. They also charge that the proposed rules would allow logging interests to override local concerns. [Natural Resources Defense Council, 12/11/2002] Mike Francis, a forest specialist with the Wilderness Society, commenting on the proposed rule changes, tells the Associated Press, “Those are nothing more than administration’s typical desires to cut the public out of forest decisions. This administration doesn’t like what the public wants to do with their forests.” [Associated Press, 12/11/2002]

Entity Tags: James L. Connaughton, George W. Bush, Gale A. Norton, Ann M. Veneman, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

President Bush delivers his State of the Union address and describes his rollbacks as environmental protections. He talks about his “Healthy Forest Initiative” (see May 21, 2003) and the issues of energy independence and air pollution, stressing his administration’s disfavor with “command-and-control regulations.” Bush does not mention the issue of clean water. [Natural Resources Defense Council, 1/28/2003; US President, 2/3/2003]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The Department of Interior informs Congress that it has decided to settle a lawsuit filed years ago by the state of Utah over the Bureau of Land Management’s policy of rejecting drilling and mining projects in areas under review for wilderness protection. The decision withdraws protected status for 3 million acres of land in Utah. Without designation as a Wilderness Area, portions of the Red Rock Canyons in southern Utah could be open to logging, oil and gas drilling, mineral extraction, road-building and other development. A federal appeals court had previously ruled against the state on all but one count and consequently the lawsuit’s status had been moribund since 1998. [USA Today, 4/11/2003] But in March, Utah made an amendment to its complaint, thus reopening the case and providing the Bush administration with an opportunity to make a “settlement.” Environmental groups say the settlement is the outcome of a deal made between Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Utah Governor Mike Leavitt behind closed-doors. [USA Today, 4/11/2003; Salt Lake Tribune, 4/20/2003; Salt Lake Tribune, 5/6/2003; Salt Lake Tribune, 6/18/2003; Wilderness Society, 4/28/2004] In addition to the settlement, the Bush administration stops congressional reviews of Western lands for wilderness protection, capping wilderness designation at 22.8 million acres nationwide. [USA Today, 4/11/2003]

Entity Tags: US Congress, US Department of Interior, Mike Leavitt, Bush administration (43), Gale A. Norton

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The US Fish and Wildlife Service revises a Clinton-era judgment which had concluded that the proposed construction and operation of two mines in the Cabinet Mountains of Montana would likely have an adverse impact on the local population of grizzly bears. In January 2002, twelve months after the Bush administration came into office, the mining companies filed a lawsuit protesting this judgment. The US Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to reconsider the case reasoning that it needed to “make sure that it [had been] based on the best available science.” Some time after the decision was made to reconsider the case, one of the mining companies abandoned its permit. The Fish and Wildlife Service, in its new judgment, concludes that the operation of one mine would not threaten the area’s grizzly bears. [Earth Justice, 1/29/2002; Fish and Wild Service, 5/13/2003; Missoulian, 5/14/2003] The proposed Rock Creek Mine, a copper and silver mine, would be the first large-scale mining operation to take place in a wilderness area. It would remove up to 10,000 tons of materials each day for up to 35 years. Critics argue that traffic brought by the mine and its accompanying roads would harm the local populations of grizzlies and bull trout and contaminate the surrounding watershed. [Fish and Wild Service, 5/13/2003; Missoulian, 5/14/2003; Washington Post, 5/18/2003; Clark Fork Coalition, 7/30/2004] The company that would operate the mine, Sterling Corporation, and its executives have a poor business and environmental record. [Mattera and Khan, 1/2003 pdf file; Clark Fork Coalition, 7/30/2004]

Entity Tags: US Fish and Wildlife Service, Sterling Corporation, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The House of Representatives passes the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 by a vote of 256 to 170 as part of the Bush administration’s “Healthy Forests Initiative.” (see November 27, 2002) (see December 11, 2002). [US Department of the Interior, 5/30/2003] The legislation, introduced by Rep. Scott McInnis, relaxes requirements for the removal of small underbrush and trees on 20 million acres of forestland vulnerable to wildfires. The bill, dubbed the “‘Healthy Stealthy’ Act” by critics, removes important environmental safeguards and reduces public participation and judicial review, [Reuters, 5/22/2003] facilitating the timber industry’s access to 192 million acres. The measure also increases the industry’s subsidies by $125 million. [Alternet, 5/19/2003]

Entity Tags: Scott McInnis, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

President George Bush names Utah Governor Mike Leavitt as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), replacing Christie Todd Whitman who resigned in June. [US President, 8/18/2003] Leavitt was at the center of a controversy a couple of months ago for a back-room deal he made with Interior Secretary Gale Norton to suspend wilderness studies on millions of acres of Utah lands (see April 11, 2003). He supports replacing mandatory pollution controls with voluntary compliance programs for polluting industries and is a strong backer of the administration’s policy of shifting environmental regulation to the states. [Washington Times, 8/12/2003] During his term as governor, US Magnesium, a magnesium-processing company on the western side of the Great Salt Lake, earned the place as the nation’s worst polluter. Leavitt says that he and Bush “have a like mind and a like heart” on environmental policy. [Salt Lake Tribune, 8/12/2003] Environmentalists condemn the nomination noting that aside from Leavitt’s strong opposition to a plan to store nuclear waste on a Utah Indian reservation, the governor has a very poor environmental record. “Mike Leavitt has no credentials, no understanding and no political willpower to protect America’s clean air, clean water and clean land,” Marc Clemens, chapter coordinator for the Utah Sierra Club, tells the Salt Lake Tribune. [Salt Lake Tribune, 8/12/2003]

Entity Tags: Mike Leavitt, Environmental Protection Agency, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Interior Secretary Gale Norton signs a legal opinion by Deputy Solicitor Roderick Walston reversing the interpretation of the agency’s previous solicitor-general, John Leshy, who had ruled in 1996 that the 1872 Mining Law limits each 20-acre mining claim on federal land to a single five-acre waste site. As a result of Norton’s decision, mining companies will be permitted to dump unlimited amounts of toxic waste on public lands, threatening surrounding waterways, wildlife, and the health of local human populations. The Bush administration and the mining industry have argued that the Clinton-era opinion caused a significant reduction in US minerals exploration, mine development and mining jobs since 1997. “It created an atmosphere of uncertainty and when you are making investments of hundreds of millions of dollars, uncertainty is not something you want to face,” explains Assistant Interior Secretary Rebecca Watson. “We anticipate we will now see more development and exploration for mining.” The decision was praised by the mining industry. “This is good news,L Russ Fields, executive director of the Nevada Mining Association. “The old opinion did create a lot of uncertainty for our industry.” [Associated Press, 10/10/2003]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Gale A. Norton, John Leshy, Roderick Walston

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

President Bush signs into law the “Healthy Forest Restoration Act,” (see May 21, 2003) aimed at reducing environmental and judicial review of forest-thinning fire-prevention programs in national forests. The law—modeled on President Bush’s “Healthy Forest Initiative”—almost doubles the federal budget for forest-thinning projects to $760 million. [White House, 12/3/2003; Associated Press, 12/4/2003; Los Angeles Times, 12/4/2003] The bill axes a requirement that any proposed US Forest Service (USFS) program that may adversely affect endangered plants or animals be reviewed by the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service. Under the new law, reviews will instead be performed by USFS biologists or other land-management agencies. Marty Hayden, legislative director for Earthjustice, says the measure removes important checks and balances. “The conflict of interest is that the agency whose top job is to do the logging will make this decision, rather than the agency whose top job is to protect threatened or endangered species,” he explains. [Los Angeles Times, 12/4/2003] Critics of the bill argue that it will make it easier for timber companies to log large fire-resistant trees in remote parts of the forest and ignore the needs of at-risk communities who need help clearing flammable brush from the immediate areas surrounding their homes and property. Sean Cosgrove, a forest expert with the Sierra Club, tells CNN: “The timber industry fought real hard for this bill for a reason and it’s not because they want to remove brush and chaparral. Through and through this thing is about increasing commercial logging with less environmental oversight.” Overall, critics say, the law reduces environmental review, limits citizen appeals, pressures judges to quickly handle legal challenges to logging plans, and facilitates access for logging companies to America’s 20 million acres of federal forests. [Associated Press, 12/3/2003; Natural Resources Defense Council, 12/3/2003; Associated Press, 12/4/2003]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, US Forest Service, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The White House and the Justice Department are at odds over the legality of the National Security Agency’s “data mining” program, which involves the NSA combing through enormous electronic databases containing personal information about millions of US citizens, ostensibly for anti-terrorism purposes and often without court warrants (see February 2001, Spring 2001, After September 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, October 2001, and Early 2002). Such data mining by the NSA potentially threatens citizens’ constitutional right to privacy. This clash between the White House and the Justice Department is one of the reasons that White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and chief of staff Andrew Card will try to pressure Attorney General John Ashcroft, while Ashcroft is recuperating from surgery, to reauthorize the NSA program over the objections of Deputy Attorney General James Comey. That attempt to force reauthorization over Justice Department complaints will result in the protest resignations of Ashcroft, Comey, and other Justice officials (see March 10-12, 2004). In 2007, Gonzales will deny that any such attempt to pressure Ashcroft to overrule Comey ever happened (see July 24, 2007), and will deny that there was any such dispute between the White House and Justice Department over the NSA program. Those denials will lead to calls to investigate Gonzales for perjury (see May 16, 2007). In late 2005, President Bush will admit, after the New York Times reveals the existence of the NSA warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002), that the program indeed exists, but will not acknowledge the data mining. Several current and former administration officials, interviewed by reporters in 2007, refuse to go into detail about the dispute between the White House and Justice Department, but say that it involves other issues along with the data mining. They will also refuse to explain what modifications to the surveillance program Bush will authorize to mollify Justice Department officials. Bush and his officials, including Gonzales, who will ascend to the position of attorney general in 2005, will repeatedly insist that he has the authority, both under the Constitution and under Congress’s authorization to use military force against terrorists passed after the 9/11 attacks (see September 14-18, 2001), to bypass the requirements for court warrants to monitor US citizens. Critics will say that such surveillance is illegal under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. [New York Times, 7/29/2007]
Domestic Surveillance Began Before 9/11? - Though Bush officials eventually admit to beginning surveillance of US citizens only after the 9/11 attacks, that assertion is disputed by evidence suggesting that the domestic surveillance program began well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, July 2001, and Early 2002).

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, National Security Agency, New York Times, James B. Comey Jr., Alberto R. Gonzales, Andrew Card, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Office of Surface Mining (OSM) announces that it intends to “clarify” the buffer zone rule of the Surface Mining Act of 1977, which governs permits for coal strip mines that are located within 100 feet of a stream. The Bush administration disagrees with the current interpretation of the rule which prohibits mining near streams unless it can be shown that the activities will not “adversely affect the water quantity and quality or other environmental resources of the stream.” The White House claims that the buffer zone rule is confusing and its current application too restrictive on the coal mining industry. Instead, the administration proposes a policy that would call on coal operators to minimize the impact on streams “to the extent possible, using the best technology currently available.” Critics warn that the proposed “clarification” would encourage a method of surface mining known as “mountaintop mining,” which involves the removal of mountaintops to expose coal seams. The method is extremely destructive to the environment because the resulting debris is bulldozed into nearby valleys, often completely burying streams in a practice known as “valley fill.” [Associated Press, 1/7/2004; Department of the Interior, 1/7/2004 pdf file; Charleston Gazette, 1/8/2004; Environmental News Network, 1/8/2004; New York Times, 1/13/2004; Los Angeles Times, 1/18/2004]

Entity Tags: US Office of Surface Mining (OSM), Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Interior Secretary Gale Norton says her department intends to increase the number of permits granted each year for gas drilling on public lands in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin from 1,000 to 3,000 and “streamline” the permit review process. The decision is a response to complaints by energy companies that the review process for drilling permits on federal property is three times as long as that for drilling on private and state-owned lands. Critics warn that the quicker permit approval process will come at the expense of thorough environmental impact assessments. Drilling for gas wells in the northeastern Wyoming basin requires pumping groundwater to release the natural gas trapped in coal seams. This often causes the wells of local residents to run dry. [Associated Press, 1/22/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of Interior, Bush administration (43), Gale A. Norton

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) auctions off oil and gas leases for 14 parcels of federal land located near Dinosaur Monument in Colorado and Utah. The leases—totaling some 5,000 acres—include areas that were previously identified by the agency as having wilderness quality but which lost their protected status as part of a settlement between the state of Utah and the BLM (see April 11, 2003). A number of the leases—some selling for as little as $5 per acre—are purchased by contributors to President Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign. [Salt Lake Tribune, 2/14/2004; Washington Post, 3/1/2004] According to the Environmental Working Group, the area includes seven Mexican spotted owl habitats, 12 golden eagle habitats and four peregrine falcon habitats. [Washington Post, 3/1/2004; Environmental Working Group, 12/31/2005]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Kathleen Clarke

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The US Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledges that the Pacific fisher, a rare relative of weasels, otters and minks, is at risk of extinction and warrants federal protection, but says that the agency lacks the funds needed to adequately protect the species. The Fish and Wildlife Service says it will make the animal a candidate for listing as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The Pacific fisher’s status will be reviewed annually until it is either added to the list or until the species’ population recovers to a level that no longer warrants federal protection. Critics complain that not only is the federal government failing in its obligation to protect endangered species, but it is pursuing policies that damage its habitat, such as the Bush administration’s forest preservation policies that encourage increased logging (see December 3, 2003). [Associated Press, 4/9/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), US Fish and Wildlife Service

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Secretary of Interior Gale Norton resigns. In her resignation letter to President Bush she thanks him and praises him for “great work in the face of hurricanes, record-setting wildfires and droughts, acrimonious litigation, and expanded post 9/11 security responsibilities.” [CNN, 3/10/2006] Norton, who has been criticized by environmental groups for opening public lands up to timber (see December 11, 2002), mining, and oil and gas interests (see April 11, 2003, October 8, 2003, and January 21, 2004), will be hired as a key legal advisor for Royal Dutch Shell PLC in December. [New West, 12/27/2006]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Royal Dutch/Shell, Gale A. Norton

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Uranium mine near the rim of the Grand Canyon.Uranium mine near the rim of the Grand Canyon. [Source: Intercontinental Cry (.com)]The Obama administration bans hard-rock mining on more than a million acres in and around the Grand Canyon, an area rich in high-grade uranium ore reserves. The ban is for 20 years. Environmental groups and some Democratic lawmakers have worked for years to limit mining near the Grand Canyon National Park. Representative Edward Markey (D-MA), the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, says, “When families travel to see the Grand Canyon, they have a right to expect that the only glow they will see will come from the sun setting over the rim of this natural wonder, and not from the radioactive contamination that comes from uranium mining.” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who has twice imposed temporary bans on mining claims, says: “A withdrawal is the right approach for this priceless American landscape. People from all over the country and around the world come to visit the Grand Canyon. Numerous American Indian tribes regard this magnificent icon as a sacred place, and millions of people in the Colorado River Basin depend on the river for drinking water [and] irrigation.” The basin is already considered one of the nation’s most endangered waterways, and mining operations could use vast amounts of the area’s water and taint much more. The ban reverses a Bush administration decision to open the area to new mining claims; environmentalists have long pointed to the damage wrought to the area by uranium, oil, and gas mining under the Bush administration’s policies.
Mining Poses High Risks to Environment, Tourism - One in 12 Americans gets some or all of their water from the Colorado River Basin, including the residents of Phoenix and Los Angeles, and the area generates about $3.5 billion in annual income, largely from tourism. In contrast, the mining ban will mean that 465 prospective jobs will not materialize, and the area will lose some $16.6 million in annual tax revenue from mining. Supporters of the ban say that the jobs that would come from mining in the area would not be worth the risk to the river basin and the canyon, and a mining mishap would be potentially devastating for tourism. Many of the area’s lands are considered sacred by Native American tribes, and the lands support a vast number of wildlife habitats. Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity says that uranium mining in the area would critically despoil the area, ruin millions of Americans’ access to fresh water, and cut, not increase, job revenues. McKinnon says: “The real economic engine in northern Arizona is not uranium mining. It’s tourism. To jeopardize our economic engine with more toxic uranium mining is unacceptable.” In 2008, former Bureau of Land Management Director Jim Baca said flatly: “Without [the Colorado], there is no Western United States. If it becomes unusable, you move the entire Western United States out of any sort of economic position for growth.” [ProPublica, 12/21/2008; Associated Press, 1/9/2012]
Republicans Criticize Ban - Some Congressional Republicans and mining industry groups call the decision indefensible, saying it will cost hundreds of jobs and deprive the nation of a much-needed energy resource. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) calls the ban a “devastating blow to job creation in northern Arizona,” and says the ban was “fueled by an emotional public relations campaign pitting the public’s love for the Grand Canyon against a modern form of low-impact mining that occurs many miles from the canyon walls.” He says that modern mining techniques will not add toxins to water drawn from the river basin. Other Republicans cite a mining industry study that claims even a severe mining accident would increase uranium levels in the Colorado River by an undetectable amount. Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT) says: “It is unconscionable that the administration has yet again caved to political pressure from radical special interest groups rather than standing up for the American people. Banning access to the most uranium-rich land in the United States will be overwhelmingly detrimental to both jobs in Utah and Arizona and our nation’s domestic energy security.” Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) calls the ban part of the Obama administration’s “war on western jobs.” Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), a tea party supporter, says: “This administration has proven incapable of using even the slightest bit of common sense when it comes to lands policy. The American people are desperate for jobs, and our domestic energy industry provides some of the best paying jobs in the western states. However, the president and Interior Secretary Salazar are intent on appeasing their friends in the extreme left wing of the environmentalist movement during an election year by locking up as much land as possible, regardless of the negative effects on our economy. For energy production that has long been safe and responsible, the announcement represents a needless overreaction to a fictitious problem.” [Senator John McCain, 1/9/2012; Senator John McCain, 1/9/2012] In 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency noted that mining had contaminated 40 percent of the streams and rivers in the western United States, and mining was considered the single most polluting industry in the nation. [ProPublica, 12/21/2008] Many of the claims now blocked from development belong to foreign interests, including Rosatom, Russia’s state atomic energy corporation, and South Korea’s state-owned utility. [PR Newswire, 6/7/2011]

Entity Tags: Michael Shumway (“Mike”) Lee, Jim Baca, Environmental Protection Agency, Edward Markey, John Barrasso, Ken Salazar, Rosatom, Rob Bishop, Obama administration, Taylor McKinnon, John McCain

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

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