WASHINGTON - September 22 - The Senate is expected to consider S. 2084, the Fiscal Year (FY) 2005 Interior Department and Related Agencies Appropriations bill this Thursday. Sierra Club is closely following the overall bill, which fails to adequately fund the long-established programs and services charged with overseeing America's natural resources, as well as numerous "riders" that, if passed as part of the bill, could cause severe environmental damage. Summaries are provided for you below.
Tongass/Chugach rider, which limits citizen input on timber sales. Sec. 328 would amend an anti-judicial review rider included in last year's Interior appropriations bill that tried to interfere with the independence of the federal judiciary by telling judges they only have 180 days from the filing date to decide lawsuits challenging logging projects in the Tongass. The rider would also end the public's ability to challenge projects if they cannot file lawsuits on Tongass logging projects within 30 days of the Forest Service's decision to go ahead with them.
"Biscuit" Timber Sale rider and S. 2709. The Bush administration and Senator Smith (R-OR) are promoting a rider as a "solution" for ramming through the largest federal timber sale in recent history. This timber sale would log 8000 acres of wild roadless forest and damage sensitive salmon habitat. Sen. Smith also said he will attach his bill, S. 2709, as rider to require "reforestation" in any National Forest area that has fires, wind storms or other "natural occurrences." In reality, S. 2709 will promote commercial logging and the planting of commercial tree plantations in these areas. For more information, please visit http://www.sierraclub.org/forests/biscuit.
SPECIFICS OF THE BILL:
Funding for the National Park Service budget is again inadequate to cover operating expenses. Consequently, the problems of reduced visitor services and threatened park resources remain.
The bill fails to provide the $1.68 billion to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The Fund was a bipartisan conservation tool to preserve our wild lands, opens spaces, wildlife species, recreation opportunities and other historic sites for the American people.
Despite a $10 billion road maintenance backlog on National Forests, the line items for commercial logging and logging road construction are increased over FY04, instead of spending that money on fuel reduction programs near communities.
Alaska land exchange provisions. More specifically, Title I authorizes a land exchange that gives private ownership on nearly 100,000 acres of important wildlife habitat in the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge to the Doyon Corporation. Doyon would then likely seek to oil and gas development on these lands. The refuge provides habitat for migratory birds, moose, salmon and bears and is immediately south of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Provisions allowing aquaculture in wilderness and other protected areas in Alaska. Sec. 336 overturns a recent federal court decision and allows commercial fish hatcheries in protected Wilderness Areas in National Parks, Wildlife Refuges and on Wild and Scenic Rivers in Alaska. This language would erode protections to preserve wild places where commercial enterprises would remain off-limits. Commercial hatcheries threaten wild salmon runs by introducing disease, reducing genetic diversity, and altering the natural balance of aquatic ecosystems.
Provisions allowing Categorical Exclusions of environmental impact studies for grazing on Forest Service Land. Sec.339 creates an overly broad grazing exemption that far exceeds the grazing language in the FY 04 Interior Appropriations bill. More specifically, under the FY 05 language, the agency could change the intensity, duration, length, and season of grazing and still be exempt from NEPA analysis. The rider would also exclude the public from participating in important decisions about how public lands are managed, even though current grazing practices can degrade lands, cause water pollution and imperil plant and animal species.
Harmful grazing leases in Idaho. Sec.128 would allow renewal of non-renewable leases authorizing grazing in certain lands in Idaho that do not produce forage on a sustained, long-term basis, and eliminate the requirement for environmental review. The rider, which was included in last year's Interior appropriations bill, could exacerbate degradation of the state's fragile meadows and river ecosystems.