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Politics

U.S. House tees up bill to repeal Alaska fish and wildlife regulation

  • Author: Erica Martinson
  • Updated: December 2, 2017
  • Published February 11, 2017

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House has plans to start the process next week to repeal an Alaska-specific wildlife regulation issued by the Interior Department that has put federal regulators at odds with state game managers.

Alaska Rep. Don Young managed to get the bill on the House calendar, amid a tight calendar for repealing regulations issued in the waning days of President Barack Obama's administration. The bill would permanently revoke a regulation that overrides state game management plans with federal priorities, if it's passed by the House and a simple majority of the Senate, and signed by President Donald Trump.

The regulation, finalized in August by the Fish and Wildlife Service, evokes a clear disagreement between many in the state over how to manage predators such as wolves and bears.

Congress has just gotten started on repealing Obama's final regulations, using the long-dormant Congressional Review Act (CRA). The law, passed in 1996, allows Congress to revoke a regulation — within 60 legislative days of its passage — with a simple majority vote. Dozens of major rules are eligible, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

Given the slim election-year schedule in the fall, that means regulations the Obama administration issued from roughly June 2016 onward. A similar regulation issued by the National Park Service won't be eligible for undoing in the same manner.

The House has already passed several resolutions to revoke regulations, including environmental and gun control regulations.

The Senate, preoccupied with confirming members of President Donald Trump's Cabinet, is further behind, but has approved two CRAs: the Interior Department's "Stream Protection Rule" and the Security and Exchange Commission's rule requiring companies to disclose payments made by foreign governments for developing oil, natural gas or mineral extractions. Both have been sent to the president but Trump had not signed them as of Friday morning. Members of Alaska's congressional delegation all voted in favor of both measures.

The CRA is considered a blunt instrument; revoked regulations are struck down for good and can't be tweaked later. And it requires a presidential signoff or veto override, so it's generally only useful for overturning end-of-administration regulations.

Before this year, the law was only successfully used once to undo a workplace ergonomics regulation issued at the end of President Bill Clinton's second term.

Next week, the Senate might vote on several House-passed measures. One blocks a rule that limits methane emissions from oil and gas drilling on federal lands. Another undoes a Bureau of Land Management rule that updated the process for creating land use plans.

On Tuesday, the House Rules Committee will consider Young's bill to undo the Fish and Wildlife Service rule and likely move it to the House floor for a vote.

Members of Alaska's congressional delegation have attempted to pass legislation to block the rules in the past but have been thwarted mainly by the limited amount of legislation that made it out of Congress last year.

Young has railed against the Fish and Wildlife regulation, saying it will "fundamentally alter not only how national wildlife refuges and the fish, wildlife, and habitats on them will be managed" but also the relationship between state and federal actors.

The Obama administration's director of Fish and Wildlife, Dan Ashe, however, argued in an opinion piece last summer that "the Alaska Board of Game has unleashed a withering attack on bears and wolves that is wholly at odds with America's long tradition of ethical, sportsmanlike, fair-chase hunting" in its predator management practices.

Killing wolf pups in their dens and allowing baiting practices to lure grizzly bears "is purportedly aimed at increasing populations of caribou and moose but defies modern science of predator-prey relationships," Ashe said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service says the practices are inconsistent with federal laws requiring science-based management of National Wildlife Refuges.

State wildlife managers and the congressional delegation, on the other hand, argue that the regulation is inconsistent with federal law giving the state oversight of such practices.

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