NEWS WORTH NOTING: Trump Administration urged not to block access to records on wildlife, public lands; Rep. Huffman elected Chair of Water, Oceans, & Wildlife Subcommittee; Napolitano elected Chair of Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee

Trump Administration Urged Not to Block Access to Records on Wildlife, Public Lands

From the Center for Biological Diversity:

The Center for Biological Diversity and other groups today urged the U.S. Department of the Interior to withdraw proposed rule changes that would hinder public access to records on agency actions that hurt wildlife and public lands.

The Interior Department’s proposed rule would illegally give agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service broad discretion to reject records requests made through the Freedom of Information Act, today’s comment letter notes. The changes were proposed shortly before embattled Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke left office.

“This would pull a dark cloak over the whole Interior Department and let the Trump administration hide actions that harm endangered animals,” said Meg Townsend, the Center’s open government attorney. “The revisions are an insult to transparency, adding more bureaucracy to Interior’s already severely backlogged public-records program. If they’re finalized, our wildlife and public lands will suffer in secret.”

The rule would require that requests specifically describe the particular records being sought and the relevant agency action implicated. This change, supposedly aimed at relieving the department of what it calls “unreasonably burdensome” searches, would actually make it almost impossible to obtain many important public records.

The rule would also make it easier for the agency to deny fee-waiver requests and deny requests to expedite releases of records about breaking news stories and matters of significant interest to the public.

The Interior Department’s proposed rule would nullify the records expertise of FOIA-focused agency staff. It would also undermine the purpose of the Freedom of Information Act by consolidating crucial decision-making into the hands of a political appointee, the solicitor of the Interior. That position is now held by Dan Jorjani, a former Koch Foundation strategist who has served as acting solicitor for the past two years.

The proposed revisions would apply to all agencies within the Department of the Interior, including the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management.

Jorjani signed the proposed rule Dec. 28, the Friday between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, amid a government shutdown.

“Interior’s proposed rule changes would give a single political appointee unbridled power to deny access to crucial information about government activities,” Townsend said. “This is part of a disturbing pattern of recent efforts to allow the agency to operate in the shadows. The Trump administration is desperate to conceal how it serves special interests at the expense of America’s natural heritage.”

Comments are due today, Jan. 29, 2019. The Center has signed on to a letter requesting a 120-day extension of the comment period. The Interior Department instead extended it by just one day.

Rep. Huffman Elected Chair of Water, Oceans, & Wildlife Subcommittee

Today, the Democratic members of the House Committee on Natural Resources elected Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) to serve as the Chair of the newly established Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee.

“I’m honored to be elected by my colleagues to Chair the Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee,” said Rep. Huffman. “We have a lot of work to do and I’m looking forward to rolling up my sleeves and working as a team to provide much-needed oversight of the Trump administration, improve the health of our oceans and economy of our coastal communities, respond to the threat of climate change on water supplies, and advance smart solutions to natural resources challenges. I am eager to move forward as Chair by starting with the facts, not ideology, to see where we can build consensus and tackle some of the most challenging conservation policy problems of our time.”

“Protecting our environment, taking climate change seriously, and putting the public interest first are not optional on this Committee, and that’s what Democrats are going to do every day for the next two years,” said Chair Grijalva. “The American people want clean air and water and public lands protected for the future. It’s our job to make sure they get them. Our entire team is excited to get started right away, and everyone should expect big things from this Committee.”

In this role, Rep. Huffman will work to:

  • Provide long-overdue oversight of the Trump administration;
  • Fight against the Trump administration's industry giveaways, which threaten wildlife and outdoor recreation;
  • Champion the health of our oceans, by using his agenda-setting power to get the facts out about the importance of our oceans and the impacts of climate change, and help keep U.S. fisheries sustainable under a strong Magnuson Stevens Act; and
  • Help ecosystems and vulnerable communities adapt to water scarcity and drought caused by the impacts of climate change.

Today’s election was a contested one, with senior Democrat Jim Costa of Fresno also seeking the post.  Huffman prevailed by a more than 2-1 margin.

Rep. Huffman previously served as the Ranking Member on the Water, Power, & Oceans Subcommittee. The renamed Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee has an expanded jurisdiction, which will include critical water issues such as water rights and settlements, water resource research and development, and irrigation and reclamation projects. On oceans, the subcommittee will be responsible for overseeing fisheries management and research, coastal and marine issues, oceanography and ocean technologies, and coastal zone management. The subcommittee will also have jurisdiction over measures related to international wildlife, the Endangered Species Act, and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Rep. Huffman will also serve on the National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands Subcommittee, as well as the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee.

Napolitano Elected Chair of Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee, Welcomes Democratic Members

[January 24], Rep. Grace F. Napolitano (D-El Monte) proudly announced her election by unanimous consent to serve as Chairwoman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment for the 116thCongress and welcomed her fellow Democratic members.

“To ensure the availability of clean, safe, and affordable water and wastewater services for our families and businesses in the San Gabriel Valley and across our nation, and to support additional U.S. job creation, we must increase federal investment in our water infrastructure and drought resiliency measures,” Napolitano said. “As Chairwoman, I look forward to building on the recent successes of enacting a bipartisan Water Resources Development Act every two years, and we will continue to fight for robust implementation of existing environmental laws, such as the Clean Water Act. I am very pleased to have been entrusted to lead our Subcommittee’s efforts in these pursuits, and I pledge to work with all of my colleagues, Republicans and Democrats, to address the most pressing water infrastructure needs of our communities. I congratulate Subcommittee Ranking Member Bruce Westerman and look forward to working with him in a bipartisan manner on behalf of American families.” …

The vital Subcommittee oversees EPA Clean Water Act programs and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps). Chairwoman Napolitano will continue to encourage EPA and sanitation agencies in LA County and nationwide to find ways to recycle water for irrigation use, groundwater replenishment, and potable reuse, recognizing the ongoing threats posed by climate change, historic drought, and severe storms. She will also continue to work closely with the Corps, local flood control districts, and water agencies, to capture more water in flood control reservoirs, a major issue at Santa Fe Dam in her district and the bordering Whittier Narrows Dam.

In addition to chairing the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee, Napolitano will continue to serve on the Transportation Subcommittees on Highways and Transit; Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials; and Aviation. She is the highest-ranking Hispanic member and California member of the Committee.

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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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