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SARL Members and Alumni News

Would a Shift to State Power Endanger Species?

Pew Trust | Posted on October 10, 2018

A fight is brewing over the Endangered Species Act after congressional Republicans and federal agencies this year proposed major changes, including shifting more control over species protection to the states. Many states, especially Western ones with vast expanses of federal land, have long pushed for changes to the law. But what seemed unlikely under prior administrations has a better shot under the Trump presidency.A package of bills introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by members of the Congressional Western Caucus, all with Republican sponsors, would alter how species are listed and habitat is protected. States are most focused on measures that would affect their power, including bills that would allow them greater say over which species get protections. A draft bill in the U.S. Senate being circulated by Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, a Republican, would “elevate the role of state conservation agencies,” according to a news release from the U.S. Senate committee.While the various pieces of legislation may face a heavy lift getting through Congress, federal agencies last month finished taking public comments on proposed rule changes. Unveiled in July, the agency revisions would allow agencies to consider economic costs when deciding whether to protect species, possibly reduce the amount of protected habitat and make it easier to take species off the endangered and threatened species list, among other changes proposed by the Department of the Interior and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Irvine quit using synthetic pesticides in 2016, now a farm bill could block such local restrictions

Orange County Register | Posted on October 10, 2018

In the past three years, Irvine went from treating its parks and nature areas with more than 50 pounds and about 60 gallons of synthetic weed and pest killers annually, all the way down to zero. The city now uses organic products with ingredients such as corn gluten meal and oil from soybeans, lemongrass or rosemary. And Irvine is not alone – it’s one of more than 150 U.S. cities and counties that have created “organic-first” policies and in some cases banned the use of specific chemicals that may harm people or the environment.But a provision tucked into the 2018 federal farm bill could block local governments from making their own rules about pesticides, effectively neutering local control over what gets sprayed into the air, poured into the water or sprinkled on the ground.While the rule couldn’t force anyone to use any particular type of pesticide, it would allow only federal and state authorities to place restrictions on them.

Californians weigh making egg-laying hens cage-free by 2022

AP | Posted on October 10, 2018

California voters are right to think they already weighed in on how big cages should be for egg-laying hens. In 2008, voters ushered in Proposition 2, which sought to free egg-laying hens from tiny cages. It didn’t outlaw cages but barred California farmers from keeping hens — as well as calves raised for veal and breeding pigs — in pens so small they virtually couldn’t move.Since then, supermarket shelves have filled with cage-free egg varieties. Corporations like McDonald’s, Costco and Taco Bell have committed to using cage-free products.But a decade later, voters are being asked to revisit the issue with Proposition 12, the Farm Animal Confinement Initiative.The Humane Society of the United States, the issue’s primary proponent, says the measure is needed to update California standards and to apply those standards to out-of-state farmers selling their products in California. The earlier initiative simply stated the three types of animals must be able to turn around freely, stand up and fully extend their limbs — but set no specifics.A “yes” vote for Proposition 12 would create new minimum size requirements for confinement. It would also ban the sales from other states not meeting California’s standards.

States agree on plan to manage overtaxed Colorado River

Salt lake Tribune | Posted on October 10, 2018

Seven U.S. states in the Southwest that depend on the overtaxed Colorado River have reached tentative agreements on how to manage the waterway amid an unprecedented drought, officials said Tuesday. The announcement was a long-awaited step toward preserving the river, which supports 40 million people and 6,300 square miles of farmland in the U.S. and Mexico.“We have, after many years of discussion and negotiation, a real milestone,” said James Eklund, a water lawyer who represents Colorado in the interstate negotiations on the river.A nearly two-decade drought has drained the river’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, to alarmingly low levels. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages major reservoirs across the West, says the chances of a shortfall in Lake Mead are 57 percent by 2020. The reservoir has never fallen low enough to trigger a shortage before. If it happens, mandatory cutbacks would hit Arizona, Nevada and Mexico first.The drought contingency plans announced Tuesday are not designed to prevent a shortage in the river system, but to manage and minimize the effects. The two major components of the plans cover the Upper Basin, where most of the water originates as Rocky Mountain snowfall, and the Lower Basin, which consumes more of the water because it has more people and more farms. Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming are in the Upper Basin. Arizona, California and Nevada are in the Lower Basin. The Lower Basin plan is detailed and specific, but the Upper Basin plan outlines what steps the states would take if things get worse, said Karen Kwon, Colorado’s assistant attorney general.


Partnership helps to expand broadband service in Illinois, Iowa, and South Dakota

Ag Daily | Posted on October 7, 2018

There are more than 19 million people living in rural America who lack access to a broadband internet connections, including about 22 percent of people in rural Iowa, 36 percent of people in rural Illinois, and 25 percent of people in rural South Dakota. A partnership between Microsoft and  an Illinois-based wireless internet provider hope to cut into those numbers at least a little. On Thursday, the agreement with the Microsoft Airband Initiative and Network Business Systems to deliver broadband internet access to about 126,700 people in those three states was announced.On Thursday, Network Business Systems Inc., an Illinois-based wireless internet provider, and Microsoft Corp. announced a new agreement to deliver broadband internet access to rural communities in Illinois, Iowa and South Dakota, including approximately 126,700 people who are currently unserved. Network Business Systems will construct and deploy wireless internet access networks using a mix of technologies including TV white spaces — vacant spectrum that can travel over long distances and rough terrain, including the heavy foliage that is common in the Midwestern landscape. But it will take time, and the projected completion date is July 4, 2022.

Business Council passes Wyoming broadband plan

Wyoming News | Posted on October 7, 2018

During a special meeting, the Wyoming Business Council approved the Wyoming Broadband Advisory Council’s plan to enhance internet access in the state.The broadband council was established during the state’s most recent legislative session through Senate File 100, allocating $10 million for broadband improvement projects and outlining strategies to help maximize funding distribution.

State panel shelves Gov. Rauner's EPA plan to ease pollution rules for Illinois coal plants

Chicago Tribune | Posted on October 7, 2018

With the Nov. 6 election looming, a state panel on Thursday shelved Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposal to relax limits on lung-damaging pollution from some of the last coal-fired power plants in Illinois.The decision by the five-member Illinois Pollution Control Board, four of whom are Rauner appointees, delays a final ruling on controversial changes intended to benefit a single company, Texas-based Vistra Energy, until after voters decide if the Republican governor gets another four-year term.

Massachusetts ranked most energy efficient state, Wyoming worst: study

The Hill | Posted on October 7, 2018

Massachusetts and California are leading the country in energy efficiency standards according to a study released Thursday. The coastal states’ investments in energy saving targets, electric vehicles and efficient building standards helped them lead the annual study by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.Massachusetts took the top spot for the eighth year in a row due to a number of state programs that encouraged consumers to invest in energy efficiency. Following closely behind, California ranked second on the list thanks to incentives it offers for energy efficient schools, residences and industries.

Washington regulators approve tight rules on community solar

| Posted on October 7, 2018

The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) on Wednesday adopted rules regulating community solar entities outside of the electric utilities that provide those programs.The rules require "company registration, consumer protections, records keeping and reporting," and were adopted by the commission based on SB 5939, which directed the commission to establish these rules, "similar to guidelines for other regulated industries" in Washington, Kate Griffith, UTC spokesperson told Utility Dive.Some community solar advocates have raised concerns that these rules would inhibit smaller entities from pursuing community solar projects, filing joint comments when they were proposed in August. The commission responded to the comments in its ruling, saying they did "not find the proposed rules to be unduly burdensome.

Marijuana activists ‘thrilled’ as Texas Gov. Abbott proposes no jail time for possession

Houston Chronicle | Posted on October 7, 2018

Strict penalties for possessing marijuana in Texas could soon go up in smoke. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott recently announced he's open to dropping the maximum punishment for possession of less than 2 ounces of the drug from 180 days in jail to a fine. The shift drew excitement from advocates and state lawmakers who have lobbied for years to decriminalize marijuana, which records show leads to more than 60,000 possession arrests in Texas each year."You have a certain idea of what members want to achieve going into the next session, I think that's at the top of the list of many members," said Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth.