Tag Archives: Maria Cantwell

Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund gets tangled in politics

Two members of the Washington’s congressional delegation — Reps. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, and Dave Reichert, R-Auburn — are expressing confidence that the Land and Water Conservation Fund will be reauthorized.

But with so many dollars on the line for conservation purposes, many supporters are growing nervous about when it will happen and what the final bill will look like. After all, what could possibly go wrong in a Congress famous for getting nothing done, with less than 100 days left to go before the law expires?

The Land and Water Conservation Fund is a major source of money for recreation and habitat-protection projects across the country, ranging from building local swimming pools to buying land for national parks. Since 1965, more than 41,000 grants have provided a total of about $4 billion, divided among every state and five U.S. territories. For a list of completed projects in Washington state, check out “50 Years of Success” by the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund receives $900 million a year, about halfway up the lowest line. The short bars show spending, compared to revenues from drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund receives $900 million a year, about halfway up the lowest line. The short bars show spending, compared to revenues from drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf. (Click to enlarge)
Graph:LWCF Coalition

The current law places $900 million a year into the fund, but in recent years only a fraction of that ever gets appropriated — roughly between one-fourth and one-half. If not appropriated, the money disappears into the general Treasury for other spending.

Revenues put into the fund come from royalties paid by energy companies for drilling for oil on the outer continental shelf, so no tax dollars are involved. As President Obama and others have stated, the program allows money coming from the extraction of natural resources to go into protecting natural resources.

In a conference call yesterday, Kilmer recounted how the fund has helped bring businesses to Washington state, as employers look for places with natural beauty and recreational opportunities. He noted that in his previous life he worked for the Pierce County Economic Development Board helping employers site their businesses.

“Just like in real estate, location matters,” Kilmer said. “Access to natural beauty matters. Something our region has is a natural environment that you won’t find anywhere else, and innovators and employers are attracted to the Pacific Northwest.”

Kilmer said it is “hard to overstate the importance” of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. He promised to work hard to have it permanently authorized.

Reichert delivered a similar message, saying he helped gather signatures in support from more than 200 representatives from both parties.

“I want to reassure everyone… we are going to continue to fight this fight back here,” he said. “We think it is absolutely critical to invest in the LWCF … and support public land conservation efforts.”

I did not get a clear picture of how the political battles are shaping up, nor whether reauthorization is likely before the fund expires at the end of September. But we can get some clues from remarks by key leaders in the House and Senate, as well as testimony in public hearings.

At one end of the spectrum, Washington’s Sen. Maria Cantwell has proposed legislation, S. 890, that would not only reauthorize the law but require permanent and dedicated funding at the full amount of authorization. If Congress fails to appropriate the funds, presumably the money would stay in the fund unless redirected to another program.

Separate bills in the Senate and House (S. 338 and H.R. 1814) would not go as far. They would make the fund permanent but would not change the appropriation process. A provision would be added to the law to require that 1.5 percent of the appropriation, up to $10 million, would be set aside for opening up public access to recreation.

In the Senate, an amendment to the Keystone XL pipeline bill, which would do what S. 338 proposes, nearly passed with 59 votes, one vote shy of the required 60 votes to pass in today’s Senate. That is seen as decent support in the Senate, but nobody is predicting what will happen in the House.

Republicans, who are in control of the committees, could shape any bills that they decide to bring to a vote and move to floor.

Rep. Tom McClintock, a Republican from California, chairs the Subcommittee on Federal Lands Oversight of the House Natural Resources Committee.

“This 50-year old act expires in September, offering the 114th Congress an opportunity to thoroughly examine its mission and impacts and to make adjustments accordingly,” McClintock said in a hearing in April on the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

McClintock raised objections about buying more federal land when there is a serious backlog of maintenance projects needed to meet standards for fire prevention, fire suppression, wildlife management and facilities maintenance. Money that goes to states, on the other hand, comes under greater accountability because of the funding match provided at the local level, he said.

The funding is entirely discretionary, he noted, so it is “incumbent upon Congress” to decide whether to support additional funding for the purchase of federal lands.

Similar views were expressed by Alaskan Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Republican chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

“I fully support reauthorizing this act, this year, in a way that reflects changing needs and evolving viewpoints about conservation in the 21st century,” Murkowski said during a hearing in April.

“As we look to reauthorize LWCF, I believe that it makes sense to shift the federal focus away from land acquisition, particularly in Western states, toward maintaining and enhancing the accessibility and quality of the resources that we have,” she said. “This is the best way to put our nation’s recreation system on the path of long-term viability.”

She stressed her support for state programs and for increasing public access to federal lands.

In that same hearing, Washington’s Sen. Maria Cantwell, the Democrats’ ranking minority member on the committee, said it is not necessary to choose between maintenance and purchase. Maintenance is already authorized, she said, and Congress decides how much to spend on maintenance.

“Nearly half of the National Park Service’s estimated backlog is attributed to needed repairs for roads and highways within the national parks,” she said. “The single biggest improvement we could make in reducing the maintenance backlog would be to increase the funding level in the transportation bill for park roads.”

The Land and Water Conservation Fund is flexible, she argued. It provides money for states to buy and develop local recreation projects and to protect habitat for endangered species.

The fund also provides money for the Forest Legacy Program to purchase development rights from private timberland owners to keep the property in a forest condition.

On that point, more than 2,100 acres of forestland adjacent to both Green Mountain and Tahuya state forests in Kitsap and Mason counties were protected from development in 2009 with a $3.3 million purchase of development rights from Pope Resources. See Kitsap Sun, Aug. 12, 2009.

In the latest round of funding, an effort is moving forward to protect 20,000 acres of forestland between Shelton and Allyn in Mason County. The plan is to take up to 10 years to buy the development rights from Green Diamond Resource Company, which will continue to manage the land under a federally approved habitat conservation plan.

As for extra money for state projects, Cantwell pointed out that a relatively new program, the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, provides a dedicated source of funding for state grants. Money from drilling in the Gulf of Mexico places up to $125 million a year in the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

In a column published by the Kitsap Sun, Washington State Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, said the Land and Water Conservation Fund is important for protecting public property in every corner of the state, including a land purchase to improve degraded water quality in Lake Quinault near the coast.

Rolfes said she worries that in this “highly charged political climate,” opponents of public lands could block spending from the fund by failing to authorize its renewal.

“If they succeed,” she said, “the loss won’t be abstract — it will be real and immediate.”

The video below, produced by The Nature Conservancy, makes an argument for continuing the purchase and protection of public lands.

Controversy over oil speculation heats up again

I can’t believe it’s been nearly four years since we’ve held a discussion on Water Ways about how commodities markets may affect the price of gasoline at the pump.

I guess I’ve been watching and waiting for something to happen. Well, a couple weeks ago, Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell began stirring the pot again.

Here’s what she said during a March 29 hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee:

“I definitely believe that we should get these asset class investors out of this market. Saying that we are going to allow a bunch of investors to treat the commodities market like they want to treat the rest of Wall Street from a securities and investment perspective I think is the wrong idea for commodities, something particularly as vital as gasoline.”

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Coast Guard bill covers safety and budget issues

President Obama signed the Coast Guard Authorization Bill today. For details, check out the news release from U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell.

President Obama is expected to sign a sweeping authorization bill that reorganizes U.S Coast Guard operations, increases maritime safety rules and calls for improved oil-spill prevention and response in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

It seems this bill has something for everyone, at least among those of us living in coastal states. By skimming through the Coast Guard bill or reading a summary, you get an idea of just how sweeping these changes will be for the Coast Guard.

The legislation, largely written by Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, was blocked by Republican leaders in the Senate for the past four years. To get approval, several provisions were stripped from the bill in the Senate. Then in the House, many of these ideas were put back in and ultimately approved when it came back to the Senate.

What are the most important parts of the bill? Well, that depends on whether you are involved in the Coast Guard, the shipping industry, the fishing fleet or just want to protect against oil spills or terrorists.
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‘Salmon strongholds’ would be preserved with new money

It’s not really new, this plan to protect the “last best salmon habitat,” as proposed in a bill submitted to Congress by Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell and several of her fellow senators. See my story in today’s Kitsap Sun.

The legislation is called the Pacific Salmon Stronghold Conservation Act.

Cantwell acknowledges that the focus of the bill is consistent with a basic principle of conservation biology: protect the best first. See Cantwell’s press release.

In Washington state, “Critical areas ordinances,” adopted by local governments as a requirement of the Growth Management Act, require protection of fish and wildlife habitat, not just for endangered species. But these are considered minimal standards, probably not the kind of protection envisioned by the new Salmon Stronghold Act.

While the idea of protecting the best is not new, this may be the first time anyone has proposed a dedicated pot of money for such a cause, money to be overseen by a partnership of state and federal officials throughout the region.

Cantwell is quick to point out that the bill doesn’t need to take away from ongoing efforts to restore salmon.

“While current federal salmon recovery efforts focus on recovering salmon listed under the Endangered Species Act aiming to restore what we’ve lost, the Salmon Stronghold Act aims to protect what we already have,” said Cantwell. “This legislation complements ongoing recovery efforts to ensure the future viability of healthy wild Pacific salmon runs for generations to come.”

Bill Ruckelshaus of the Puget Sound Partnership endorses the concept:
“This bill is an excellent complement to the Endangered Species Act and international salmon treaties. By protecting the best remaining Pacific salmon ecosystems throughout their range, wild salmon cannot only survive, but thrive, for generations to come.”

Download a copy of the bill and check out some additional background on the Web site of the Oregon-based Wild Salmon Center.

Energy issues are heating up in Congress

Get ready for a furious congressional debate over energy for the next three weeks. Democrats appear ready to give in to the drill-drill-drill mentality, but only on the condition that clean energy be part of the picture.

One idea is to drop the federal moratorium on drilling off the Atlantic and Gulf coasts in exchange for revoking subsidies to oil companies and shifting those dollars into research and development of solar and wind power.

Zachary Coile, a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, calls the political posturing “a chess match over energy with high stakes for both the November elections and the nation’s energy future.”

He writes in today’s editions:

Kevin Book, a senior energy policy analyst at FBR Capital Markets, said he’s betting the only energy legislation that’s likely to pass is an extension of the tax credits for wind and solar, which expire at the end of the year and are popular with both parties.

“The Republicans could still potentially strike a deal, but it’s not clear whether the Democrats have any incentive,” Book said. “They can paint Republicans as objecting to cutting a deal – particularly as all the political analysis suggests they are going to come back next year with the upper hand” by picking up seats in the House and Senate in November.

Two members of Washington’s congressional delegation — U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island, and U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell — have thrust themselves into the middle of this debate. Inslee, who wrote a book on the clean-energy revolution, has complained about the stranglehold that oil companies have on the Bush administration. (Watch video on his site.) Cantwell has spent a lot of time looking into possible market manipulations that may have led to artificial spikes in gasoline prices earlier this year.

On Thursday, an official with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission is expected to testify before Congress, according to David Ivanovich of the Houston Chronicle.

“If the agency were to uncover real evidence of market manipulation, that could spark its own congressional stampede,” said Ivanovich, also quoting David Book.

Researcher finds manipulation in oil markets

I continue to be fascinated with the possibility that a few speculative traders could dramatically affect oil prices the way we have seen over the past month.

I’m still learning about futures markets for oil, but now Robert McCullough of McCullough Research has released a statistical analysis of recent changes in prices in the futures and spot markets. McCullough was an investigator who exposed Enron’s energy market manipulation several years ago. (See Portland Tribune article.)

Now, McCullough is working with U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, who is doggedly pursuing legislation designed to shed new light on the way oil markets work. Read on for down for Cantwell’s press release or read McCullough’s report (PDF 460 kb) at his Web site.

I have another question that I’ve been pondering: Most people seem to agree that it will take seven to twelve years to bring oil to market from offshore wells. But some supporters say congressional approval would have an immediate impact on oil prices, because the markets would anticipate an increased supply.

If that’s true, wouldn’t a crash program to wean the country off oil with alternative energy supplies have an even greater impact on oil prices, since the markets would anticipate a dramatic and permanent drop in demand? I’m just wondering.

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Learning the ins and outs of oil speculation

I recently asked readers of Watching Our Water Ways to refer me to books or magazine articles that would help me understand oil speculation. While I don’t want this blog to turn into “watching our oil ways,” I became interested in oil speculation while writing a story about offshore drilling and have been interested ever since.

The subject of oil speculation was brought out of the closet by Congress, and U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee told me that he became convinced during recent hearings that speculation is a major force driving up the price of oil. It appears a growing number of people agree with this assessment.

A lot of my questions about markets were answered last week in a press packet released in conjunction with a new campaign by the Air Transport Association, which wants to get oil speculation under control.

Check out:

The news release by the ATA,

A new Web site, Stop Oil Speculation, Now,

The press packet (PDF 684 kb), which includes loads of questions and answers, lists of officials and companies involved in the campaign, quotes from outside experts and congressional testimony,

And the video of the press conference announcing the campaign.

The organization, of course, is speaking from a position of self interest, but some airline officials are saying officials in the Bush administration don’t seem to understand how markets work and how speculation is driving up the price of oil.

The industry group is calling for what Inslee, Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington and other lawmakers have said are needed restrictions on the commodities and futures markets. Unless you know a lot more about commodities than I did before getting into this issue, you may find that information in the press packet is a lot of help. Here are the basic actions being requested:

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