Amid the excitement of the week's federal budget proposals, an exposure of climate-change deniers’ tactics and GOP candidate reshuffling (Romney, what's happening to you?), we at HCN headquarters were battling winter colds and coughs, reaching for DayQuil, NyQuil and Benadryl, when we weren't keeping up on the news. Here's what caught our watery, itchy eyes:
Documents leaked this week from the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based think tank bankrolled by the infamous Koch brothers, threw into clear relief that climate-change denial is more about the culture wars and the urge to make a buck than science. Within the leaked material are Heartland's plans to promote a public school curriculum that leads kids to believe that climate change isn't almost unanimously accepted within the scientific community (which it, of course, is). The New York Times and Forbes have good round-ups. The Times reports: "The documents suggest that Heartland has spent several million dollars in the past five years in its efforts to undermine climate science, much of that coming from a person referred to repeatedly in the documents as 'the Anonymous Donor.' A guessing game erupted Wednesday about who that might be." Heartland quickly posted a statement on its website, saying that left-wing groups had committed fraud in this attack on the institute.
Meanwhile, in an effort to actually do something about climate change, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, EPA chief Lisa Jackson and officials from Bangladesh, Canada, Ghana, Mexico, Sweden and the U.N. Environment Program announced plans to cut high-impact, short-lived emissions. They'll target pollutants like soot, methane and hydrofluorocarbons. These have a disproportionally large effect– accounting for 30 to 40 percent of global warming – and, unlike carbon, are relatively easy to address with steps like installing filters and capturing methane gas as it escapes landfills. Focusing on just these substances could reduce temperatures by half a degree Celsius in the next 40 years and prevent millions of heart and lung disease cases.
In the West
Want pencils for your rural school? Time to start cutting down some trees. Republicans in the House are pushing a bill that would increase timber harvests from BLM land and national forests to fund rural school roads and the schools themselves. The current legislation, introduced by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, ignores the months-long effort of Oregon Reps. Greg Walden (R), Peter DeFazio (D) and Kurt Schrader (D). These representatives have worked to prepare a bipartisan bill replacing the Secure Rural Schools Act, which subsidized rural government with federal funds. Their plan proposes transforming more than 2 million acres of forest into two trusts: one managed for conservation, and one for commercial use, with revenues remaining under state and local management control.
Hastings' bill, which caught some by surprise with its speed, was discussed in the House Resources Committee on Thursday, two days after it was introduced. Hastings' plan requires that federal lands generate at least 60 percent of the income that was produced when the timber market was much more robust than it is today. Money earned would go to the Treasury Department to be doled out to counties. Expect negotiations to be contentious.
In another instance of Congressional attention on Washington State, the House and Senate have voted to slightly shrink Olympic National Park, transferring 785 acres to the Quileute tribe. This allows the tribe to move uphill out of the tsunami zone. The tribe, reportedly surprised at the swift congressional action, was "ecstatic," "amazed" and "stunned."
And to round out our Washington coverage, a federal district court judge ordered that the pollution issuing from a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) was the responsibility of the business. The ruling, the first of its kind, upholds a settlement dating from 2006 that, since then, has been ignored.
In Idaho, a federal district court decided that the BLM must give protecting sage-grouse habitat priority over livestock grazing in the Owyhee Canyonlands.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management's first draft of federal rules on hydraulic fracking look similar to those voluntarily enacted by the state of Wyoming (just like Wyoming intended). That doesn’t mean everyone in Wyoming is happy, of course. The possibility of needing another permit would be a burden, say operators.
President Obama released his proposed 2013 budget this week to much fanfare. The Department of Interior requested $11.4 billion, less than last year’s request, but 1 percent more than current spending. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said his plans to halve the department’s conservation funding request and freeze construction projects were ‘personally’ painful. Salazar also said he plans to continue expanding oil and gas development on federal lands to promote economic recovery.
Linguists from National Geographic's Enduring Voices project unveiled several “talking dictionaries” at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Vancouver, Canada. The online dictionaries contain 32,000 word entries in eight endangered languages and 24,000 recordings of native speakers. Siletz Dee-ni, a Native American language spoken in Oregon, is one of the featured tongues.
And south of the Border, indigenous residents in central Mexico believe their sacred mountains serve as a ‘cosmic portal’ and maintain the fabric of the universe. A Canadian mining company has set its eyes on these same magic mountains and hopes to mine silver there.
Danielle Venton is an intern at High Country News.
Photo courtesy of mirjoran/Flickr.