Monday, July 31, 2017

PLF, farm groups sue over habitat designations

From a news release:
Federal officials illegally ignored the economic impacts on small businesses, landowners, agriculture, and local governments last year when they set aside 1.8-million acres in Central and Northern California as “critical habitat” for the Yosemite toad and two yellow-legged frog species in the Sierra Nevada.

A lawsuit filed today against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service challenges these sweeping habitat designations because the agency did not comply with the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA). That statute requires comprehensive economic analysis before new federal rules can be imposed that could significantly affect small business and small government entities.

Pacific Legal Foundation filed the challenge on behalf of three statewide organizations with members who are affected by the habitat designations — the California Cattlemen’s Association, California Farm Bureau Federation, and California Wool Growers Association.

“Bureaucrats imposed these habitat decrees without due regard for their effect on the lives and livelihoods of rural residents,” said PLF Senior Attorney M. Reed Hopper. “This willful blindness wasn’t just callous, it was illegal, a violation of the Regulatory Flexibility Act.

“The RFA is meant to balance regulatory goals with the needs of a healthy economy,” Hopper explained. “But agencies like the Fish and Wildlife Service have been concocting spurious excuses for not complying and refusing to undertake the required economic-impact studies.

“Our lawsuit aims to end these evasions and put teeth back in the RFA,” he said. “Victory will benefit not just the victims of the harmful habitat designations that we’re challenging, but also thousands of landowners, small business owners and employees, and municipal organizations across the country.”

Restricting land use — and livelihoods — in 16 California counties

Covering terrain in 16 counties stretching from Tulare and Inyo in the south to Lassen in the north, the designations triggered controversy and objections throughout the region, drawing 20,000 public comments before they were imposed. They will restrict the use of public and private lands for grazing and timber harvesting affecting ranchers, landowners, and county agencies, including school districts that derive income from timber production.

“When the Service proposed designating critical habitat for these three amphibians, they heard from some ranchers who would have to sell off as much as half of their herd because of forage lost to the designation, and others who would be put out of business entirely,” said Dave Daley, president of the California Cattlemen’s Association. “In addition to the severe impact to these ranchers’ families, the regulation threatened to devastate local businesses that rely on ranchers’ patronage. But the Service ignored those concerns and finalized its proposal anyway. CCA joins this suit to ensure that these permittees can continue their families’ proud traditions of ranching, not only supporting the local economy, but serving the local environment through the benefits that grazing bestows upon other endangered and threatened species like the California tiger salamander and California red-legged frog.”

“The full range of impacts should be considered when federal agencies set aside critical habitat for endangered species,” California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger said. “Critical-habitat designations can actually impair a rancher’s ability to take various actions that involve federal funding or authorization, including certain conservation efforts. The government should be encouraging efficient and effective ways to benefit species and should fully consider the effects of its actions.”

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to properly account for the impacts on California sheep producers in its designation of critical habitat for these species,” said Erica Sanko, executive director of the California Wool Growers Association. “As a result, grazing permits of many sheep ranchers have been placed under increased burdensome regulations and are in danger of being eliminated. The interests of sheep producers were not recognized nor accounted for by the Service in its decision, nor were the benefits of sheep grazing, as a land and resource management tool.”

“Once again, Pacific Legal Foundation is leading the fight for a balanced, common sense approach to environmental regulations by insisting that economic concerns must be factored into decisions,” said PLF President and CEO Steven D. Anderson. “This case also highlights PLF’s mission to bring the administrative state to heel by reminding unelected regulators that their job is to follow the law, not to invent pretexts for ignoring it.”

The case is California Cattlemen’s Association, et al v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It challenges the critical habitat designations for the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog, the northern population of the mountain yellow-legged frog, and the Yosemite toad. The counties included in the habitat designations are Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Fresno, Inyo, Lassen, Madera, Mariposa, Mono, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sierra, Tulare, and Tuolumne.
As we have reported, the CCA and other groups have argued for several years that protections for the two species could affect more than 2 million acres of private and public land and could lead to restrictions on grazing.

For more on this, check CapitalPress.com soon.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Cattlemen's group weighs in on NAFTA renegotiation

From a news release:
On July 26, the United States Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) submitted official written testimony for the House Committee on Agriculture’s public hearing on Renegotiating NAFTA: Opportunities for Agriculture. The testimony outlines USCA’s priorities for a modernized North American Free Trade Agreement, and echoes the verbal testimony provided by USCA President Kenny Graner on this same topic to the ITC earlier this month. USCA’s focus for any NAFTA renegotiations remain on addressing subsidy disparities for Canadian and Mexican cattle producers, establishing a WTO-compliant country-of-origin labeling program for beef products, and adjusting the growing trade deficit.

The following statement may be attributed to USCA President Kenny Graner:

“USCA looks forward to working with the Administration and Congress to address the issues raised by U.S. cattle producers in future NAFTA renegotiations. Based on the priorities outlined by USTR earlier this month, the needs of cattle producers are still not being met. Any renegotiation of NAFTA must include a path forward on origin labeling. The current trade disparities between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, won’t change unless all factors affecting the situation are addressed. There must be a level and fair playing field when it comes to trade and USCA will continue working toward achieving that as any negotiations moved forward.”

Click HERE to read the full testimony.
In recent days, we have reported that Canada's agriculture minister urges caution on NAFTA talks and that former ag secretary Tom Vilsack, now a dairy industry representative, sees high stakes for the dairy industry in a NAFTA do-over. My colleague Carol Ryan Dumas is gathering input from the beef industry on the NAFTA issue. Look for her story soon at CapitalPress.com.

Improvements begin at Lake Oroville recreation sites

From a news release:
The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) has begun construction to expand visitor parking lots and improve facilities at the Bidwell Saddle Dam Trailhead at Kelly Ridge Road in Oroville and the Lime Saddle Boat Launch Area in Paradise.

“Lake Oroville offers some of California’s premier opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors. And DWR is committed to maintaining and improving recreation at Lake Oroville,” said DWR Acting Director Cindy Messer. “Expanding parking lots for visitors and improving site facilities at Bidwell Saddle Dam Trailhead and Lime Saddle Boat Launch are just two examples of our long-standing commitment to invest in Lake Oroville recreation sites.”

Construction on the Bidwell Saddle Dam Trailhead will be completed in two phases. On Monday, July 31, construction crews will begin widening the existing gravel lot. The site will be closed during construction of the first phase and is expected to be complete and reopened before Labor Day, September 4. The second phase of construction focuses on improving site amenities. By the time construction work is complete in Spring 2018, visitors can expect running water, additional gravel parking and picnic tables.

Construction has already begun at the Lime Saddle Boat Launch Area in Paradise, which will remain open throughout construction. The project will also be completed in two phases. Construction crews are widening the gravel parking lot to accommodate an estimated 50 vehicles and trailers. In Spring 2018 the gravel lot will be paved and lighting installed.

The projects are set to cost a combined $2.8 million: $1.6 million for Lime Saddle improvements and $1.2 million for Bidwell Saddle Dam Trailhead improvements. Funding is provided through a DWR fund dedicated to recreation at State Water Project facilities. These projects will help offset the temporary closure of the Spillway Boat Ramp and Diversion Pool Day Use Areas.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Congressman questions draw-down of Lake Oroville

The north state's Rep. Doug LaMalfa is questioning the degree to which the state Department of Water Resources plans to drain Lake Oroville this fall to accommodate work on the dam.

As I reported today, the DWR plans to take the lake’s surface down to below 700 feet elevation this fall to ensure safety for workers fixing the dam.

In a Facebook post, LaMalfa wrote:
There is no need to go all the way down to 640 feet of elevation on December 31. That would leave only 850,000 ace feet left in the lake, with only 90-100 days to fill the lake. The lowest the lake was last year was 725, in December. Thats 600,000 wasted acre feet if dropped to 640. Construction wont be affected by lake water if it's a dry winter and if it's wet, they wont be doing much anyway. The spillway gates arent even touched by water until 813 feet, which is 2.35 million acre feet. The lake holds 3.5 million. The spillway is supposed to be usable at the end of this construction season for this years winter and the rest of it rebuilt after this rainy season in late spring.
LaMalfa's 1st Congressional District includes the Lake Oroville area.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

NWS outlook: Triple-digit heat to return to north state


From the National Weather Service:
Hot weather returns for the end of this week through early next week. Widespread triple digit heat likely in the Valley, hottest across the northern Sacramento Valley. Those that are sensitive to heat should take extra precautions.

Impacts
Heat-related illnesses for sensitive groups
Increased stress on livestock

Forecast Confidence
High

Timing and Strength
Warming up today
Triple digit highs in the Valley Thursday - at least Tuesday
Hottest across northern Sacramento Valley
Overnight lows mid 60s-low 70s

Agencies approve final Oroville reconstruction plan

From a state news release:
Today, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) provided an update on construction work on the Lake Oroville Spillways Emergency Recovery Project.

DWR received authorization to proceed with its final 2017 construction plan from the California Division of Safety of Dams (DSOD) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on July 13 and 15 respectively.

The work to be completed this year now has all required approvals from federal, state, and independent oversight groups. The independent Board of Consultants (BOC) also approved DWR’s construction plans last month pending final approval from FERC.

The first phase of construction will be completed by November 1, 2017, with the objective of ensuring that the main spillway can safely pass Feather River watershed flows this year. The first phase of construction includes:

· Removal and reconstruction of 2,270 feet of the main spillway.
· Repairs to the uppermost 730-foot portion of the main spillway that connects to the radial gates. This portion will be demolished and reconstructed in 2018.
· Construction of an underground cutoff wall below the emergency spillway. The purpose of the cutoff wall is to prevent uphill erosion if the emergency spillway is used again.
The remaining construction will be completed in 2018, which will also need federal and state approval, includes:
· Addition of structural concrete to the entire main spillway.
· Resurfacing and hydro-blasting of the energy dissipaters at the base of the spillway.
· Construction of a roller-compacted concrete buttress (sloped wall) and splashpad on the emergency spillway to dissipate the energy of any waterflows.

DWR’s final design and construction plans, which will continue to be monitored by DSOD, FERC, and the independent BOC, include modern technologies and methods to meet and exceed today’s safety and construction standards.

Other Project-related Updates:

· The independent BOC met in Oroville on Monday, July 24, and Tuesday, July 25. The BOC received an overview of DWR’s construction schedule and milestones moving forward. The BOC was also briefed on the design concepts for the 1,050-foot section of the main spillway that will be constructed with roller-compacted concrete in 2017, and an update on foundation preparation and clean-up.

· The current lake level at Lake Oroville is 800 feet, and reservoir releases into the Feather River are now at 6,500 cfs. With guidance from FERC, DWR has established a projection schedule to draw down the reservoir’s elevation to 700 feet by November 1. This is a more conservative reservoir level than normal for that date as a public safety precaution. This schedule is tentative and subject to change because of a multitude of contributing factors.

· DWR this week finished hosting its second round of community meetings to update residents about the Lake Oroville Spillways project. The first meeting was held on Monday, July 17, in Oroville, followed by Wednesday, July 19, in Marysville, and finally Monday, July 24, in Yuba City. These meetings are part of DWR’s continued effort to provide updates from DWR leadership and experts on construction efforts, collect feedback from the community and answer questions. The next round of public meetings is planned for late summer or early fall of 2017.
Earlier today I participated in a media conference call with project officials, during which I asked about the project's impact on water availability for farmers this summer and next year. Look for my story soon at CapitalPress.com.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Nielsen: Cap-and-trade 'another gas tax in disguise'

Northern California's state Sen. Jim Nielsen responds to Gov. Jerry Brown's signing of a bill to extend the cap-and-trade program. From his office:
The Governor today signed Assembly Bill 398 (Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella), an onerous measure that will raise an additional $0.63 per gallon in taxes on California drivers.

In total, drivers will be forced to pay an additional $0.82 per gallon once the gas taxes passed earlier this year – which include the largest car and gas tax in the state’s history – take effect.

“Economists, and even the Governor’s own financial experts, are predicting an impending economic downturn,” said Senator Jim Nielsen (R-Tehama), Vice Chair of the Senate Budget Committee. “How can the Governor and other Sacramento politicians take money away from everyday Californians when they know of a looming recession?”

“Families’ weekly budgets will take a heavy hit once drivers find themselves paying an additional $10 – at least – each time they fill up.

“Will these taxes be repealed if, and when, our economy slumps and Californians begin to lose their jobs?”

In April, the Governor signed Senate Bill 1, the largest car and gas tax in the state’s history. SB 1 levied a $0.19 per gallon increase, in addition to other taxes, to generate $52 billion based on promises by Sacramento politicians that they would invest tax monies in the state’s roads and highways. In reality, the measure included loopholes to allow for money to be diverted to the beleaguered high speed rail, park bathroom maintenance and land purchases for animal travel, among many other pet projects.
Nielsen offers an estimation of how much more consumers will pay at the pump each time they fill up their car tank, based on top selling cars driven by Californians.