NEWS WORTH NOTING: Senators Feinstein and Harris reintroduce bill to establish Delta National Heritage Area; Napolitano, Wittman reintroduce bill to boost water research & training; House NRC: ESA consultation delays block critical infrastructure projects, ‘Zombie ESA’ hearing, Democrats say

Senators Feinstein and Harris Reintroduce Bill to Establish Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area

From the office of Senator Dianne Feinstein:

U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris (both D-Calif.) reintroduced the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area Act, a bill to establish California’s first National Heritage Area.

“Our bill recognizes the Delta as a working landscape central to California life,” said Senator Feinstein. “Establishing the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area would secure additional federal resources to help protect perhaps the most productive and ecologically important watershed in the United States.”

“Each year, millions of Californians enjoy boating, fishing, hunting, and viewing wildlife in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta estuary and we must do all we can to protect its rich culture and history for future generations,” said Senator Harris. “The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area Act will provide local communities and individuals with the resources needed to support our environmental and infrastructure needs.”

The bill will establish the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta as a National Heritage Area, to be managed by the Delta Protection Commission. It authorizes $10 million in federal assistance over 15 years to provide matching grants to local governments and nonprofit organizations. This federal grant funding will help to implement the locally developed Heritage Area management plan to promote environmental stewardship, heritage conservation, and economic development projects throughout the Delta.

The bill would have no effect on water rights, water contracts or property rights and creates no new regulatory authority or burden on local government or private citizens. The bill would also have no impact on fishing and hunting within the Heritage Area.

Congressman John Garamendi (D-Calif.) plans to reintroduce companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

The full text of the legislation is available here. A map of the proposed National Heritage Area is available here.

Napolitano, Wittman Reintroduce Bill to Boost Water Research & Training

From the office of Congressman Grace Napolitano:

Reps. Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA-32) and Rob Wittman (R-VA-01), members of the House Natural Resources Committee, have reintroduced the Water Resources Research Amendments Act (H.R. 1663) to extend a Federal-State partnership aimed at addressing state and regional water problems, promoting distribution and application of research results, and providing training and practical experience for water-related scientists and engineers.

“Whether California or Virginia, all of our states are facing water challenges that demand the newest scientific research and training methods,” Napolitano said. “Our bipartisan bill will boost these efforts, building on the strides San Gabriel Valley-based water scientists, engineers, and agencies have made in expanding Southern California’s water portfolio. I am proud to again partner with Congressman Wittman in putting forward legislation that will grow our water workforce while affirming the federal government’s partnership with states to solve our greatest challenges.”

“We need to give states and local governments the best information available when it comes to their water supply and water quality,” Rep. Wittman said. “The water resources research institutes find innovative solutions to local water challenges, allowing states to address those challenges using methods most appropriate for them. This grant matching program has been instrumental, for example, in efforts across Mid-Atlantic states and in the Commonwealth to keep the Chesapeake Bay and our other water resources clean. Its localized approach has resulted in the development of urban storm water treatment and improved roadway design to address specific water quality and scarcity issues in the Bay and across the United States.”

H.R. 1663 would authorize $9,000,000 annually over five years for grants to water resources research institutes and require two-to-one matching with non-federal funds. It would also promote exploration of new ideas, expand research to reduce energy consumption, and bolster reporting and accountability requirements.

“The Water Resources Research program leverages federal support with other funds, often in excess of ten to one, resulting in a great investment for the taxpayers, students and the public,” Napolitano added. “It’s a great partnership that makes fiscal and scientific sense.”

Napolitano continues to facilitate dialogue between all sectors in developing a sustainable water future for Southern California. She is the top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment and a current member and the former top Democrat of the House Natural Resources Water, Power, and Oceans Subcommittee.

ESA Consultation Delays Block Critical Infrastructure Projects, Imperil Species Recovery Efforts

Labrador, Witnesses: ESA Changes Needed to Mitigate Negative Impacts on Economic Development, Species Recovery

From the House Committee on Natural Resources:

Today, the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held an oversight hearing on delays and uncertainty related to Endangered Species Act (ESA) consultations. Subcommittee Chairman Raúl Labrador (R-ID) reacted to testimony from witnesses that recounted personal experiences with extensive delays as a result of ESA consultations that ultimately jeopardized human health and safety, harmed small businesses and, in many cases, further imperiled species.

“The testimony we heard today is crystal clear that we need – in an infrastructure package or legislation moving forward – to address ESA for people and species. This law is a lawyer’s dream that has the power to block projects entirely while taxpayers foot the bill,” Subcommittee Chairman Labrador said.

Protracted consultation timelines are particularly concerning when delays hold up projects that benefit the environment according to Jonathan Wood, an attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation.

“If the slow, burdensome consultation process causes communities to delay necessary upgrades and improvements, then the environment and endangered species could ultimately pay the price when that infrastructure fails,” Wood stated.

Douglas Stiles, General Manager of the Hecla Mining Company, specifically spoke to the broken legal system when it comes to listing and consultation.

“The current system is abused by non-profit organizations pursuing procedural litigation on emotional issues in cases disconnected from the Act’s original purpose,” Stiles stated. “The guarantee of litigation following an Agency decision has added decades to the permitting timeline and millions of dollars to permitting costs with no benefit to the species.”

Ron Calkins, President of the American Public Works Association, similarly called for reforms to the statue while noting that species recovery and critical infrastructure projects are not mutually exclusive.

“We need a better balance between the protection of endangered species and the ability to implement important public works and infrastructure projects especially when public safety and health is threatened by a lack of water supply,” Calkins said.

Click here to view full witness testimony.

Republicans Bring Extinct Talking Points Back from the Dead in Zombie ESA Hearing

From the Natural Resources Committee Democrats:

In their latest attempt to manufacture opposition to popular and effective environmental laws, House Republicans are holding a hearing at 10 a.m. today to attack the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and wrongfully blame the Act for delaying development and infrastructure projects. Republican witnesses are expected to resurrect claims that were debunked long ago, such as the myth that ESA consultation caused the catastrophic levee failure along California’s Feather River in 1997, and employ a similar ruse to falsely implicate the ESA for the recent Oroville Dam crisis. House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member A. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) will stick to the facts and remind Committee Republicans that since its passage 99 percent of species listed under the ESA have survived and 90 percent of listed species are recovering at a rate equal to or faster than that specified in their recovery plans. Despite the scientific fact that the Act works, Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) was recently quoted by The Washington Post saying that the ESA “has never been used for the rehabilitation of species.”

“If the rest of creation was as resilient as the alternative facts Chairman Bishop and his extinction-hungry allies use to undermine the ESA, we wouldn’t need the law in the first place,” Grijalva said. “Science shows that the ESA is both necessary and effective, period. This shouldn’t even be an issue we’re wasting our time debating. If Republicans are serious about improving our infrastructure and growing our economy, they should get behind our bill to invest in those things. If not, they should stop parading corporate bad actors and Koch Industries lackeys up to the Hill for disingenuous hearings, and instead just show us their bill to gut the ESA already.”

“Once again, partisan ideology instead of facts rule the day,” McEachin said. “My colleagues on the other side of the aisle would rather undermine the Endangered Species Act, which is clearly working, instead of answering the call for a hearing that Ranking Member Grijalva and I sent to the chairman months ago on the Trump administration’s attempt to censor the truth about climate change. The ESA works to protect our wildlife for future generations. Now the Republicans want to hold a hearing falsely claiming that the ESA hampers business and development without acknowledging the incredible conservation successes of the legislation. Just like we saw over the last few weeks with the ACA, they would rather repeal than consider supporting something that works and being open to improvements. I hope that today we can all focus on actual data and facts to make legitimate assessments.”

Republican witnesses include a mining company that paid more than a quarter of a billion dollars to settle claims of massive environmental damage brought by Native Americans, and the Pacific Legal Foundation, a group underwritten by the same right-wing foundations that bankroll climate denial conspiracy theorists. Democratic witness Ya-Wei (Jake) Li from Defenders of Wildlife will highlight a study showing that the vast majority of ESA Section 7 consultations take only a few days to complete and impose little if any cost or delay on project applicants.

Pressure from House Republicans to weaken the ESA and to remove ESA protections from individual species has increased in recent years. Since the beginning of the 112th Congress, there have been more than 100 legislative attacks on endangered species introduced by House Republicans. Similarly, the Natural Resources Committee has held 16 hearings aimed at undermining the Act, and reported several bills that would make endangered wildlife more vulnerable to poachers, limit citizens’ rights to hold the government accountable for failing to follow the law, and base ESA decisions on politics instead of sound science. In the 114th Congress, Republicans introduced dozens of bills and policy riders targeting the ESA and species like the gray wolf, greater sage-grouse, Chinook salmon, and Delta smelt. Chairman Bishop recently stated during a Rules Committee hearing that he “would be happy to invalidate the Endangered Species Act.” The Majority’s stated desire to “improve” the ESA is in direct contrast with their actions, and ignores the fact that recent polling shows 90 percent of Americans support the ESA and 70 percent are opposed to eliminating protections for at-risk species.

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About News Worth Noting:  News Worth Noting is a collection of press releases, media statements, and other materials produced by federal, state, and local government agencies, water agencies, and academic institutions, as well as non-profit and advocacy organizations.  News Worth Noting also includes relevant legislator statements and environmental policy and legal analyses that are publicly released by law firms.  If your agency or organization has an item you would like included here, please email it to Maven.

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