A Busy Week In DC Shifts River Protections

posted February 3, 2017
by Kevin Colburn

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With so much news and change coming out of Washington DC over the past week, we put together a quick update of issues affecting whitewater rivers. We’ve seen a lot of interest in reaching out to Congress this week, so we created a web portal that allows you to easily email your 2 senators and one representative and speak up for rivers on any issue at any time (and say whatever you want). You can also call the Capitol Switchboard @ 202-224-3121 to get connected to your political reps. Here goes the week in review: 

Stream Protection Rule: Yesterday the Senate voted to scrap the Stream Protection Rule, which regulated how coalmines could and could not fill in stream valleys with rock. This vote followed the actions of the House the previous day, and utilized the Congressional Review Act, a 1996 law used only once before. This swift action leaves rivers in coal and whitewater-rich areas like Tennessee and West Virginia at increased risk of hydrological and chemical impacts, and prevents regulations that are “substantially the same” from being passed in the future. See how your Senators voted, and how your Representative voted. This appears to be a done deal.  Action: Let your reps know how you feel about their vote.

Expansion of Oil and Gas Drilling in National Parks: Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar introduced a resolution (H.J.Res46) this week to roll back the National Park Service’s authority to regulate private oil and gas drilling within National Parks.  Currently private oil and gas operations are underway in Big South Fork National River, Gauley River National Recreation Area, New River Gorge National River, and the Obed Wild and Scenic River. The Park Service predicts that new oil and gas operations could occur in up to 30 additional Park units.  Action: Let your reps know that HJ.Res.46 could impact rivers and paddling experiences.

Planning Rule for BLM Lands: The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages a lot of great rivers, and they recently updated how they plan management activities. Their “Planning 2.0” rule is a good one that does a better job of recognizing the value of recreation.  Congress is proposing to overturn the Planning 2.0 rule using the Congressional Review Act, go back to the old way of planning, and prevent future enhancements.  This sounds mundane but it is important. Action: Check out the Outdoor Alliance blog post and take action.

Public Lands Heist Bills: Earlier this year Congress passed a rules package intended to pave the way for transferring or selling public lands. Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz then introduced a pair of bills to undercut our public lands system. The first bill, HR 621, proposed to sell or give away 3.3 million acres of public land including some recreational gems. The second bill, HR 622, proposes to terminate law enforcement authority of the Forest Service and BLM nationwide. These proposals drew heated criticism, public rallies, and other pushback. We worked with our coalition partners at Outdoor Alliance to generate thousands of comments on this issue that were delivered to members of Congress.

In response, Congressman Chaffetz withdrew his public lands give-away bill earlier this week. He said on social media “I hear you and HR 621 dies tomorrow.” This marks a huge success for public land and river advocates! With this said, his HR 622 bill is still alive and would hamstring the agencies from enforcing their own rules that protect natural resources and recreation experiences. Action: Tell your reps that HR 622 would leave places and experiences you care about under-protected.  

Scott Pruitt Confirmation as EPA Director:  The Clean Water Act is the reason our rivers don’t make us sick with pollution, and is a primary tool AW uses to negotiate dam releases on countless rivers like the Cheoah. The Senate is now considering Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees the Clean Water Act. Mr. Pruitt has spent the past few years suing the EPA to limit the scope of the Clean Water Act to fewer rivers and streams. His leadership can reasonably be expected to reduce protections for water quality and flows. Action: Ask your Senators for an EPA Director who will fight for clean water, not one that will fight against it.

At American Whitewater we are working in a non-partisan manner to protect the interests of whitewater paddlers who depend on clean free-flowing rivers, restored flows from dam releases, and access to public waterways. We directly engage with Congress on both sides of the aisle and work with our partners at Outdoor Alliance representing the broader outdoor recreation community. Your personal outreach to your political representatives is of vital importance and has already made a difference for rivers this year. Keep it up and we will continue to advocate for the interests of whitewater paddlers and the rivers we love.