Battle over landmark law already raging out of public eye

With most of Washington focused on fights over government funding, Obamacare and Russian meddling, a few congressional aides and outside advocates are quietly preparing for what could be an epic battle over the Endangered Species Act.

The contentious conservation law was protected by President Obama’s veto from Republican efforts to ease restrictions on farmers, energy companies and developers.

But with Republicans now controlling Capitol Hill and the White House for the first time since 2004, the endangered species law — which hasn’t been significantly updated since 1988 — appears vulnerable.

On one side of the fight are staffers for House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who said last year that he wants to repeal and replace the law (E&E Daily, Dec. 9, 2016).

But in the 115th Congress, Bishop is instead focused on narrow sections of the ESA that Republicans and industry groups find problematic.

His first hearing this year centered on a provision requiring input from the Fish and Wildlife Service or National Marine Fisheries Service — agencies that jointly administer the ESA — on government-approved or -funded projects that could “jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species or threatened species, or result in the destruction or adverse modification of [critical] habitat of such species”(E&E Daily, March 29).

The hearing was held by the increasingly important Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, a panel Bishop created after winning the Natural Resources gavel two years ago (E&E Daily, Jan. 14, 2015).

Led since January by Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), Oversight has seven full-time GOP staffers — more than any other Natural Resources subcommittee, according to data from LegiStorm, a congressional staff tracking service.

Oversight staff director Rob Gordon, a veteran of the Hill’s periodic ESA fights, and counsel Megan Olmstead, a relative newcomer, will provide Republican lawmakers with most of the legislative ammunition they need. They and many other staffers featured in this story were not made available for interviews.

Gordon, who spent seven years at the conservative Heritage Foundation before returning to the Natural Resources panel when Bishop took over, also served as the Trump transition team’s advisor on regulatory reform (E&E Daily, Jan. 22, 2015). He has been working for decades to overhaul the law.

At the time, Gordon was the executive director of the National Wilderness Institute. The Vanderbilt University graduate left the oil industry-funded environmental group in 2004 to support the failed ESA reform efforts of former Resources Chairman Richard Pombo (R-Calif.).

Olmstead is working closely with Gordon on the committee’s reform efforts. After graduating a decade ago from the University of Portland, a Catholic school in Oregon, she bounced between Capitol Hill, the Idaho governor’s office and the University of Notre Dame’s law school before ending up with Natural Resources in September 2015, her profile on the social networking site LinkedIn shows. In law school, she studied the gray wolf’s status under the ESA.

Senate players

Across the Capitol, staffers for Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) are also formulating an overhaul strategy.

So far, Barrasso has held one hearing that sought to build bipartisan consensus for ESA reform and marked up a bill that he introduced with ranking member Tom Carper (D-Del.) that would revive and bolster several wildlife protection programs and launch annual innovation prizes for endangered species management and other conservation challenges (Greenwire, April 5).

Matt Leggett, the committee’s deputy chief counsel, and Andrew Harding, who took his first Hill job as counsel in September 2016, are two of Barrasso’s lead ESA reformers.

Leggett began working for the chairman in 2012 as policy counsel for the Senate Republican Policy Committee, which Barrasso then led. The University of Virginia and Vanderbilt University Law School graduate also worked in corporate law and served on the House Agriculture Committee and in the offices of Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) and former Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.). As an intern, Leggett worked with Robert Spencer, when he was U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Erskine Bowles, when he was chief of staff to President Clinton.

Soon after joining the committee, Harding helped get last year’s water infrastructure bill (S. 612) passed into law. He is now mainly focusing on wildlife and oceans policies.

Harding previously worked for corporate law firms, President George W. Bush’s Energy secretaries and USA Synthetic Fuel Corp., a bankrupt coal liquefaction company. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Washington and Lee University and graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law, according to LinkedIn.

The counselors’ efforts are overseen by staff director Richard Russell, who earned a bachelor’s degree in biology at Yale University, and deputy staff director Brian Clifford, who has worked for Barrasso in a variety of roles over the past decade.

Any reform legislation Barrasso’s team produces will need to secure the votes of at least eight Democrats on the Senate floor to beat a filibuster. Their first challenge, however, will be winning over Mary Frances Repko, Carper’s deputy staff director.

“If you have dealt with the environment, if you have dealt with energy, or if you have dealt with the history of the Senate and the House on energy legislation and environmental legislation over the last 20 years, you know Mary Frances Repko,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said in a January floor speech honoring her for a decade of service in his office. The Maryland Democrat also noted she had worked closely with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on “fighting partisan anti-environment riders.”

Repko headed to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee the following month, the committee she staffed from 2003 until 2007, when she left to join Hoyer. She has also served on the staffs of Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.).

Prior to coming to the Hill, Repko worked on water issues for the World Wildlife Fund, a conservation group, and the Great Lakes Commission. The native of East Lansing, Mich., earned her bachelor’s degree at Johns Hopkins University and a master’s from the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment.

Outside voices

Republicans’ push for an ESA overhaul is likely to draw support from the Western Governors’ Association.

Under the leadership of Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R) in 2016, the conservative-leaning organization began advocating for ESA changes. At the same time, WGA endorsed a policy position urging Congress to reauthorize the law and this year convinced the National Governors Association to adopt a similar resolution (E&E News PM, March).

While Mead is no longer WGA chairman, policy adviser David Willms is still leading a series of meetings with a broad coalition of participants that aim to produce a specific set of recommendations that could make the ESA work better.

“We took some of the ideas that came out of that first year and have made them the subject of work sessions during the second year of this initiative,” Willms said in a phone interview from Cheyenne, Wyo., which he, his wife and two young daughters call home.

The sessions will wrap up in May, and the WGA hopes to have a list of fixes ready to promote by midsummer.

“Whether that is a set of recommendations that is taken to the Fish and Wildlife Service for regulatory changes, whether it includes recommended statutory changes, policy changes — all of that is to be determined,” he said. “But that’s what we’re moving towards, is seeing if there are places where there is consensus.”

The recommendations are being put together by representatives from state and federal government as well as groups representing sportsmen, environmentalists and the energy, lumber and agriculture industries. But Willms, who has also served in the Wyoming attorney general’s office and worked in private practice, declined to say exactly who is involved at this point.

One unlikely participant: the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife.

“I certainly believe fundamentally that the Endangered Species Act could work better,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, the president and CEO of Defenders. “And if there are ways to work better, we want to help that effort.”

But if a GOP reform bill emerges, Rappaport Clark — who often works seven days a week and uses a treadmill desk when she’s in the office — is ready to lead the fight against it.

“I don’t see a reform effort strengthening the law” in this Congress, she said. “I can only see a reform effort that will undermine and weaken the law’s ability to achieve its purposes.”

Rappaport Clark, an avid equestrian who lives in Virginia horse country with her husband and teenage son, is already working to educate Democratic senators about the damage that Defenders fears Republicans could do to vulnerable species and habitats. She is also attempting to rally other more broadly focused conservation groups, which are busy fighting to prevent the rollback of climate protection regulations and other environmental policies.

Her pitch is that the ESA is essentially the law of last resort for the environment.

“When the Clean Water Act fails, when the land laws fail, the Endangered Species Act will save enough,” she said. “We’re not going to allow extinction.”

That should be enough to mobilize the progressive community of Democratic lawmakers, environmentalists, minority groups, labor unions, religious groups and human rights organizations, Rappaport Clark reasoned.

“If — maybe I should say, when — the Endangered Species Act is truly under an assault, I have every expectation that folks will be there with us,” she said, before tapping her desk for good measure. “Knock on wood, please. They’d better be.”


Why Ted Cruz Is Unfit to Be President

Tuesday, 02 February 2016 00:00

Written by
The Daily Take Team By The Daily Take Team, The Thom Hartmann Program

Ted Cruz isn't just winning the support of religious extremists; he's celebrating their support, and in some cases, hiring them to work for his campaign.Ted Cruz isn’t just winning the support of religious extremists; he’s celebrating their support, and in some cases, hiring them to work for his campaign. (Photo: CJ Hanevy /

One of the most disturbing developments of the 2016 Republican race for president has been Donald Trump’s popularity among the most racist elements in US society. The New Yorker, for example, had lengthy piece over the summer detailing the excitement he has generated in the neo-Nazi movement. But here’s the thing: Trump isn’t the only guy with dangerous supporters.

The media don’t talk about it as much, but Ted Cruz – Trump’s closest competitor for GOP front-runner status – has also won the backing of some downright terrifying people. Take, for example, anti-choice activist Troy Newman, who the Cruz campaign just tapped to head up “pro-lifers for Cruz.”

As the head of the radical male supremacist group Operation Rescue, Newman straddles the very thin line between “activism” and domestic terrorism – and I mean really straddles it. His organization harasses abortion providers and their patients, and some of its members have been involved in plots to blow up women’s health clinics. Newman himself has called for the murder of abortion doctors, said AIDS is a warning from God and believes that drought is God’s revenge for abortion.

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.

Seems like a great guy, huh? Well, he’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Ted Cruz’s supporters.

There’s also Dick Black, who the Cruz campaign has appointed as the co-chair of its Virginia campaign. In addition to advocating for the total criminalization of homosexuality, Black is also a rape truther. Back when he was a Virginia state delegate, Black openly questioned the existence of marital rape, something one of his opponents hammered him on in a campaign ad.

So much for family values, huh?

Cynthia Dunbar, Black’s fellow co-chair of the Ted Cruz campaign in Virginia, isn’t much better. She’s compared women having reproductive rights to the Holocaust, fought to make far-right Christianity part of the public school curriculum and believes that elected officials should have to pass a “biblical litmus test.” She also says that politicians “don’t have the freedom to make any laws if they are contrary to what God has said in his Holy Scripture.”

Swap out the words “Holy Scripture” for “Qu’ran” and that speech could have been made by Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the head of ISIS.

Another Ted Cruz supporter, Iowa conservative and head of The Family Leader, Bob Vander Plaats, also says the US should be a Saudi Arabia-style theocracy. Here he is just a couple of years ago talking about why our government should be based on “Godly principles” – i.e. far-right evangelical Christianity.

As unsettling as that kind of talk is, it’s nothing compared to what Colorado pastor Kevin Swanson, another big-time Ted Cruz supporter, said about homosexuality this summer: that it was worthy of the death penalty.

Amazingly, it gets even worse than that.

Ted Cruz supporter and Texas preacher Mike Bickle believes that Jews should be forcibly converted to Christianity and says that if they refuse to do so, God will send a “hunter” like “Adolf Hitler” to get them to change their minds.

Now, it’d be one thing if Mike Bickle was just some random guy with bigoted views who just happens to support Ted Cruz, but he’s not, or at least not according to the Cruz campaign.

When Bickle announced last week that he was endorsing Ted Cruz for president, the Cruz campaign published a statement on its official website saying in big bold letters, “CRUZ FOR PRESIDENT ANNOUNCES ENDORSEMENT OF MIKE BICKLE.”

There’s an old saying that says you are the company you keep, and if Ted Cruz is the company he keeps, that’s downright terrifying.

He’s just not winning the support of people like Mike Bickle and Dick Black; he’s celebrating their support, and in some cases, hiring them to work for his campaign.

Of course, there’s always the case that this is just one big cynical ploy to win the Evangelical vote, but even if it is, it says a lot about Ted Cruz as a person and as a leader that he’d willingly associate himself with people who are pretty much the US version of ISIS.

This is one of the biggest stories of the 2016 race for president, but the really disturbing thing is that the media almost completely ignore it.

Turn on CNN or any of the other major networks and you’re more likely to hear about poll numbers than the fact that the potential Republican nominee for president has been endorsed by a guy who thinks Hitler was sent by God. It’s almost like the media think it’s acceptable that someone running for president likes to pal around with Christian extremists and theocrats.

Well, it’s not acceptable; it’s a direct threat to our democracy, which is why it’s time for the media to start taking Cruz and his extremist endorsements seriously. Based on everything we’ve seen up to this point, we have every reason to believe that a Ted Cruz presidency could mean the start of a Saudi Arabia-style theocracy right here in the US. The media should function as the fourth estate and wake the American people up to this before it’s too late.

Tea Party Bill Would Eviscerate Endangered Species Act

For Immediate Release, November 22, 2013

Contact: Brett  Hartl, (202) 817-8121

Tea Party Bill Would Eviscerate  Endangered Species Act

As America  Celebrates 40th Anniversary of Landmark Law, Right-wing Senators  Seek to Tear It Apart

              WASHINGTON— Tea Party senators introduced a  bill this week that would effectively end the protection of most endangered  species in the United States and gut some of the most important provisions of  the Endangered Species Act. Senate Bill 1731, introduced by Tea Party Sens.  Rand Paul, Mike Lee and Dean Heller, would end protections for most of the  species that are currently protected by the Act and make it virtually  impossible to protect new species under the law. It would also eliminate protection  for habitat that’s critical to the survival of rare and struggling animals and  plants around the country.

“Here we are celebrating the 40th  anniversary of the Endangered Species Act this year, and the Tea Party wants to  tear it limb from limb,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director  at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s really a sad testament to how out  of touch the Tea Party has become with the American people, and how beholden  they are to industry special interests that are more interested in profits than  saving wildlife, wild places and a livable future for the next generation.”

In its 40-year history, the Endangered  Species Act has been more than 99 percent successful at preventing extinction  for wildlife under its protection and has put hundreds of plants and animals on  the path to recovery, including bald eagles, grizzly bears, whales and sea  turtles.

Despite this successful track record, the bill’s  most extreme provision would require that every five years all protected species be removed from the list of threatened and  endangered species, eliminating all legal protections. No matter how close to extinction they might be, every  listed species would then have to wait until Congress passed a joint resolution  renewing their protections under the Act for another five years. Five years  later, this process would start over again, eliminating all protections until  Congress passed another joint resolution.

“The strength of the Endangered Species Act  — in fact all of our nation’s environmental laws — comes from the requirement  that science, not politics, guide the protection of our wildlife, air and  water,” said Hartl. “This bill would allow extreme ideologues in Congress to  veto environmental protections for any protected species they wanted, just so  they could appease their special-interest benefactors.”

The bill would eliminate all protections for  the critical habitat of endangered species and allow state governments to  effectively veto any conservation measures designed to protect an imperiled  species within their respective state. Meanwhile federal wildlife agencies  would need to complete onerous accounting reports to estimate the costs of  protecting endangered species rather than completing tangible, on-the-ground  conservation activities to protect species and the places they live.

“This bill would devastate species  protections and open the door to log, mine and pave some of the last places on  Earth where these animals survive,” Hartl said. “It’s a boon for profiteers  like the Koch Brothers but will rob every American who values wildlife and wild  places.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a  national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 625,000  members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species  and wild places.

United “Sportsmen” of Wisconsin Awarded $500,000 Grant to Promote Hunting

DNR awards $500,000 grant despite thorny questions

Group is lone bidder for award to promote hunting, fishing

Madison — A controversial $500,000 grant for promoting hunting and fishing was awarded Thursday by Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp despite tough questions from the public and a committee meeting earlier in the day.

The United Sportsmen of Wisconsin Foundation, a group with close ties to GOP politicians and other conservative organizations but a scant track record, was the only applicant for the award.

Stepp awarded it to United Sportsmen late Thursday afternoon after the Sporting Heritage Committee that morning voted 4-1 in favor of the grant. The vote came after the group took public testimony that was entirely opposed to it.

In announcing her decision, Stepp released a finding by her legal counsel that United Sportsmen of Wisconsin met the criteria in state law for the grant and said in a statement that she had to award the money to United Sportsmen under a budget provision written by Republican lawmakers.

“I will be inserting clear and specific language within the grant contract to ensure that desired outcomes are met in an efficient and transparent manner with ample opportunity for public scrutiny. We will work to incorporate many of the concerns and ideas we heard during today’s hearing into the grant contract,” Stepp said.

United Sportsmen has been active in elections and lobbying over the past two years on behalf of conservative causes. But it has no history of doing the kind of training called for in the grant, though its board members have done so as part of other groups.

The grant was quickly approved in May in a session of the Joint Finance Committee on a motion written by Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder (R-Abbotsford) and Rep. Dan LeMahieu (R-Cascade). The DNR posted the grant on an agency web page but did not put out a news release on it.

Its language prevented most established conservation groups, including the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and state chapters of Pheasants Forever, National Wild Turkey Federation and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, from applying for the grant.

Lone no vote

Mark LaBarbera of Hazel Green, the sole member of the committee to vote against United Sportsmen, asked the group’s president questions about its finances, structure and qualifications, stressing that “people around here think this just doesn’t smell right.” Afterward, he said he wasn’t satisfied with the answers as given.

“I didn’t think we had a clear enough answer that I could vote yes so I had to vote no,” LaBarbera said.

LaBarbera asked United Sportsmen president Andy Pantzlaff if he could provide a copy of United Sportsmen’s letter from the federal Internal Revenue Service showing it had received tax-exempt 501(c)(3) status.Pantzlaff, who called into the meeting, said he could provide that with enough time.

As of Thursday, there was no entry on the popular website, GuideStar, that United Sportsmen had filed the annual reports that federally recognized tax-exempt groups are supposed to file with the IRS, though sometimes those reports can lag in being filed or posted to GuideStar. Pantzlaff didn’t respond to a reporter’s phone messages and email request for this information.

The drafting file for the budget bill shows that a lawmaker asked for a specific change to the grant motion so the group receiving the grant would not have to be recognized as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

In the legal memo released by Stepp, her chief legal counsel Tim Andryk noted that, “(United Sportsmen is) not required by the statute to be tax exempt or be a sec. 501(c)(3) organization as inquired about at today’s hearing, and thus a letter from IRS is not needed.”

In his statements to the committee by phone, Pantzlaff said his group would try to triple the grant amount by seeking private matching funds; not paying its board members; doing a national search for a full-time executive director; and hiring a full-time director of operations and part-time staffer to work on public policy.

The group would seek to train people who could serve as long-term mentors for people wanting to learn to hunt and fish, he said. The group also would bring programs such as the National Rifle Association’s Eddie Eagle gun safety program into schools to get youths interested in shooting sports.

“Failure is not an option,” Pantzlaff said. “We have to try something new and innovative.”

The grant will provide $200,000 this year and $300,000 in 2014. Thereafter, it will provide $450,000 in each two-year budget. The grantee will have to provide $150,000 of its own funds in matching dollars in each future two-year budget.

The state budget includes no requirement that the grant be put out to competitive bid in the future, but Scott Gunderson, the committee chairman and the No. 3 official at the DNR, said the DNR could do that and likely would.

Gunderson said conservation groups such as the Gathering Waters and River Alliance of Wisconsin also received grants from the DNR for specialized purposes with little or no competition.

Most of those testifying praised the purpose of the grant but questioned why more of the state’s many hunting and fishing groups weren’t able to apply. Ray Anderson, a retired DNR grants employee who now teaches hunter safety, said he was concerned by the process of the grant and the fact it excluded the National Wild Turkey Federation, a group that he belongs to.

“It would be prudent for the Legislature and the DNR to hit pause on this,” Anderson said.

The five-member Sporting Heritage Committee is composed of Gunderson; Rep. Al Ott (R-Forest Junction); LaBarbera; Sen. Neal Kedzie (R-Elkhorn) and Bill Torhorst of Oregon. Ott, the first committee member called upon to vote, initially passed, voting yes after all the other committee members had voted and he was called on a second time.

Though its foundation was legally established in January, United Sportsmen of Wisconsin was formed about two years ago and has been lobbying lawmakers in favor of sporting legislation such as the creation of a wolf hunt as well as bills to ease the way for a controversial open-pit iron mine in northern Wisconsin and to better enable development in wetlands.

The group also sponsored the Sportsmen Freedom Fest and Concert in Lake Delton with Americans for Prosperity and the NRA in October 2012, just ahead of the presidential election. In 2011, the group Citizens for a Stronger America reported in its tax filing giving $235,000 to United Sportsmen along with large donations to two social conservative groups: Wisconsin Right to Life and Wisconsin Family Action.


If They Mated…

Those who watched Late Night with Conan O’Brien (that goofy red-haired guy who was going to take over the Tonight Show when Jay Leno moved to the 10:30 time-slot and then found out he wasn’t making enough money there and stole the show back from Conan—who is much funnier and who would have put him to shame in the ratings) remember a bit he did called “If They Mated.” Using the latest computer technology formerly known only to NASA to explore worlds beyond our galaxy, they were able to show us what certain celebrities’ (who’ve been rumored to be going out together) babies would look like…if they mated.

Upon learning that turrible Ted Nugent (bow hunting enthusiast, outspoken NRA supporter and wanna-be musician) was caught by the camera with his arm around former VP candidate and fellow bloodthirsty Republican animal assassin, Sarah Palin (aka: “Caribou Barbie”),…

…I borrowed the technology from Conan (who, as you know, borrowed it from NASA) to find out what their baby would look like…IF THEY MATED: