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The House Committee on Natural Resources will hold a legislative hearing this afternoon on a bill introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) that would remove hundreds of acres from Alaska's Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in order to construct a road across the refuge. The Interior Department has studied this issue exhaustively, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluding that the road would cause significant, long-term, irreparable damage to this internationally important fish and wildlife habitat and the wilderness values of the refuge.
"This public land giveaway would irreversibly harm the wildlife that call Izembek home," said Randi Spivak, the Center for Biological Diversity's public lands director. "Building a road through this iconic and fragile wilderness is incredibly shortsighted and would deny future generations of Americans the opportunity to visit a unique, unspoiled wild refuge."
Rep. Young's H.R. 218 would carve out 206 acres from Alaska's Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in exchange for low-quality state lands to build a detrimental road connecting the towns of King Cove and Cold Bay. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R- Alaska) has introduced a Senate companion bill, S. 101.
The Izembek National Wildlife Refuge is a globally important area for millions of migrating birds as well as important habitat for grizzly bears and salmon. Congress designated virtually all of the refuge as a wilderness in 1980.
Young's bill declares that this land swap is not a major federal action, thereby denying the public a right to have input into the bill.
"Rep. Young has a long history of trying to harm and dismantle America's public lands," Spivak said. "The majority of Americans support the protection and preservation of our public lands and the Izembek giveaway would harm one of the most valuable wetlands and wilderness areas in the world."
The Center for Biological Diversity's recent report Public Lands Enemies identified the top 15 members of Congress trying to seize, destroy, dismantle and privatize America's public lands. Both Sen. Murkowski and Rep. Young were on the public lands enemies list, having sponsored or cosponsored 35 anti-public lands bills between them since 2011. These attacks on public lands continue, even though 9 out of 10 American voters across political parties rank as important the protection and maintenance of national parks, public lands and natural places, according to a 2016 poll.
The federal government has repeatedly studied a proposed land swap and road through the refuge, and consistently rejected the project because of its negative effects on the ecological resources and wilderness values of the refuge.
Izembek's lagoon complex is a globally important ecosystem that contains one of the largest eelgrass beds in the world, providing food and habitat for fish and crabs that feed migratory birds from multiple continents. Virtually the entire world populations of Pacific black brant and emperor geese, and a significant portion of the threatened Steller's eider population, visit the refuge to rest and feed during spring and fall migrations. The Department of the Interior determined that these birds would be particularly vulnerable to impacts from road construction and operation on the narrow isthmus. Furthermore, a road across the isthmus would have a major impact on brown bears and caribou.
At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.(520) 623-5252
"One person is likely to die of hunger every 28 seconds between now and July across Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and South Sudan alone—the highest on record," said one advocate.
A pledging event convened by the United Nations on Wednesday fell far short of the $7 billion that was called for to aid countries in the Horn of Africa, where more than 23.5 million people are currently suffering from hunger brought on by one of the worst droughts in recent history.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said as he announced the pledge drive that "action will make all the difference" to avert a catastrophic famine in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia, where 43 million people have faced five consecutive rainy seasons which brought vastly insufficient rain.
The High-Level Pledging Event brought in only $2.4 billion, with the United States making the largest donation—an additional $524 million, making its total contribution to humanitarian efforts in the region $1.4 billion this year. By contrast, the country's military budget for the current fiscal year—which includes funding for military activity in Somalia—is $858 billion.
Guterres on Thursday called the failed pledging event "unacceptable."
Without an immediate injection of more aid, he said, "emergency operations will grind to a halt, and people will die."
"We must act now to prevent crisis from turning into catastrophe," Mr. Guterres said. "Let us act together now—with greater urgency and far greater support."
The U.N. chief said in a statement that on a recent trip to the Horn of Africa, he met families who have been driven from their homes in Northern Kenya "in search of water, food, and incomes" as the ongoing drought has left them with "parched landscapes and perished livestock."
As scientists at the World Weather Attribution wrote in a report in April, the five consecutive failed rainy seasons in East Africa would not have occurred without the climate emergency and continued fossil fuel emissions, 92% of which come from the Global North.
Guterres said the Horn of Africa has become "the epicenter of one of the world's worst climate emergencies."
The international humanitarian group Oxfam said it was "deeply disappointed" by the failure of wealthy countries to contribute enough money to avert famine in the region, noting that much of the funding included in the $2.4 billion was previously pledged.
"This was a vital moment for rich donors to step up and show their commitment to saving lives," said Fati N'Zi Hassane, director of Oxfam in Africa. "They have failed millions of people caught up in this vicious spiral of hunger, displacement, and insecurity."
"One person is likely to die of hunger every 28 seconds between now and July across Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and South Sudan alone—the highest on record," said Hassane. "To wait for a fully declared famine before donors act decisively is both complicit and immoral."
"We cannot continue drip-feeding aid to keep the worst of the crisis at bay while each day millions are being pushed further to starvation," she added. "What East Africa urgently needs is a drastic global collective effort not only to save lives now but to scale up programs that help people become more resilient to shocks like climate change and food price inflation."
The World Food Program noted on Wednesday that a basket of food in the Horn of Africa costs 40% more than it did a year ago.
\u201cA food basket in the Horn of Africa costs 40% more than a year ago. In Somalia alone, WFP assistance helped avert #famine last year.\n\nHear from WFP nutrition expert Hassan \ud83d\udc47 as he explains why funding must be sustained. \n\n\ud83d\udd17https://t.co/h7c1QnFyHT\u201d— World Food Programme (@World Food Programme) 1684939054
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the pledges that were made this week will help humanitarian agencies to sustain supplies of food, water, healthcare, and nutrition services, but said "additional resources are urgently required to prevent a return to the worst-case scenario."
"We must persist in pushing for stepped-up investments," said U.N. deputy emergency relief coordinator Joyce Msuya, "especially to bolster the resilience of people already bearing the brunt of climate change."
The court "ripped the heart out of the law we depend on to protect American waters and wetlands," said one critic, warning that the ruling "will cause incalculable harm."
This is a breaking story… Please check back for possible updates...
The U.S. Supreme Court's right-wing majority on Thursday severely curtailed protections for "waters of the United States."
The decision in Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is "unanimous in result but very split in reasoning," explainedSlate's Mark Joseph Stern. "The upshot of Sackett is that, by a 5–4 vote, the Supreme Court dramatically narrows" which wetlands are covered by the Clean Water Act (CWA).
The majority opinion—authored by Justice Samuel Alito and joined by all of the court's other right-wing members except Justice Brett Kavanaugh—concludes that the CWA only applies to wetlands with "a continuous surface connection" to larger bodies of water, excluding those that are "adjacent."
\u201cThe decision is so extreme that they even lost Brett Kavanaugh, who wrote separately to note that "long-regulated adjacent wetlands" are now at the mercy of polluters, "with significant repercussions for water quality and flood control throughout the United States."\u201d— Cristian Farias (@Cristian Farias) 1685024738
Earthjusticedeclared in response to the ruling that "this is a catastrophic loss for water protections across the country and a win for big polluters, putting our communities, public health, and local ecosystems in danger."
Manish Bapna, president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), was similarly critical, saying that "the Supreme Court ripped the heart out of the law we depend on to protect American waters and wetlands."
"The majority chose to protect polluters at the expense of healthy wetlands and waterways. This decision will cause incalculable harm. Communities across the country will pay the price," Bapna warned.
"What's important now is to repair the damage," he added. "The government must enforce the remaining provisions of law that protect the clean water we all rely on for drinking, swimming, fishing, irrigation, and more. States should quickly strengthen their own laws. Congress needs to act to restore protections for all our waters."
\u201cBREAKING: The U.S. Supreme Court just ruled in favor of corporate polluters over protecting communities & #cleanwater, ignoring decades of legal precedent, science, & Clean Water Act protections. SCOTUS failed us. @POTUS & Congress must step in to protect our nation\u2019s\u2026\u201d— Waterkeeper Alliance (@Waterkeeper Alliance) 1685026989
Elizabeth Southerland, former director of science and technology in EPA's Office of Water, noted that "since 1989, the U.S. government has used Clean Water Act authority to either prevent the filling of wetlands or to permit filling only when an equal acreage of wetlands is reclaimed or restored."
"Wetland preservation is critical for providing flood control, absorbing pollutants, preventing shoreline erosion, storing carbon, and serving as a nursery for wildlife," stressed Southerland, now a volunteer with the Environmental Protection Network.
Thursday's decision, she said, "is a big win for land developers and miners, who will now be free to destroy certain types of wetlands without paying for wetland reclamation," and "a big loss for communities who will have to pay more to treat their drinking water and respond to increased flooding and shoreline erosion."
The high court was criticized for hearing the case—brought by an Idaho couple denied a permit by the EPA—as the federal agency was finalizing a new waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule following the Trump administration's widely condemned rollback. The Biden administration's policy was just finalized in December.
"While Earthjustice and our allies are closely evaluating the impact of the Sackett decision on the new WOTUS regulation," said Sam Sankar, the legal group's vice president of programs, "we can say with certainty that the court has once again given polluting industries and land developers a potent weapon that they will use to erode regulatory protections for wetlands and waterways around the country."
Five U.S. senators wrote that the Pentagon "can no longer expect Congress or the American taxpayer to underwrite record military spending while simultaneously failing to account for the hundreds of billions it hands out every year."
Sen. Bernie Sanders on Thursday led a group of senators in urging the Pentagon to investigate price gouging by military contractors after a CBS Newsprobe that aired on "60 Minutes" earlier this week confirmed that private corporations are drastically overcharging the Defense Department for weaponry and other equipment, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in excess taxpayer spending and huge profits for the arms industry.
"The six-month investigation by CBS News, including extensive interviews with former DOD contracting officials, uncovered massive overcharges from defense contractors accounting for hundreds of millions of dollars," reads a letter that Sanders and four of his Senate colleagues—Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)—sent to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
"As CBS reported, DOD's fixed price contracts would often provide for private profits of 12-15%," the letter continues. "Pentagon analysts found overcharges that boosted total profits to nearly 40% and sometimes as high as 4,000%. Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, and TransDigm are among the offenders, dramatically overcharging the department and U.S. taxpayers while reaping enormous profits, seeing their stock prices soar, and handing out massive executive compensation packages."
The senators also fault the Pentagon for staggering oversight failures, noting that the "60 Minutes" investigation "underlines longstanding concerns around the department's inability to pass an audit, accurately track its finances, or mitigate against fraud risk in the hundreds of billions of dollars in contracts it awards every year."
In 2021, Sanders, Wyden, Grassley, and other lawmakers teamed up to introduce legislation that would require the Pentagon to pass a full, independent audit. The bill did not get a floor vote in either chamber of Congress.
"The DOD can no longer expect Congress or the American taxpayer to underwrite record military spending while simultaneously failing to account for the hundreds of billions it hands out every year to spectacularly profitable private corporations," the letter reads. "We ask that you please provide us an update on the department’s efforts to implement outstanding GAO recommendations related to financial management and fraud risk reduction, as well as your efforts to investigate the price gouging uncovered by CBS' recent reporting."
"Proposals to push weapons out the door more quickly with less scrutiny, coupled with the sheer volume of systems being produced, will open the way to additional price gouging."
The senators' letter comes as the Pentagon is requesting $842 billion for fiscal year 2024 and as Republicans are pushing for higher military spending in debt ceiling talks with the Biden White House, even amid fresh evidence of wasteful spending that they claim to oppose.
The U.S. currently spends more on its military than over 144 countries combined, and roughly half of the Pentagon's annual budget ends up in the coffers of private corporations which—according to a recent Defense Department-backed study—are "profitable" and "generate substantial amounts of cash beyond their needs for operations or capital investment."
William Hartung, a senior research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, wrote earlier this week that the Pentagon's systematic and persistent oversight lapses will likely "be exacerbated by the push to rapidly expand production to deal with supplying Ukraine and stockpiling systems relevant to a potential conflict with China."
"Proposals to push weapons out the door more quickly with less scrutiny, coupled with the sheer volume of systems being produced, will open the way to additional price gouging," Hartung warned.
"As spending rises and vetting decreases, the prospects for fraud, waste, and abuse will grow," he added. "And the arms industry and its allies in Congress and the Pentagon are intent on making any changes made to deal with the Ukraine emergency permanent, which could supersize the weapons industry while reducing oversight and accountability—a recipe for relentless, unnecessary price increases that could continue well beyond the end of the Ukraine war."