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Friday news roundup: Catch-share cuts and free water

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Stephanie Paige Ogburn | May 11, 2012 06:00 AM

It was hard to keep up with the news this week for this traveling HCN editor; she was lost on a highway somewhere between Utah and Nevada when she heard the sad news about author Maurice Sendak's death. After that, things went pretty much downhill.

The House of Representatives showed disdain for fisheries and ocean management programs by blocking their funding in the spending bill passed Thursday. (Sub only) That bill -- thWild thingse Commerce, Justice, and Science spending plan -- funds the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other federal science programs, among others. The Republican-controlled House aims to eliminate new catch-share programs, government-set limits on the amount of fish taken out of the ocean, a popular way of preventing overfishing. The bill also cut a chunk of change out of NOAA's climate website, The Senate has already passed a different with fewer cuts; the bills still have to be reconciled. The Obama administration has threatened to veto the bill if the House version hits the President's desk, saying it reduces NOAA's funding too much.

Politicking also continued in the Senate, where Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) introduced a bill that would require Senate confirmation of regional Environmental Protection Agency administrators, The Hill's E2 Wire blog reports. Inhofe has long targeted the EPA; he recently headed up a media storm that led to an ouster of Region 6 head Al Armendariz, whose poor word choices from a meeting two years ago were recently dug up and posted on the senator's website a few weeks ago.

From the surprise department comes a gas-drilling plan that the conservation group Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance likes. The group proffered its approval because the energy company agreed to conduct its operations while protecting the wilderness qualities of the nearby White River, a priority conservation area for the Alliance. In a photo-op for the ages, Anadarko Petroleum Corp and SUWA representatives flanked Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior, as he inked an approval for 3,675 gas wells south of Vernal, Utah.

In other Utah energy happenings, activist Tim DeChristopher, who landed in jail after bidding up oil and gas leases at a BLM auction, has appealed his conviction.  In March 2011, DeChristopher was found guilty of disrupting a federal auction and making false statements on forms and sentenced to two years in prison.

We now move from expensive energy to something the federal government is now apparently valuing at zero -- water. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently decided to freely give away surplus water from a North Dakota reservoir, Lake Sakakawea, to companies drilling for oil in the Bakken oil play. (See our recent cover story on the Bakken oil boom's impact on Native American tribes whose reservation overlies the oil.) The companies need water for the hydraulic fracturing they use to get oil out of the ground. The state has contended it has the right to give the water away; the Army Corps will be studying what price, if any, they might charge for the water, a process expected to take as much as a year and a half.

Black-backed woodpeckerAnd in endangered species news, we have good news and bad. First the good: Secretary Salazar said the dunes sagebrush lizard may be able to avoid an endangered species listing because of some voluntary measures energy companies and ranchers are willing to take to protect it. And now the bad: black-backed woodpecker populations have declined enough that four conservation groups filed a petition with the Fish and Wildlife Service to list the bird in parts of the West. The woodpecker thrives in burned areas, but the petitioning groups contend years and years of fire suppression have reduced its habitat so significantly it is now endangered.

And with that, this reporter is off to re-read Where the Wild Things Are.

Stephanie Paige Ogburn is the online editor at High Country News.

Images courtesy Flickr user geraldbrazell and Marcel Holyoak

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