The following are news or events you might have missed this past week.
Greater Sage Grouse removed from Endangered Species Act consideration
On September 22, 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) ruled that the Greater Sage Grouse, a ground-dwelling prairie bird, would not be listed as a threatened or endangered species needing protection through the Endangered Species Act. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell cited a massive, voluntary conservation effort led by an unlikely coalition of environmentalists, ranchers, and energy companies as the main reason for this ruling. After a 2010 FWS report found an alarming loss of the bird’s habitat, ranchers, environmentalists, and energy and drilling companies came together to develop local and regional conservation methods that still allowed for economic development. Secretary Jewell said the current conservation efforts by this coalition were sufficient and did not currently see a need for federal protection.
New proposal may end fisheries off of Assateague Island National Seashore
The new federal management plan of the Assateague Island National Seashore, which includes 1,260 acres of commercial seafood activity, such as Tom’s Cove Park, will prohibit commercial fisheries within the boundaries of the park. According to the National Park Service, which has jurisdiction over the water column off the shore, aquaculture is only permitted in national parks if Congress has specifically authorized it. Though commercial fisheries have played a major role in region’s culture and economy for the past 50 years, Congress never authorized them and the new management plan will enforce this regulation. The new plan also proposes relocating the recreational area of the refuge 15 miles north of its current location. The plan calls for assessments of commercial seafood enterprises and a “winding down” of operations over the next generation. The full draft will be released in October 2015 and will be open for public comments. A final rule is expected sometime next summer.
Former peanut company executive sentenced to 28 years for role in Salmonella outbreak
The former CEO of Peanut Corporation of America, Stewart Parnell, has been sentenced to 28 years in prison for his role in the company’s decision to knowingly ship Salmonella-infected peanuts and then cover up the decision with falsified reports and misinformation. His brother, Michael Parnell, who was a food-broker for the company, has been sentenced to 20 years in prison. Prosecutors alleged the company had been shipping tainted peanuts for years. The Centers for Disease Control reported that over the years, the company’s products had sickened 714 people in 46 states, of which 166 were hospitalized and nine of whom died. This is the longest sentenced ever given in connection with tainted food and the first time a food executive has been charged with federal conspiracy related to tainted food.
Ocean City Council votes to oppose offshore drilling and seismic surveying
On September 21, 2015, the Ocean City Council unanimously passed a bill stating the city opposes a plan to drill for oil and gas in the Atlantic. The bill also opposes seismic surveying, a method used to survey oil and gas prospects. An air gun releases compressed air at ten-second intervals for days at a time, emitting one of the loudest man-made noises. The sound is 100,000 times more intense than a jet engine taking off. The council was concerned with how this noise would affect the fisheries in the area. There is evidence the noise would scare away the wildlife, which could also negatively impact the tourism industry. In March, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management held a public meeting in Annapolis to present a proposal that would lease about 3 million acres off the mid-Atlantic Coast to future oil and gas exploration and drilling. It is estimated that the total oil available under the ocean in this area equals about 4 percent of the nation’s current reserves. The vote to oppose drilling and surveying has been well received by local fishing groups and environmental groups.
Congressman Harris introduces bipartisan estate tax reform bill
On Sept. 18th, Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland introduced a federal estate tax reform bill into the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill would reform the estate planning process to allow those anticipating owing estate taxes at their death to pay the taxes over their lifetime. The bill would create other measures to reduce the estate tax burden but remain revenue-neutral.