Environment

On June 15, the House Committee on Natural Resources passed two pieces of legislation that would, if signed into law, transfer control of large swaths of federally managed public lands from the Department of the Interior to individual states.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service and the 131st anniversary of America’s first state park at Niagara Falls. Park visitation has become more popular than ever, with 2015 being a record-breaking year for visitors to national parks as well as state parks in Michigan, New York, North Carolina, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Despite the growing popularity of state and national parks, research on park usage has shown that visitors are older and whiter than the average American. Only about one-fifth of national park visitors are minorities and the average age, at least at Yellowstone, was found to be 54. Given Census Bureau predications that estimate the U.S. will become majority-minority by 2044, park officials and others interested in the future of parks in the 21st century have turned their attention towards attracting younger, more ethnically diverse patrons.

Experts discussed the legal arguments for and against the Clean Power Plan, or CPP, during a recent eCademy webcast, “What's Next? Legal Perspectives on the Clean Power Plan,” presented by CSG and the Association of Air Pollution Control Agencies. 

The President is expected to sign H.R. 2576, the “Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act” today. The bill, amending the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA), calls for an overhaul of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to test new chemicals and regulate them accordingly.

On June 7, Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, who served as the 2014 CSG national chair, testified before the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Management and Regulatory Affairs at a hearing regarding “Oversight of EPA Unfunded Mandates on State, Local, and Tribal Governments.” The hearing was a continuation of the subcommittee’s oversight of the Environmental Protection Agency’s rulemaking process and examined the agency’s compliance with the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act, or UMRA, and the impact of unfunded mandates on state, local and tribal governments. 

In Murr v. Wisconsin the Supreme Court will decide whether merger provisions in state law and local ordinances, where nonconforming, adjacent lots under common ownership are combined for zoning purposes, may result in the unconstitutional taking of property. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief arguing that these very common provisions are constitutional. 

The Murrs owned contiguous lots E and F which together are .98 acres. Lot F contained a cabin and lot E was undeveloped. A St. Croix County merger ordinance prohibits the individual development or sale of adjacent lots under common ownership that are less than one acre total. But the ordinance treats commonly owned adjacent lots of less than an acre as a single, buildable lot.

The Murrs sought and were denied a variance to separately use or sell lots E and F. They claim the ordinance resulted in an unconstitutional uncompensated taking.        

During a recent CSG eCademy webcast, “Improving Species Conservation in the West,” Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead said the Endangered Species Act needs revision because the finish line—recovering species and removing them from the endangered species list—is often unreachable for states.

Mead is leading an initiative, as chairman of the Western Governors’ Association, to improve the Endangered Species Act and species conservation efforts. He wants to send a message to Congress that the initiative is a bipartisan effort and species are not only important to the West but also to the country as a whole.

Recent conservation efforts to reduce threats facing the greater sage-grouse in its 11-state range and to avoid its listing as a protected species under the Endangered Species Act have garnered attention as a success story for federal and state agencies and private stakeholders. But the greater sage-grouse isn’t alone. As chair of the Western Governors Association, Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead has initiated a process through facilitated stakeholder meetings, webinars and outreach to a broad audience of stakeholders to build on recent successes and find ways to improve species conservation activities in the West. This FREE CSG eCademy, presented by CSG West, explores the themes highlighted from the effort and the next steps in the process.

In United States Army Corp of Engineers v. Hawkes the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that an approved jurisdictional determination that property contains “waters of the United States” may be immediately reviewed in court. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case arguing in favor of this result.  

CSG Midwest
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has proposed tightening the state’s lead level guidelines to 10 parts per billion by 2020, stricter than the current federal mark of 15 ppb. The proposed change, announced at a meeting of the Flint Water Interagency Coordinating Committee, is part of a package of proposals that also includes annual water testing at day care centers and schools as well as a requirement that local governments create inventories of lead water pipes and then develop plans to replace them.

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