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US Environmental Record

Public land use

Project: US Environmental Issues
Open-Content project managed by Derek, mtuck

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Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark Rey’s office orders employees of the Forest Service’s Content Analysis Team (CAT) to downplay the public’s feelings towards the Roadless Rule in a report the team is preparing for policy decision-makers. The office also instructs them not to mention how many people have sent in comments on the issue. A memo is later distributed to the team’s employees setting the limits on what they are permitted to say in the report. It instructs them to “avoid any emphasis on conflict or opposition and also avoid any appearance of measuring the ‘ote’ highlighting areas of conflict [because it] serves no good purpose in dealing with the issues or interests, and may only exacerbate the problems.” The memo even provides explicit instructions on what words the CAT team can and cannot use. Among the list of banned terms are: many, most, oppose, support, impacts and clear cuts. Words that the memo suggests using instead include: some, state, comment, effects and even-aged management. [High Country News, 4/26/2004]

Entity Tags: US Forest Service, Content Analysis Team (CAT), Mark E. Rey, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Public land use, Timber industry, Politicization and deception, Roadless Rule, Outsourcing CAT

On his first day in office, President Bush has his chief of staff, Andrew Card, issue directives to every executive department with authority over environmental issues, and orders them to immediately put on hold dozens of regulations passed by the Clinton administration. The Clinton regulations include lowering arsenic levels in drinking water; reducing the release of raw sewage into rivers and streams; setting limits on logging, drilling, and mining on public lands; increasing energy efficiency standards; and banning snowmobiles from Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. [Carter, 2004, pp. 127]

Entity Tags: Andrew Card, Clinton administration, George W. Bush

Category Tags: National Parks, Public land use, Air pollution, Water pollution, Appointments and resignations

Family Research Council logo.Family Research Council logo. [Source: Mediamouse (.org)]The Family Research Council (FRC), a Christian conservative organization headed by the Reverend James Dobson, authorizes an advertisement linking Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) to Saddam Hussein. The ad is triggered by Daschle’s opposition to the Bush administration’s desire to drill for oil in the protected Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The ad is released by American Renewal, the lobbying wing of the FRC headed by Richard Lessner, who formerly headed the editorial page staff at the Manchester Union Leader. In a press release announcing the ad, Lessner asks: “What do Saddam Hussein and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle have in common? Neither man wants America to drill for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.” It juxtaposes photos of Daschle and Hussein, and charges that American buys 725,000 barrels of oil a day from Hussein because Daschle “won’t let America drill for oil at home.” Daschle spokesman Doug Hattaway calls the ad “an outrageous, extremist attack at a time when the nation is unified.” Lessner calls the ad an example of “telling the truth” necessitating “tough talk.” Washington Post pundit Dana Milbank says the ad has all “the subtlety of a Scud missile.” [Washington Post, 11/9/2001]

Entity Tags: Family Research Council, American Renewal, Dana Milbank, Doug Hattaway, Tom Daschle, James Dobson, Richard Lessner

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Oil and gas industry, Public land use, Politicization and deception

William Myers, the Interior Department’s solicitor general—and a former lobbyist for ranchers—announces to members of the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association (NCA) that the Bush administration intends to limit environmental reviews and make it easier for ranchers to graze livestock on public lands. He also says that the Department of Interior is seeking ways to prevent federal laws like the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act from restricting grazing on public lands (see December 5, 2003). [Associated Press, 11/16/2002] “We should not be using the Endangered Species Act… as a land management tool. It is not there as a tool for zoning on federal lands,” Myers says. His comments are well received by the NCA. John Falen, a former president of the organization, tells the Associated Press, “Bill’s our friend. It’s been a long time since we had a friend in the solicitor’s office.” [Associated Press, 11/16/2002]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Nevada Cattlemen’s Association (NCA), William G. Myers III, John Falen

Category Tags: Public land use, Water pollution, Endangered species, Cattle Industry

On the day before Thanksgiving, the Bush administration releases proposed rule changes that would lead to increased logging of federal forests for commercial or recreational activities by giving local forest managers the authority to open up the forests to development without requiring environmental impact assessments and without specific standards to maintain local fish and wildlife populations. Administration officials claim the changes are needed because existing rules—approved by the Clinton administration two months before Bush took office—are unclear, in addition to being costly and difficult to implement. Critics charge the changes are aimed at pleasing the timber industry at the expense of forest ecosystems. The proposed changes would affect roughly 192 million acres of US forests and grasslands. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 11/27/2002; CBS News, 11/27/2002] The proposal closely follows the timber industry’s wish list—a “coincidence” according to the Forest Service. [Native Forest Network, 11/27/2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Forest Service, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Public land use, Forest policy, Timber industry

Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton, Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman, and Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Chairman James L. Connaughton meet with President Bush to discuss the implementation of the administration’s “Healthy Forest Initiative.” After the meeting, they announce proposed changes that would expedite the approval of “fuels treatment” projects (forest thinning) by weakening the review process and restricting public input. [US Department of Interior, 12/11/2002; Associated Press, 12/11/2002] Critics say the changes would make it easier for the timber industry to cut the larger, more fire resistant trees, making the forests more vulnerable to wildfires. They also charge that the proposed rules would allow logging interests to override local concerns. [Natural Resources Defense Council, 12/11/2002] Mike Francis, a forest specialist with the Wilderness Society, commenting on the proposed rule changes, tells the Associated Press, “Those are nothing more than administration’s typical desires to cut the public out of forest decisions. This administration doesn’t like what the public wants to do with their forests.” [Associated Press, 12/11/2002]

Entity Tags: James L. Connaughton, George W. Bush, Gale A. Norton, Ann M. Veneman, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Public land use, Forest policy, Timber industry

The Department of Interior informs Congress that it has decided to settle a lawsuit filed years ago by the state of Utah over the Bureau of Land Management’s policy of rejecting drilling and mining projects in areas under review for wilderness protection. The decision withdraws protected status for 3 million acres of land in Utah. Without designation as a Wilderness Area, portions of the Red Rock Canyons in southern Utah could be open to logging, oil and gas drilling, mineral extraction, road-building and other development. A federal appeals court had previously ruled against the state on all but one count and consequently the lawsuit’s status had been moribund since 1998. [USA Today, 4/11/2003] But in March, Utah made an amendment to its complaint, thus reopening the case and providing the Bush administration with an opportunity to make a “settlement.” Environmental groups say the settlement is the outcome of a deal made between Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Utah Governor Mike Leavitt behind closed-doors. [USA Today, 4/11/2003; Salt Lake Tribune, 4/20/2003; Salt Lake Tribune, 5/6/2003; Salt Lake Tribune, 6/18/2003; Wilderness Society, 4/28/2004] In addition to the settlement, the Bush administration stops congressional reviews of Western lands for wilderness protection, capping wilderness designation at 22.8 million acres nationwide. [USA Today, 4/11/2003]

Entity Tags: US Congress, US Department of Interior, Mike Leavitt, Bush administration (43), Gale A. Norton

Category Tags: Public land use, Oil and gas industry, Mining industry, Timber industry, Key Events

April 14, 2003: Oil and Gas Regulations Eased

The Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) streamlines its permitting requirements for oil and gas drilling on public lands undermining the integrity of the environmental impact review and public input process. The changes were initiated by BLM Director Kathleen Clarke who instructed the agency’s staff to use new methods for reviewing applications, such as grouping applications together in bundles and performing environmental impact assessments for entire oil or gas fields instead of for individual wells. [Bureau of Land Management, 4/14/2003; Natural Resources Defense Council, 7/3/2004]

Entity Tags: Bureau of Land Management, Bush administration (43), Kathleen Clarke

Category Tags: Public land use, Oil and gas industry, Key Events

The Bush administration releases its “Draft Report on the Environment,” which concludes that by many measures US air is cleaner, drinking water purer, and public lands better protected than they had been thirty years ago. The document, commissioned in 2001 by the agency’s administrator, Christie Whitman, is comprised of five sections: “Cleaner Air,” “Purer Water,” “Better Protected Land,” “Human Health,” and “Ecological conditions.” But it is later learned that many of its conclusions rest on questionable data. Moreover, the report leaves out essential information on global climate change and pollution sources. [Environmental Protection Agency, 2003; New York Times, 6/19/2003] In its “Purer Water” section, the report claims that “94 percent of the [US] population served by community water systems [was] served by systems that met all health-based standards.” But on August 6, the Washington Post will reveal that on June 18 (see June 18, 2003), an internal inquiry had been launched over concerns that the source data was flawed. “Internal agency documents… show that EPA audits for at least five years have suggested that the percentage of the population with safe drinking water is much lower—79 percent to 84 percent in 2002—putting an additional 30 million Americans at potential risk,” the newspaper will report. [Washington Post, 8/6/2003] Another troubling feature of the report is that a section on global climate change was removed (see June 2003) from the report prior to publication because EPA officials were unhappy with changes that had been demanded by the White House (see April 2003). [New York Times, 6/19/2003; CBS News, 6/19/2003; Associated Press, 6/20/2003] In place of a thorough discussion of the issue, the report only says: “The complexity of the Earth system and the interconnections among its components make it a scientific challenge to document change, diagnose its causes, and develop useful projections of how natural variability and human actions may affect the global environment in the future. Because of these complexities and the potentially profound consequences of climate change and variability, climate change has become a capstone scientific and societal issue for this generation and the next, and perhaps even beyond.” [Boston Globe, 6/20/2003; Guardian, 6/20/2003] The EPA’s report also leaves out information on the potentially adverse effects that pesticides and industrial chemicals have on humans and wildlife. [New York Times, 6/19/2003]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina, Global Warming

Category Tags: Public land use, Air pollution, Water pollution, Public health, Wildlife protection, Global warming, Politicization and deception, Energy industry, Agribusiness

President George Bush names Utah Governor Mike Leavitt as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), replacing Christie Todd Whitman who resigned in June. [US President, 8/18/2003] Leavitt was at the center of a controversy a couple of months ago for a back-room deal he made with Interior Secretary Gale Norton to suspend wilderness studies on millions of acres of Utah lands (see April 11, 2003). He supports replacing mandatory pollution controls with voluntary compliance programs for polluting industries and is a strong backer of the administration’s policy of shifting environmental regulation to the states. [Washington Times, 8/12/2003] During his term as governor, US Magnesium, a magnesium-processing company on the western side of the Great Salt Lake, earned the place as the nation’s worst polluter. Leavitt says that he and Bush “have a like mind and a like heart” on environmental policy. [Salt Lake Tribune, 8/12/2003] Environmentalists condemn the nomination noting that aside from Leavitt’s strong opposition to a plan to store nuclear waste on a Utah Indian reservation, the governor has a very poor environmental record. “Mike Leavitt has no credentials, no understanding and no political willpower to protect America’s clean air, clean water and clean land,” Marc Clemens, chapter coordinator for the Utah Sierra Club, tells the Salt Lake Tribune. [Salt Lake Tribune, 8/12/2003]

Entity Tags: Mike Leavitt, Environmental Protection Agency, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Public land use, Air pollution, Water pollution, Appointments and resignations

Interior Secretary Gale Norton signs a legal opinion by Deputy Solicitor Roderick Walston reversing the interpretation of the agency’s previous solicitor-general, John Leshy, who had ruled in 1996 that the 1872 Mining Law limits each 20-acre mining claim on federal land to a single five-acre waste site. As a result of Norton’s decision, mining companies will be permitted to dump unlimited amounts of toxic waste on public lands, threatening surrounding waterways, wildlife, and the health of local human populations. The Bush administration and the mining industry have argued that the Clinton-era opinion caused a significant reduction in US minerals exploration, mine development and mining jobs since 1997. “It created an atmosphere of uncertainty and when you are making investments of hundreds of millions of dollars, uncertainty is not something you want to face,” explains Assistant Interior Secretary Rebecca Watson. “We anticipate we will now see more development and exploration for mining.” The decision was praised by the mining industry. “This is good news,L Russ Fields, executive director of the Nevada Mining Association. “The old opinion did create a lot of uncertainty for our industry.” [Associated Press, 10/10/2003]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Gale A. Norton, John Leshy, Roderick Walston

Category Tags: Public land use, Water pollution, Public health, Wildlife protection, Mining industry, Key Events

Interior Secretary Gale Norton announces in a speech to a convention of livestock owners in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is proposing new rules that would reverse rangeland management reforms implemented in 1995 aimed at deterring practices that cause overgrazing of public lands. According to Norton, the new proposal—which supporters say will act as a bulwark against suburban sprawl—“recognizes that ranching is crucial not only to the economies of Western rural communities, but also to the history, social fabric and cultural identity of these communities.” [Associated Press, 12/4/2004; Bureau of Land Management, 12/5/2004; Denver Post, 12/10/2004] The proposal recommends giving the BLM two years, instead of one, to recommend changes after identifying occurrences of damaging grazing practices and another five years to implement those recommendations. But the agency would retain emergency authority to immediately suspend grazing privileges “if imminent likelihood of significant resource damage exists.” The proposal would also require the BLM to base all decisions on multiple years of monitoring data, even if the grazing damage is obvious and even though this would put a considerable strain on the agency, which oversees more than 18,000 grazing permits covering over 160 million acres nationwide. Other provisions in the proposal would make it more difficult to revoke the grazing permits of ranchers who violate the law; reduce public involvement in reviewing and commenting on decisions about grazing on public lands; and give ranchers partial ownership of any fences, water tanks, new water rights or other improvements to public rangelands. [Associated Press, 1/3/2004; Natural Resources Defense Council, 7/3/2004; Associated Press, 12/4/2004; Denver Post, 12/10/2004] The livestock industry applauds the new proposal but environmentalists warn that the recommendations would threaten wildlife, degrade water quality and quantity and damage archaeological, historic and Native American sites. [Natural Resources Defense Council, 7/3/2004] The Natural Resources Defense Council, commenting on the recommended changes, says that it believes the proposal will result in increased overgrazing and other unsustainable grazing practices. [Associated Press, 12/4/2004] The BLM will later draft an environmental impact study predicting short-term damage to grazing lands and wildlife (see January 2, 2004).

Entity Tags: Bureau of Land Management, Bush administration (43), Gale A. Norton

Category Tags: Public land use, Cattle Industry

Interior Secretary Gale Norton says her department intends to increase the number of permits granted each year for gas drilling on public lands in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin from 1,000 to 3,000 and “streamline” the permit review process. The decision is a response to complaints by energy companies that the review process for drilling permits on federal property is three times as long as that for drilling on private and state-owned lands. Critics warn that the quicker permit approval process will come at the expense of thorough environmental impact assessments. Drilling for gas wells in the northeastern Wyoming basin requires pumping groundwater to release the natural gas trapped in coal seams. This often causes the wells of local residents to run dry. [Associated Press, 1/22/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of Interior, Bush administration (43), Gale A. Norton

Category Tags: Public land use, Oil and gas industry

The US Forest Service announces that it has modified its procedures for conducting environmental analyses on grazing allotments in national forests and grasslands. The agency is required to conduct these assessments for each of its 8,700 livestock grazing allotments under Section 504 of the 1995 Rescissions Act to provide a basis for determining whether or not changes need to be made to each of the allotment’s grazing policies. The agency says that the procedures, outlined in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), needed to be changed because NEPA “lacked specificity and clarification in describing the process.” The Forest Service also claims that the changes were necessary in order to expedite the assessment process as the agency currently has a backlog of 4,200 allotments. The new plan involves increasing the duration of the permits and limiting the number of alternatives considered. Critics argue that the changes circumvent NEPA requirements by reducing public input and weakening environmental review. [Greenwire, 2/10/2004; US Forest Service, 2/20/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), US Forest Service

Category Tags: Public land use, Cattle Industry, Key Events

President Obama signs legislation expanding and protecting US public parks and wilderness areas from oil and gas development, a dramatic reversal of Bush-era policy. The omnibus Public Land Management Act is described as the largest US conservation measure in 15 years. [CNN, 3/30/2009; Fox Business, 3/30/2009; Agence France-Presse, 3/31/2009]
Over 150 Measures - The bill is composed of over 150 individual measures passed by Congress. Among other initiatives, it creates 10 new National Heritage Areas, designates two million acres of federal lands in nine states as wilderness areas, sets out water conservation measures through the Bureau of Reclamation, alters several national park boundaries, and takes steps to drastically improve the quality of California’s San Joaquin River, potentially restoring salmon to that river and improving the quality of drinking water throughout the Bay Area. Scientist Monty Schmitt says of the San Joaquin reclamation project, “This is taking what many have said is a dead river, and bringing it back to life for over 150 miles.” Because of the bill, Obama says, the Navajo nation—over 80,000 Native Americans living in Arizona and New Mexico—will have “access to clean, running water for the very first time.” The legislation also includes the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act, named after the late Hollywood actor who was paralyzed from a riding accident, providing for paralysis research, rehabilitation, and care. Obama says that bill is “specifically aimed at addressing the challenges faced by Americans living with paralysis” and will work to improve their quality of life “no matter what the costs.” [CNN, 3/30/2009; Mercury News (San Jose), 3/30/2009; Agence France-Presse, 3/31/2009]
Bill Passed over Republican Opposition - The bill passed both the House and Senate by wide margins, but some Republicans oppose it, complaining that the bill imposed undue restrictions on oil drilling in rural areas. Some of the bill’s components had been blocked in recent years under the Bush administration. [Mercury News (San Jose), 3/30/2009]

Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Monty Schmitt, Public Land Management Act, US Bureau of Reclamation, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: National Parks, Public land use, Wetlands, Key Events

Uranium mine near the rim of the Grand Canyon.Uranium mine near the rim of the Grand Canyon. [Source: Intercontinental Cry (.com)]The Obama administration bans hard-rock mining on more than a million acres in and around the Grand Canyon, an area rich in high-grade uranium ore reserves. The ban is for 20 years. Environmental groups and some Democratic lawmakers have worked for years to limit mining near the Grand Canyon National Park. Representative Edward Markey (D-MA), the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, says, “When families travel to see the Grand Canyon, they have a right to expect that the only glow they will see will come from the sun setting over the rim of this natural wonder, and not from the radioactive contamination that comes from uranium mining.” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who has twice imposed temporary bans on mining claims, says: “A withdrawal is the right approach for this priceless American landscape. People from all over the country and around the world come to visit the Grand Canyon. Numerous American Indian tribes regard this magnificent icon as a sacred place, and millions of people in the Colorado River Basin depend on the river for drinking water [and] irrigation.” The basin is already considered one of the nation’s most endangered waterways, and mining operations could use vast amounts of the area’s water and taint much more. The ban reverses a Bush administration decision to open the area to new mining claims; environmentalists have long pointed to the damage wrought to the area by uranium, oil, and gas mining under the Bush administration’s policies.
Mining Poses High Risks to Environment, Tourism - One in 12 Americans gets some or all of their water from the Colorado River Basin, including the residents of Phoenix and Los Angeles, and the area generates about $3.5 billion in annual income, largely from tourism. In contrast, the mining ban will mean that 465 prospective jobs will not materialize, and the area will lose some $16.6 million in annual tax revenue from mining. Supporters of the ban say that the jobs that would come from mining in the area would not be worth the risk to the river basin and the canyon, and a mining mishap would be potentially devastating for tourism. Many of the area’s lands are considered sacred by Native American tribes, and the lands support a vast number of wildlife habitats. Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity says that uranium mining in the area would critically despoil the area, ruin millions of Americans’ access to fresh water, and cut, not increase, job revenues. McKinnon says: “The real economic engine in northern Arizona is not uranium mining. It’s tourism. To jeopardize our economic engine with more toxic uranium mining is unacceptable.” In 2008, former Bureau of Land Management Director Jim Baca said flatly: “Without [the Colorado], there is no Western United States. If it becomes unusable, you move the entire Western United States out of any sort of economic position for growth.” [ProPublica, 12/21/2008; Associated Press, 1/9/2012]
Republicans Criticize Ban - Some Congressional Republicans and mining industry groups call the decision indefensible, saying it will cost hundreds of jobs and deprive the nation of a much-needed energy resource. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) calls the ban a “devastating blow to job creation in northern Arizona,” and says the ban was “fueled by an emotional public relations campaign pitting the public’s love for the Grand Canyon against a modern form of low-impact mining that occurs many miles from the canyon walls.” He says that modern mining techniques will not add toxins to water drawn from the river basin. Other Republicans cite a mining industry study that claims even a severe mining accident would increase uranium levels in the Colorado River by an undetectable amount. Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT) says: “It is unconscionable that the administration has yet again caved to political pressure from radical special interest groups rather than standing up for the American people. Banning access to the most uranium-rich land in the United States will be overwhelmingly detrimental to both jobs in Utah and Arizona and our nation’s domestic energy security.” Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) calls the ban part of the Obama administration’s “war on western jobs.” Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), a tea party supporter, says: “This administration has proven incapable of using even the slightest bit of common sense when it comes to lands policy. The American people are desperate for jobs, and our domestic energy industry provides some of the best paying jobs in the western states. However, the president and Interior Secretary Salazar are intent on appeasing their friends in the extreme left wing of the environmentalist movement during an election year by locking up as much land as possible, regardless of the negative effects on our economy. For energy production that has long been safe and responsible, the announcement represents a needless overreaction to a fictitious problem.” [Senator John McCain, 1/9/2012; Senator John McCain, 1/9/2012] In 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency noted that mining had contaminated 40 percent of the streams and rivers in the western United States, and mining was considered the single most polluting industry in the nation. [ProPublica, 12/21/2008] Many of the claims now blocked from development belong to foreign interests, including Rosatom, Russia’s state atomic energy corporation, and South Korea’s state-owned utility. [PR Newswire, 6/7/2011]

Entity Tags: Michael Shumway (“Mike”) Lee, Jim Baca, Environmental Protection Agency, Edward Markey, John Barrasso, Ken Salazar, Rosatom, Rob Bishop, Obama administration, Taylor McKinnon, John McCain

Category Tags: National Parks, Public land use, Wildlife protection, Toxic waste, Oil and gas industry, Mining industry, Key Events

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