OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Government scientists predicted border wall construction could harm wildlife refuge | Haaland nomination generates excitement in Native American communities | Trump officials wrongly awarded Alaska grant in bid to open Tongass
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PUTTING UP A WALL: Construction of President Trump’s border wall moved forward last year even after government scientists said it could harm a nearby wildlife refuge, according to an internal report obtained by The Hill.
The report, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, showed that the construction of the wall would pull water from the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge.
The wall construction would have pumped water from an offsite Glenn Ranch Well, which the report said would cause water levels of wells at the San Bernardino refuge to be drawn down by as much as 13.7 feet.
The report notes that refuge wells “support several endangered species” and raises concerns about potential impacts to the refuge, saying “it is reasonable to assume … that any ongoing withdrawals will have large impacts on the system as a whole.”
The technical report, put together by two Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) hydrologists, seeks to estimate the amount that water levels would decrease based on varied water pumping speeds and time periods. It noted that discussions with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and refuge leadership “have not identified exact figures for water use.”
The report does not detail the potential impact on specific species, but does note that “there is concern that … pumps do not have the capacity to pump adequate water to sustain fish if ground water levels were to lower.”
Advocates and critics say the report shows that there could have been harm to species that live at the refuge and that the administration knew of this possibility but continued with work on the wall, a top priority of the president’s.
“There’s no way in the world that decision-makers working on the border wall didn’t get this information,” said Jacob Malcom, a former biologist at the refuge. “They got it and they were told ‘you are putting at risk of extinction a bunch of species that the U.S. government is responsible for.’ ”
“There had to have been a conscious decision to say ‘to heck with those species,’ ” said Malcom, who now directs the Center for Conservation Innovation at Defenders of Wildlife.
Randy Serraglio, a Southwest conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity, specifically singled out four species of fish that the refuge provides critical habitat for: Yaqui catfish, Yaqui chub, Yaqui topminnow and beautiful shiner.
“Those fish in particular are vulnerable because the minute that aquatic habitat dries up, then they’re toast,” Serraglio said.
Asked about the report and what steps were taken to mitigate the impacts of the construction, CPB and FWS pointed to the installation of higher-capacity pumps to reduce the harm.
However, FWS spokesperson Beth Ullenberg said that these pumps were installed in fall 2020, while CBP spokesperson Matthew Dyman said that the pumping in question began in October 2019, around the same time the report was issued.
“San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge ponds remain intact and the refuge continues to manage for endangered fish and wildlife,” Ullenberg said in an email.
ALL IN FOR HAALAND: News of Rep. Deb Haaland’s (D-N.M.) historic selection by President-elect Joe Biden as Interior secretary has generated an emotional response from Native Americans eager to see representation in government.
Biden on Thursday selected Haaland to head the department.
If confirmed, Haaland will be the first Native American Cabinet secretary and the first Native American to helm the Department of the Interior, which has significant responsibilities to the nation’s 574 federally recognized tribes.
“I thought about my daughter and how this is a new normal for my daughter,” Nikki Pitre, executive director of the Center for Native American Youth and a member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, told The Hill. “Seeing what it’s like to have an indigenous woman in the highest levels of government — it’s hard to put into words now that I’m seeing it and get to experience it. It just feels incredibly overwhelming in the absolute best way.”
Haaland, a progressive, generated significant momentum for the position, backed by groups and lawmakers on the left as well as many tribes.
“She’s going to make our ancestors so proud. I’m on the floor of my apartment crying with joy,” Julian Brave NoiseCat, vice president of policy and strategy with Data for Progress and vocal Haaland supporter, wrote on Twitter. “After four years of fossil fuel executives and lobbyists opening up Native lands and sacred sites to industry tycoons, the next Secretary of Interior will be a Laguna Pueblo woman who went to Standing Rock in 2016 and cooked for the people.”
Haaland’s selection helps Biden fulfill his pledge to create a Cabinet that “looks like America.”
“Representation and visibility matters,” Pitre said. “Congresswoman Haaland continually told our native youth, ‘Call me auntie, you have an auntie in the House of Representatives.’ That means you have someone that cares about you and will have your back and will take care of you. She embodies that with young people who have so much pride to call her auntie.”
Read more on the excitement for Haaland here.
A LITTLE TWEAK: The Trump administration wrongly tweaked a grant process when forwarding $2 million in funds to the state of Alaska as officials pushed to open the state’s Tongass National Forest up to more logging, a government watchdog found.
In September of last year, the U.S. Forest Service gave $2 million to Alaska to help it prepare an environmental analysis of proposed logging in one of the nation’s largest old-growth forests.
The problem, Democratic lawmakers argued, is that pot of money was designed to help communities prevent and suppress wildfires.
A new report from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) that reviewed Forest Service actions found the process “used to award the $2 million grant to Alaska did not comply with federal laws and regulations.”
The Forest Service “should not issue funding to Alaska under the August 2018 grant agreement,” the report concluded.
Since the grant was approved, the Trump administration has since finalized a plan to reverse the long standing Roadless Rule, which blocked building additional roads on 9.4 million acres on Tongass land in an effort to limit logging.
“According to this nonpartisan report, the Trump Forest Service violated the law in a rush to build the case for rolling back critical protections for our largest National Forest,” Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who requested the review, said in the statement.
Read more on Tongass here.
CLOSED FOR CLEANING: The Washington Monument has temporarily closed after Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who gave appointees a tour of the monument, tested positive for the coronavirus.
Interior spokesperson Nicholas Goodwin confirmed to The Hill that Bernhardt gave a “small group of appointees” a tour of the monument this week.
“As we do in all circumstances when an employee attests to having COVID-19, we work with our public health officials to ensure all guidance from the CDC is followed,” Goodwin said in an email. “Out of an abundance of caution, a couple of employees have quarantined resulting in a temporary workforce reduction at the monument and its temporary closure.”
The Washington Monument closure began on Friday and Goodwin said it will reopen on Monday. It was first reported on Wednesday that Bernhardt had tested positive for the coronavirus.
A post on the National Park Service’s website said that it is “working to staff the Washington Monument at the appropriate levels to maintain the safety of its operations” and the monument has had a “comprehensive safety program” since it reopened in October.
Read more on the monument’s closure here.
WHAT WE’RE READING:
COVID-19 cases add up in grim Interior tally, E&E News reports
The Federal Government Spends More on Fire Prevention in Rich, White Neighborhoods, Earther reports
JPMorgan says Lee Raymond to leave board, Reuters reports
Minnesota pushing forward with proposed clean car rule, The Duluth News Tribune reports
ICYMI: Stories from Friday (and Thursday night)…
Five states sue EPA over rule limiting pesticide safety enforcement
Washington Monument closes after Interior secretary tests positive for COVID-19
Haaland nomination generates excitement in Native American communities
Government scientists predicted border wall construction could harm wildlife refuge
Rice selected over Ocasio-Cortez for spot on Energy & Commerce panel
Australian cattle feed invention equal to taking ‘100 million cars off the road’ wins international prize
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