To The Point 1/11

Not Your Country Two-Step —

The euphoria of the election has worn off and with the New Year comes the reality that there are still a ton of very real problems the West and the range livestock industry must contend with in the immediate future. We did dodge the bullet of having another large swath of land set aside as an additional corridor for illegals, 

 

We have become accustomed to the use of Executive Orders at both the state and federal levels that at least seem to circumvent the legislative bodies if not the courts. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is introducing us to a whole new realm of “orders” in the same vein — Secretarial Orders.

this one slated for a wilderness in southern New Mexico. And at least for the short term the Valles Caldera National Preserve is not going to the National Park Service where grazing “may” have been allowed.

We have become accustomed to the use of Executive Orders at both the state and federal levels that at least seem to circumvent the legislative bodies if not the courts. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is introducing us to a whole new realm of “orders” in the same vein — Secretarial Orders.

 

Not only do these things not bode well for land conservation in the West, but they certainly spell fear on the economic front as well. The most recent edict, Secretarial Order 3310, directs the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), based on the input of the public and local communities through its existing land management planning process, to designate appropriate areas with wilderness characteristics under its jurisdiction as “Wild Lands” and to manage them to protect their wilderness values.

In short, what this appears to mean is that the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the BLM have just given themselves the power to go around the Wilderness Act created by Congress and gives only the Congress the power to designate wilderness areas. Perhaps even more disturbing is the rhetoric that led off the announcement. “A secretarial order issued today by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar restores balance and clarity to the management of public lands by establishing common-sense policy for the protection of backcountry areas where Americans recreate, find solitude, and enjoy the wild.”

When you consider the fact that this is coming from a fifth generation rancher in Colorado you might begin to wonder if we are all doomed. No one should know better than he that this “backcountry” that we so often hear about from the likes of the Sierra Club and numerous others is in reality where our families live and work and have for generations. The reason these lands are available to the public is because of the stewardship of those families.

The salt in the wound comes from BLM Director, a former BLM manager from Nevada, who says “The new Wild Lands policy affirms the BLM’s authorities under the law — and our responsibility to the American people — to protect the wilderness characteristics of the lands we oversee as part of our multiple use mission.”

The media has much touted the fact that this overturns the Bush era management policy. What the media isn’t saying is that the Bush wilderness policy was premised on a 2003 settlement by then-Interior Secretary Gale Norton and the State of Utah in a lawsuit that reached the U.S. Supreme Court. That settlement barred BLM from designating so-called “Wilderness Study Areas” (WSAs). Though BLM’s Congressional authority to establish WSAs expired in 1991, the Bureau continued to do so until the settlement between Norton and Utah was achieved.

According to the Colorado-based Western Business Roundtable, the new policy from DOI seeks to get around the legal issues involving WSAs by designating a new category of lands. The so-called “Wild Lands,” will be designated through a public process, will be managed to protect wilderness characteristics unless or until such time as a new public planning process modifies the designation. According to DOI, because the “Wild Lands” designation can be made and later modified through a public administrative process, it differs from “Wilderness Areas,” which are designated by Congress and cannot be modified except by legislation, and “Wilderness Study Areas,” which BLM typically must manage to protect wilderness characteristics until Congress determines whether to permanently protect them as Wilderness Areas or modify their management.

It isn’t likely that the Congress, at least on the House side, will take this action lying down. U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee Chairman-elect Doc Hastings (R-WA) immediately issued the following statement:

“The Administration clearly knows that the law only allows Congress to designate Wilderness areas, though somehow they hope giving it a different label of ‘Wild Lands’ will pass legal muster. This new policy will have significant ramifications on our economy, jobs, recreational opportunities and American energy production. There are ways to protect our lands without designating them as de facto Wilderness areas. Designating an area as wilderness imposes the most restrictive land use policies that can be taken. It places severe limitations on public access, prohibits motorized and mechanized recreation and severely restricts job-creating and energy producing activities. This backdoor approach is intended to circumvent both the people who will be directly affected and Congress. I have to question why this announcement is being made only after Congress adjourned for the year. The Natural Resources Committee will fully review this decision next year and its impact on our nation’s economic competitiveness and ability to keep and create jobs.”

In light of the DOI actions, the announcement of the House Resources Committee subcommittee chairs for the 112th Congress was timely.

Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests & Public Lands in coming congress will be Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT). Not only will Chairman Bishop be well versed on the legal issues surrounding the settlement that created the previous policy, but he has long been an ardent supporter of western ranchers.

In yet another sweeping gesture, in mid November Secretary Salazar issued a Secretarial Order elevating the Office of the National Landscape Conservation System and Community Partnerships in the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to the level of a directorate within BLM.

“This action reflects the growing importance of the 27-million acre National Landscape Conservation System to local economies, to the health of communities, and to the conservation of some of America’s greatest landscapes,” Salazar told the National Landscape Conservation System Summit. “The BLM plays a special role in protecting America’s great outdoors for the benefit of all Americans — for it is the national conservation lands that contain the forests and canyons that families love to explore, the backcountry where children learn to hunt and fish, and the places that tell the story of our history and our cultures. Each of these places within the National Landscape Conservation System holds special meaning to the American people and is an engine for jobs and economic growth in local communities.”

That press release went on to say that “These lands are managed as an integral part of the larger landscape, in collaboration with the neighboring landowners and surrounding communities. The management objectives are to maintain biodiversity and promote ecological connectivity and resilience in the face of climate change. When consistent with the values for which they were designated, lands in the system may allow appropriate multiple uses, such as grazing, energy development and tourism.”

A major part of the problem with this order lays in the last sentence above. Since when does administrative policy trump the Taylor Grazing Act? That is a question that great minds are striving to answer as you read.

And who might be the mastermind behind all of this mayhem? The DOI Assistant Secretary – Land & Minerals Management is responsible for ensuring implementation of this Order within 120 days. And who might that be? None other than Mr. Ned Farquhar. You might remember him as the Environmental Policy Director for Governor Bill Richardson during his first term as New Mexico’s Governor.

But Salazar isn’t alone…

U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu has announced that large tracts of land across America’s West will become dedicated “solar energy zones” that would be set aside for future utility-scale solar power projects.

The zones were identified as part of a detailed environmental study by the BLM in cooperation with the Department of Energy (DOE) and DOI. Known as the “Draft Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement” (PEIS), the study identifies the most appropriate areas of North America to situate solar farms. Notice of the PEIS was published in the Federal Register on December 17, 2010 with a 90-day comment period.

“This proposal lays out the next phase of President Obama’s strategy for rapid and responsible development of renewable energy on America’s public lands,” Secretary Salazar said. “This analysis will help renewable energy companies and federal agencies focus development on areas of our public lands that are best suited for large-scale solar development.”

The Draft Solar PEIS looked at around 120 million acres of land across BLM administered areas in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. After excluding lands with slopes of five percent or more and anywhere with sunlight levels below 6.5 kilowatt-hours per square meter per day, the BLM found 22 million acres were acceptable and would be available for “right of way” solar proposal applications. That includes about 677,400 acres identified as Solar Energy Zones.

According to a DOE statement, “Eight utility-scale solar projects have been approved in the last three months through the Department’s “fast-track initiative” for BLM lands in California and Nevada that, combined, will generate 3,572 megawatts of electricity.

The BLM’s current solar energy caseload includes 104 active solar applications covering a million acres that developers estimate could generate 60,000 megawatts of electricity.”

Again, one wonders how this single use — that is more environmentally catastrophic than just about any other — trumps the multiple use mandate.

So what do they really want?

The mere reading of the materials necessary to write this piece is mind boggling — then you lay the initiatives side by side and wonder who is in charge of the hen house. On one side, the Secretary of Interior is telling us that the West is such a precious playground that we cannot live and work here anymore. On the other, you have the same Secretary locking arms with the Secretary of Energy telling the world that millions of acres in that precious playground will be scrapped to remove all vegetation then capped with a solution that will prevent weeds from growing and dust from blowing. This is all in an expensive and questionable attempt to secure energy supply for highly populated areas that have already destroyed their environment.

If you have ever been by even the smallest of solar farms, you know that wildlife or life of any kind is not welcome. How can you do this to a precious playground?

 

 

The Light

 

If you were looking for something positive, there is something. In an extraordinary lame-duck Session, the Congress gave those who were in serious jeopardy of being offed before the end of last year a reprieve. As every small business owner knows, in 2010 there were no inheritance taxes. Had Congress not acted, on January 1, 2011 the taxes would have reverted to pre-2001 levels, making it extremely difficult for family businesses to pass from one generation to the next. If someone was planning on passing on, 2010 would have been a good year to do it.

With the actions of Congress in late December, for the next two years the first $5 million (per person) of an estate will be exempt from taxation. The remainder of the estate will be taxed at 35 percent. Admittedly, 35 percent is a huge difference from zero, but it is a lot better than a $1 million exemption and a 45 percent tax rate.

Unfortunately the whole argument will have to be done over again in 2012, perhaps another year that an exit could be useful. Also unfortunately we don’t yet know what else was in the 2,000-page measure passed by Congress addressing taxation and who knows what.

But perhaps the most disappointing part of the whole thing was the vote of the New Mexico delegation on the measure. The lone vote from New Mexico for the tax package was from outgoing Congressman Harry Teague. Clearly we didn’t do a very good job of telling our story to the rest of the delegation.

Luckily we have two years to work on that — and all of these other things!

 

2011 Legislature

The 2011 New Mexico Legislature will convene on January 18, 2011. Key dates to remember during the Session are the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association (NMCGA) Board of Directors Meeting on February 7 at the Hotel Santa Fe; Ag Fest on February 8 at the La Fonda; and the Roundhouse Feed & Educational Exposition in the Rotunda on March 17, 2011. Please plan on at least one trip to Santa Fe between January 18 and March 19. If you would like to be part of the 10 for 10 Bill Readers, please let us know.