WASHINGTON - October 31 - It’s been a scary year for the environment—a lot of heavy-handed tricks and not a whole lot of treats. Some of the ghoulishness gets dressed up in hurricane relief; others parts masquerade as energy solutions. But the fact remains that behind the mask and the rhetoric there has been a dangerous erosion in the laws that protect the water we drink, the air we breathe, and our right to participate in decision making. The full list of examples would unfortunately overflow your trick or treating basket, so here are just a few.
Top 10 Halloween Horribles:
1. Giveaways to Big Oil Continue, Consumers Get Squeezed, Profits Soar
While consumers struggle to respond to tragic hurricanes and soaring energy bills, oil and gas companies celebrate record profits and still beg for more tax breaks. Conoco Phillips the No. 3 U.S. oil company, reported quarterly profit surged 89 percent. Conoco Phillips, like other major oil companies, has reaped a windfall from soaring crude oil prices. Exxon Mobil Corp. rewrote the corporate record books as the oil company's third-quarter earnings soared to almost $10 billion and it became the first public company ever with quarterly sales topping $100 billion.
And yet the federal subsidies continue to roll in for Big Oil. The new energy bill gives big oil and gas companies in the Gulf of Mexico a royal holiday from having to pay for the privilege of drilling on public lands. Corporations who sign new leases to drill for oil in the deep federal waters of the Gulf will get their first 5 to 12 million barrels royalty-free. Companies drilling for natural gas in the Gulf will get a break on their first 35 billion cubic feet of natural gas extracted from shallow wells, beginning in October 2006.
2. National Parks, the Newest Target
Not even the national parks are safe anymore. House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo proposed selling 16 parks, including Theodore Roosevelt Island in Washington, D.C., to the highest bidder. Even though Pombo has claimed that he never meant the provision to be taken seriously, his reconciliation bill, approved by the committee he chairs October 26, would suspend all laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act, to sell off approximately 125 acres of national park land along the Anacostia River at the foot of Capitol Hill.
Bush Administration political appointees in the Interior Department just released a revised version of a new National Park Service management policy that weakens the resource protection mandate in favor of greater commercialization and exploitation. The proposed policies ease the way for air and noise pollution, increased high-impact uses previously barred from most national parks, and disassemble protections for existing and potential wilderness. Continuing this Administration’s theme of eliminating opportunities for public involvement, the proposed polices also include an explicit statement barring the public from holding the Park Service accountable for actions taken under the revised policies.
3. Playing Politics with Christmas Trees
When the Bush administration decided to stop over 1500 minor projects this fall in our National Forests because they did not like a federal judge’s ruling, they revealed that they are not above playing politics with Christmas trees. The Forest Service's decision to turn a federal judge's ruling into a political ploy was a nasty trick for the hunters, business owners, people wanting to heat their homes with firewood, people planning weddings, trail users, and others who rely on the forest for their livelihood and recreation. The agency's inconsiderate political maneuverings and obvious misinterpretation of the ruling prompted the judge to issue a clarification and 11 western lawmakers to ask the Bush administration to give up their games and get back to the business of managing the nation's forests.
4. All Tricks, No Treats for the Arctic Refuge
The drilling lobby and their allies in Congress and the Bush Administration are pushing a budget reconciliation bill that would open the 1.5-million acre Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil development. It’s no secret that drilling proponents have attached this provision to the federal budget because they do not have the votes to pass it through the normal legislative channels. Even more disturbing are the attempts by the drilling lobby to misled the public about the size of the area to be drilled and the supposed benefit for consumers at the pump.
5. Putting the Road in ‘Roadless’
In May the Bush administration repealed the popular Roadless Area Conservation Rule and replaced it with a voluntary state petition process that does not even ensure public participation. Under the new scheme, governors have to petition the U.S. Forest Service if they want the rule to apply to the forests in their states-but with no assurance that the federal government will even accept their petitions. The attorneys general in New Mexico and California and the state of Oregon have challenged the repeal in court, as have twenty conservation groups.
6. Taking a Chance on Oil Shale
The oil shale industry is getting a treat before we even know what the pay-off will be. While the new and poorly understood industry gets propped up with subsidies in Pombo’s Budget Reconciliation proposal, the environment is getting another trick. Under Pombo’s bill, environmental reviews will be deemed sufficient before they’ve been written and the state and local governments, Indian tribes, and citizens who have the most at stake will have no say in where the leasing occurs.
7. Forcing The Choice: Heat or Food
At a time when American families can expect a ghoulish 48 percent increase in home heating compared to last year, the Senate has voted three times against raising LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) funding by the amount required to ensure that some families will not have to choose between foodstuffs and heat this winter. On three occasions, the Senate has failed to pass appropriations amendments ensuring assistance at the $5.1 billion level authorized in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The effort to secure adequate funding will continue.
8. Refineries Find Refuge
Our national wildlife refuges were created to provide critical habitat for wildlife, but now they, along with other sensitive public lands, may also provide habitat for oil refineries. However, recent legislation passed the House containing a provision opening the door to construction of refineries in National Wildlife Refuges, National Forests, Wilderness Study Areas, and millions of acres of wilderness-quality Bureau of Land Management land. Also included in the bill are provisions that delay existing smog cleanup deadlines, place strict limitations on the use of clean vehicle fuels and biofuels, and take permitting and oversight authorities from local and federal agencies charged with protecting the public health and hand them over to the Department of Energy.
The House Resources Reconciliation Bill allows the mining industry to take title to public lands without regard for the value of the land for other uses and without full compensation to the federal treasury. Mining companies can buy up to 20 acres for the cut-rate deal of $1000 per acre. For added measure, this sweetheart deal also specifically prohibits any other fees or fair market value assessments from being applied to “prospecting, exploration, development, mining, processing, or reclamation, and uses reasonably incident thereto” – which would prohibit the government from levying any royalty or other fee on mining operations.
10. Selling Off Public Lands at Bargain Prices
The House Resources Reconciliation Bill requires the Secretary of the Interior to sell lands containing mineral deposits within public lands and national forests and neglects to protect more than 16 million acres of Wilderness Study Areas and other places, such as Headwater Forest Reserve (CA).
At the same time, public involvement and environmental review is suspended. Without an environmental impact statement, there is no way of knowing how valuable these public lands are—or how much of a giveaway it is The public is kept in the dark by insulating both the company and agencies from having to disclose what the environmental impact would be or what the real value of the land is. By selling the land instead of leasing it, the government will surrender the right to receive royalties—a definite “treat” for the mining industry and real estate speculators.