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Let ’em drink cake

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the new chief of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Dan Ashe made a whirlwind tour of northwest Montana yesterday. They visited Ovando, touring some of the Blackfoot Challenge sites and then drove down the Swan Valley into Kalispell for visits with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the Creston National Hatchery and met with various interests around Kalispell.

Salazar didn’t have much good to say about attempts by Republicans in the House of Representatives to roll back environmental protections pretty much across the board. He said they are attempting to “annihilate the Land and Water Conservation Fund.” a federal grant program that ain’t even tax money. It’s funded through oil and gas revenues to ameliorate some of the damage caused by offshore drilling activities. Republicans have been trying to gut this program for years and would fund the 2012 appropriation at only 7% of the funding authorized by the administration.

The LWCF provides 50-50 grants for conservation and recreation projects and has provided funding for more than 40,000 projects nationwide. In Montana, the LWCF has provided millions of dollars in funds for recreational projects like a ballpark in Polson, a park pavilion in Colstrip, improving the city park in Twin Bridges and even a skateboard park in Anaconda. Walt Timmerman, Recreation Bureau chief for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks said that because of the low profile of the fund, “I’m afraid Montanans won’t know it’s gone until it’s too late,”. According to Representative Mike Honda (D-CA),

Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has done more than any other program to expand the systems of local parks, recreational green spaces and public lands enjoyed by hundreds of millions of Americans.

The GOP is also sponsoring HR 2018, the “Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act“.  Like most conservative legislation the act is deceptively misnamed. It has nothing to do with clean water and it certainly isn’t in any way cooperative. This is an act,

To amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to preserve the authority of each State to make determinations relating to the State’s water quality standards, and for other purposes.

HR2018 has been called the “Dirty Water Act” and would give states the power to weaken clean water standards without consideration for downstream states. The New Jersey Star-Ledger says, “Giving individual states the final say on what to do with their water supply is akin to letting your neighbor dump his trash into your kitchen sink.”

The bill’s authors, Reps. John Mica of Florida and Nick Rahall of West Virginia, are reacting to particular federal restrictions on pollution in their own states that they don’t like. But their bill returns us all to the days when Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River caught fire in 1969. That was when we relied on state standards to protect our waterways — and they were seriously polluted.

The bill passed the House on July 13, and yes Dennis Rehberg voted in favor of dirty water. If we feel like letting conglomerates dump oil into our own Yellowstone River, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, etc. should have nothing to say about it. The GOP will continue to try to undermine environmental protections in favor of their lobbyist clientele in direct opposition to what Americans have told them they want. If anything, in the face of smaller federal  and state regulatory budgets in coming years, we need to work to strengthen the laws that protect our air and water on a national level.

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