Lame Duck Soup

Two very important bills that impact conservation are languishing in the lame duck Congress.

The first is the Farm Bill.  Generally, Congress authors a new farm bill every five years. The current bill expired in September. If Congress doesn’t renew or rewrite the law, it will revert at year end to the “permanent law” written before WWII. That won’t be fun for anyone except the Amish[1].

In recent decades, the Farm Bill has contained modern conservation provisions like the Conservation Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, and the Wildlife Incentives Program. These programs and others are instrumental in protecting and maintaining diverse wildlife populations across our country. Just one planting season without the programs in place will set land and wildlife conservation back 25 years.

The Farm Bill is critical to many bird species including the Greater Sage Grouse, the Sandhill Crane, and migratory waterfowl.

The Sportsmen’s Act of 2012, the second bill, would continue critical habitat investment in programs like NAWCA and the Neo-tropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act. The Act is a compilation of 19 bipartisan bills important to conservation of habitat and wildlife.

Although the bills enjoy broad, bi-partisan support, a few cantankerous members are holding them up to make partisan points.  Congress, heralding a new era of cooperation, can send holiday greetings across the land by passing both of these bills before they call it a long winter’s night!



1-The author lives in Michiana’s Amish Country and counts several Amish families as friends.


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Smart Headlines for the Planet

Here’s the smartest headline we’ve seen in a long time: “It’s Climate Change, Stupid,” declares the cover of Bloomberg Business Week.

After a prolonged absence from the political debate, climate change and conservation are back on the national radar screen thanks to Superstorm Sandy’s appearance the week before the election.

Let’s just hope the lessons of Superstorm Sandy don’t fade along with the headlines of destruction and despair in New York City and New Jersey.

We all know that a single storm isn’t “climate change.” But Sandy wasn’t just a single storm. She was part of a growing and disturbing pattern, whether it’s called Sandy or Katrina or Snowmageddon or a nationwide heat wave that broke 3,215 high temperature daily records this past June.

In our grassroots campaign calling for an end to the partisanship that has paralyzed political action on conservation and the environment, the National Audubon Society and our Republican partner, ConservAmerica, asked you a critical question that was never posed in any of the presidential debates:

What should be the top conservation and environmental priorities for the next administration?

Whether Democrat, Republican or Independent, you responded from across the country.  Your answers offer a valuable roadmap for President Obama, the Congress and other elected officials.

No. 1. Promote the development of clean, renewable energy sources to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and foreign sources.

This was by far the most frequently listed priority. Debrah Roemisch echoed the concerns of many when she wrote, “Developing clean energy sources will help the environment, provide jobs and help us be independent—win-win for everyone except the oil companies.”

No. 2: Protect air, water and land from pollution.

“Clean air and water…Take the politics out,” demanded Corrine Carter of Prattville, Ala. In comment after comment, folks across the country expressed dismay that conservation—once one of the great unifying issues in America—has become a victim of drive-by partisan politics.

No. 3. Be cautious with the Keystone XL pipeline, offshore drilling and hydrofracking in environmentally sensitive areas.

“Drop forever the Keystone pipeline project and replace it with a national smart grid (a heck of a lot more jobs,)” wrote Mark Ford.

“Put a moratorium on fracking in the U.S.” said Rosann Strum of Bloomington, Indiana. “Stop deep water drilling.”

Many of you were very passionate on these issues. We believe our elected officials can find common sense solutions for well-managed energy development that both protects sensitive areas and helps meet America’s energy and employment needs.

Elected officials are going to be faced with difficult decisions on whether to allow drilling in the Alaskan arctic and on our coastlines, as well as how to regulate hydraulic fracking so that it does not endanger our communities’ water sources and wildlife areas.

No. 4: Protect national and state parks and open spaces.

“We need to restore and keep full protections for our wilderness, wildlife, national parks,” said Barbara Eaton of Allenstown, N. H., expressing the concerns of many respondents.

Just as Hurricane Katrina before her, Superstorm Sandy demonstrated the short-sightedness of draining, paving and building atop our natural storm barriers—marshes, seashores and other wetlands. Without the protections nature provided, the storms slam into populated shorelines full force with no buffers to slow winds or water surges.

No. 5: More environmental and conservation education.

Educating our youth to care for the communities and the planet they will inherit leave to their children was a recommendation repeated multiple times.

A strong common thread linked the environmental priorities Americans offered the next administration and Congress. In message after message, Americans of every political stripe said they were fed up with the do-nothing partisan politics that has infected virtually every environmental issue.

Ms. Eaton from New Hampshire summed up the real challenge for America’s elected leaders: “Both parties must realize that our Earth and wildlife are not battlegrounds.”

We also received many great comments from our Q and A with Felicity Barringer of the New York Times.

Linda from Idaho called it “a refreshing discussion on how caring for our environment should not be a partisan issue.”

She described the situation in her own state: “There are many Republicans in my red state of Idaho who deeply care about the health of the environment which they depend on for their livelihood, however, they are afraid to speak up for fear of retribution like children bullied in a playground.

“No matter what your political stance, you should be able to freely speak your mind about environmental issues you care about without being bullied and condemned.’’

Maybe now that the electioneering is over, the common sense conservation of our environment begin.

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Russell Train: A Personal Memorial

During the wee hours one cold winter night back in the ‘70s, a ringing telephone awakened the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. An irate driver was calling from Minnesota, a thousand miles away.

Unlike many other high-ranking government officials, the head of the EPA kept a listed home telephone number, which was how the angry man had tracked him down.

With the clock nearing 3 a.m., the head of EPA agreed to listen to the man’s story of frustration with EPA regulations: his car had run out of gas, and he had walked four miles through snow to fill up a gas can, only to find the nozzle wouldn’t fit the opening of the car’s gas tank, “all because of your (expletive) stupid EPA regulations!”

The head of EPA calmly told the man he didn’t blame him for being upset. Having vented, the Minnesota driver ended the call by quietly saying that he just wanted Mr. Train to know.

That’s the kind of man Mr. Train was. A man of integrity with a powerful dedication to public service, Russell Train was the ideal choice to lead EPA during the turbulent years of the Nixon and Ford administrations. I was privileged to know in person what many of my fellow Americans knew from afar, because Mr. Train was my father-in-law.

Mr. Train’s passing last month reminded Americans of his accomplishments in enforcing our new environmental laws at a time of economic tumult. During EPA’s early years, Mr. Train led the agency with a tactful but firm hand that was instrumental in the progress we have made reducing air pollution, cleaning up lakes and rivers, and limiting unhealthful chemical exposures.

Mr. Train did more than carry out the law. He educated Americans about the broader context of our country’s environmental problems. At a time America was reeling from oil price shocks, Mr. Train spoke publicly about the connections between our energy choices and consequences, including environmental impacts.

He spoke out about the tangible benefits of energy efficiency and finding new ways to produce energy, even though there were times during high-level meetings that his stance made him feel, in his words, like “the proverbial bastard at a family reunion.”

A secret to Russell Train’s successful tenure at EPA was that he stuck to the facts, treated all parties respectfully, and did his best to shield environmental policy from partisan political considerations. His service holds powerful lessons for today, as we face a different but equally compelling array of environmental risks at a time of economic tumult.

Too often in today’s world, short-term thinking and partisan agendas interfere with rational decision-making on matters that affect all of us, regardless of our political affiliations. Clean air, clean water, and a healthy environment are not luxuries but necessities. Our country is stronger and more prosperous because of, not in spite of, our setting and keeping of environmental standards.

These are not new insights. My father-in-law understood the imperatives of environmental stewardship and acted on them with fair dealings and good sense. The best way we can honor Russell Train’s memory is to follow the example that he set.


James A. Rowan
Chevy Chase, MD





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Was Reagan a Climate Leader?

There are probably some readers of this blog whose memory of the Reagan Administration only conjures up scary visions of former Secretary of the Interior James Watt. They might be surprised to learn (as would folks like Rush Limbaugh) that President Reagan had quite a few environmental accomplishments—both as governor of California and as president—not the least of which was his action as president to safeguard our atmosphere.

President Reagan (courtesy Ronald Reagan Library)

The most pressing climate issue of his day was ozone depletion. Climate scientists were warning that the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) used in refrigeration and other industrial applications were dangerously depleting the earth’s protective ozone layer—exposing us to ever increasing levels of  harmful solar radiation. Just as with the issue of climate change today, there were those who dismissed those warnings as overblown and objected to taking action. The Reagan Administration itself was split, with then-Interior Secretary Donald Hodel infamously suggesting the solution was simply to wear hats and apply more sunscreen.

Ultimately, the decision was up to the president. Would Reagan heed the warnings of climate scientists and take action, or would he side with those who wanted to ignore ozone depletion? To find out, and see how his decision is instructive for our elected leaders today, check out the recent op-ed by David Jenkins, ConservAmerica’s Vice President for Government Affairs, on Huffington Post.

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CNN: Audubon and ConservAmerica “try and take the politics out of conservation’’

CNN spotlights the efforts of the National Audubon Society and ConservAmerica to “try and take the politics out of conservation and climate change.”

“I think the extremes on both sides have made that conversation almost impossible and in an election where the economy is front and center, it is hard for any other issue to break through,” David Yarnold, president and CEO of National Audubon Society told CNN. “It is really unfortunate. It is yet another example where Americans are out ahead of their leaders.”

“We want to take the issue back,” said Yarnold. “It is not left, it is not right, it is not center.”

Read the full story here.

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New York Times Q&A from ‘Conservation Doesn’t Have a Party’ Leaders

The New York Times presents a detailed portrait of the Conservation Doesn’t Have a Party campaign. Featured is a wide-ranging Q and A with Audubon President David Yarnold and ConservAmerica President Rob Sisson.

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Conservation is not a Punch Line

Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold talked with Wired Science after conservation was ignored yet again during this week’s presidential debate — except as throw-away partisan jabs.

“Conservation is used as a wedge issue, when in fact conservation doesn’t have a party,” Yarnold told Wired.

Conservation plays a key role in securing our nation’s future. Where birds thrive, people prosper, as David Yarnold often says. Contrary to the super-heated campaign rhetoric, we know that most Americans — Republicans, Democrats, and all others — are united on the importance of conservation.

That’s what the American Eagle Compact is all about. So share it with a friend.

Read David Yarnold’s full comments on

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Conservation Builds Jobs

Jobs and conservation is not an either/or choice. But you wouldn’t know that listening to the partisan rhetoric the politicians have been slinging around Washington.

At a time when presidential debates are full of political jousting over how to create more jobs, our parks and recreation areas are providing millions of home-grown jobs in communities across America. And these are jobs that can’t be outsourced.

An added benefit: Most of these jobs are in rural parts of our nation where folks are struggling hardest to make ends meet.

A recent report by the research group Southwick and Associates found that conservation and recreation provide 9.4 million jobs across America and contribute $107 billion in federal, state and local tax revenues.

In fact, during the recession of the past four years when many businesses across America were struggling or failing, businesses that support outdoor recreation activities grew by nearly six percent a year as more and more Americans went fishing and hunting, birding and boating, hiking and camping, or just strolling and picnicking.

Even the most partisan politicians have to find it hard to complain about numbers like that.

Earlier this year a poll conducted by Colorado College and two polling firms—one Democratic, one Republican—asked residents in the six western states of Colorado, Arizona, Wyoming, Utah, Montana and New Mexico whether wildlife areas, national parks and forests should be considered “an essential part” of their state’s economy. A resounding 91 percent said “yes.”

Our number one job at National Audubon Society is protecting America’s wildlife and wild spaces—for people as well as birds and other wild creatures. Our support of the Restore Act, which makes sure that fines and other money paid by BP goes to assisting Gulf Coast states in the aftermath of the catastrophic oil spill two and one-half years ago, was as much about helping people as helping  birds and wildlife and their habitat. A study by the Walton Foundation estimated the Restore Act would create more than 88,000 jobs along with the conservation efforts.

In absolute contrast to what the partisan crowd in Washington would have you believe, conservation and stewardship of the environment are job generators, even in the toughest economic times.

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Efficiency Lowers Gasoline Costs

At Tuesday night’s presidential debate, a citizen asked President Obama whether he agreed with Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s statements that it’s not his department’s policy to lower gas prices.

Neither Obama nor Mitt Romney directly answered the man’s question, defaulting instead to energy talking points. They might as well have handed the man campaign brochures and moved on to the next question.

The question was a missed opportunity to level with the public about energy – solving the problem does not lend itself to bumper-sticker sloganeering, every energy resource has its pros and cons, and America is not in complete control of its energy destiny.

The last point deserves further comment. The Department of Energy cannot control gasoline prices, no matter who’s in charge. Supply and demand largely dictate what you pay. The price at the neighborhood pump is at the tail end of a long chain that is influenced primarily by the market.

The oil market is global. Prices are the result of global supply and demand factors. Rising domestic supplies would be sold into that global pool. There would be no home-team discount for American drivers. High prices make some harder-to-reach domestic sources—ultra deepwater, for example—profitable to produce. If prices fell below the point at which these sources make money, they wouldn’t be produced.

If it suited them, oil-exporting countries could dial back their production to offset higher U.S. output in order to keep prices high. That is a good reason, among many, to use energy as efficiently as possible. The cheapest gallon of gasoline in town is the gallon you don’t have to buy.

Energy efficiency has bipartisan appeal. Polls consistently show the public values saving energy and supports policies to encourage it. If there is one point on which Republican and Democratic leaders should find common ground, it ought to be energy efficiency.

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Coastal Barrier Law Saves Resources and Money

Fiscal stewardship and environmental stewardship are two sides of the same coin. Both are needed to ensure that we do not pass unfair burdens onto future generations. Accordingly, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that good stewardship of our natural resources also can result in better fiscal health and significant savings for taxpayers.

Thirty years ago, on October 18, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Coastal Barrier Resources Act, which prohibited federal financial assistance for building on about 700 miles of undeveloped barrier islands on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

Sunrise off Nanny Goat Beach on Georgia’s Sapelo Island (NOAA)

The law passed by wide margins, as Republicans and Democrats joined forces to pass legislation reflecting shared values of sensible stewardship and responsible fiscal management.

The legislation stopped what Reagan noted was a “subsidy spiral:” high costs of initial construction, which during Reagan’s time totaled about $25,000 per acre, and recurring costs of replacing buildings, roads, bridges, and utility lines damaged by the inevitable next hurricane. A 2002 Interior Department study estimated $1.3 billion in cumulative taxpayer savings by 2010.

The law does not bar development, but discourages it by requiring developers and other non-federal parties to pay all costs of building in such risky places.

Coastal barrier islands provide valuable services. They shield the mainland from the full force of hurricane winds and storm surges. Barrier islands protect habitat-rich mainland marshes and estuaries, and create inlets that offer good habitat for productive fisheries and migratory birds.

Undeveloped barrier islands are part of the John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System, named after the Republican senator from Rhode Island and renowned conservationist who sponsored the legislation and was instrumental in getting it enacted into law.

As Reagan noted in signing the legislation, the Coastal Barrier Resources Act earned widespread support, including the American Red Cross, taxpayer advocates, conservation groups, and coastal states. Members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, worked together to pass an imaginative bill that, as Reagan wrote, “solves real problems in the stewardship of our natural resources.”

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