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The Energy 202: Controversial fishing bill divides anglers and environmentalists

with Paulina Firozi


Recreational fishermen are applauding and environmentalists are decrying a proposed overhaul to a 1976 fishing law credited with regrowing fish populations off the nation’s coasts.

Largely along a party-line vote, the House greenlit the measure seeking to amend what is known as the Magnuson-Stevens Act late last week. 

Under the current law, regional councils delineate seasons and set catch limits for fishermen — all so fish stocks can be sustained from year to year.

The House bill seeks to cede more control to these local groups in developing recovery plans when populations dip too low. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), who sponsored both this recent bill and the original 1976 law, said the update ensures “a proper balance between the biological needs of fish stocks and the economic needs of fishermen.”

For example, when a species is deemed “overfished,” current law requires the regional councils to develop a plan to rebuild the population that often involves placing new short-term and, at times, financially painful catch limits on fishermen. The law requires the plans to try to resuscitate the fishery as quickly as possible — in 10 years or fewer.

Critics of the current system say that time requirement is too unyielding. Instead, the House bill gives councils, which are part of the Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service, the discretion to base the time frame on “the biology of the stock of fish.”

But many conservation groups and House Democrats said Young’s bill would gut the very fisheries law he helped author four decades ago which they say has proven successful at stymieing the once rampant overfishing of some fish populations.

“The bottom line with this Magnuson reauthorization is this: The law is working as intended,” Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources subcommittee on oceans, said on the floor. “Reauthorization is important but it shouldn't come at the expense of the law's core provisions that have made it so successful.”

The Magnuson-Stevens Act was amended and reauthorized in 1996 and then again 10 years later, each time largely with bipartisan support. “What’s atypical is how partisan this has become,” said Meredith Moore, director of the fish conservation program at the Ocean Conservancy.

Speaking on the House floor, Young acknowledged how bitterly divided the chamber was over re-upping a relatively low-profile fisheries law.

“I know some of my colleagues will say I didn’t do enough to ensure the act retains a strong bipartisan nature,” Young said.

The longest-serving member of the House then recalled that his original bill passed committee in the 1970s with scant Democratic support.

In addition to dividing Democrats and Republicans, the legislation also reveals a divide between commercial and recreational fishermen.

The bill was commended by some regional seafood industry groups, who in a letter organized by the National Coalition for Fishing Communities last month lauded the bill for creating “flexibility without compromising conservation.” The bill is backed by many boating and sportsmen groups, too.

But business support is not universal. Some representatives of commercial fishers, including the Seafood Harvesters of America, oppose the legislation for holding hobbyist anglers to looser standards when compared to professional fishermen.

“Very simply,” said Christopher Brown, the organization’s president, “it erodes what has been working.”

As with so many pieces of legislation passed by the GOP-dominated House, the bill will have a tough time becoming law in its current form. Fifteen House Republicans  voted against the measure. Republicans, who hold the Senate by a narrow 51-to-49 majority, have even fewer votes to spare there in the upper chamber.

The office of Dan Sullivan, Young’s fellow Alaska Republican who chairs the Senate Commerce subcommittee for fisheries, said the senator “looks forward to pursuing a Senate version of [Magnuson-Stevens Act] reauthorization legislation and working out differences” with the House bill.


— A “stabilizing force”: New acting Environmental Protection Agency administrator Andrew Wheeler told the Wall Street Journal in an interview that he wants “to be a stabilizing force” as he takes over the agency plagued by his predecessor’s scandals. His first few weeks have in part been marked by a change in tone since the transition. In addition to doing interviews with reporters, the "first three legislators he reached were Democrats, and he pledged to go to more meetings and hearings on Capitol Hill to repair a relationship that deteriorated under" former administrator Scott Pruitt, according to the Journal. Wheeler added: "I’m not going to get lasting changes in programs by just talking to my friends."

A new Politico/Morning Consult poll found 64 percent supported Pruitt’s decision to resign. Just 9 percent said Pruitt’s conduct was appropriate, compared with 57 percent who said it was inappropriate.


— Elon and his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad weekend:

  • Over the weekend, Salon and The Hill reported that the Tesla chief executive donated $38,900 to a Republican-allied PAC, according to Federal Election Commission filings, to keep the GOP in control of Congress. “Musk's contributions were startling considering his politics" on climate change, per Salon. In response, Musk tweeted that it was “categorically false” that he should be called a Republican megadonor and posted a note of support from liberal group the Sierra Club that touted his climate advocacy.
  • Last week, before 12 boys and their coach were rescued from a flooded cave in Thailand, Musk was in the country attempting to deploy a miniature submarine into the cave to help with the recovery — a trip many said was opportunistic. Among those critics was a British spelunker named Vernon Unsworth, who called Musk’s submarine a “PR stunt.” Musk then responded by accusing the cave diver of a sex crime without providing any evidence in a series of now deleted tweets.

— Oil price spike not pinching economy: In its latest report to members of Congress, the Federal Reserve said the economy is growing even with sharply rising oil prices and growing trade tensions. “Higher oil prices now imply much less of a net overall drag on the economy than they did in the past,” the Fed said in the report, per The Post’s Heather Long, adding the Fed noted there is more oil production in the United States, a benefit of the higher prices. “The negative effect of upward moves in oil prices should get smaller still as U.S. oil production grows and net oil imports decline further.”

Even so, Trump is weighing another emergency move on oil: President Trump is reportedly considering selling off some of the nation’s emergency stockpile of crude oil in an attempt to alleviate concerns about high gasoline prices. “No decision has been made to release crude from the 660-million-barrel stockpile, known as the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, but options under review range from a 5-million-barrel test sale to release of 30 million barrels,” Bloomberg News reports. “An even larger release is possible it were to be coordinated with other nations.”

Meanwhile: Iran’s representative to Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries called on Trump to avoid such a move to lower prices, and instead shift the administration’s policy on sanction’s against the country, per Bloomberg.

— The oil giant that was "forced to shrink to greatness": Oil giant BP has largely survived following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout. Robert Dudley, who took charge of the company, told The Post’s Steven Mufson that BP, previously known as British Petroleum, has “transformed itself” into a “tighter, more compact company than it was.” Mufson details some of the view’s of Dudley’s takeover and the eight years since the oil spill. 

  • Dudley has “turned out to be a more commanding figure than a lot of people initially thought,” said J. Robinson West, managing director of the Boston Consulting Group’s Center for Energy Impact. “The entire organization was really in bad shape. Utterly traumatized. Bob got them to take a deep breath and start moving forward.”
  • “The rest of the industry tried to paint BP as the black, noncompliant sheep of the Big Oil family,” said Michael Bromwich, appointed in 2010 as the top offshore drilling safety regulator under President Barack Obama. “That was its way of arguing that company-specific rather than industry-wide reforms were called for. We disagreed with that line of argument, and independent studies exposed it as nonsense.”
  • “BP is producing about 3.6 million barrels of oil and oil equivalent a day, about 10 percent less than before the Deepwater Horizon incident but more than most members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries,” Mufson writes. “Moreover, BP’s output was up 10 percent last year and is expected to keep rising.”
  • Still, the legacy of the spill lives on: There are lawsuits that continue over the spill, with 300 claims over economic damages.

— Once a “perfect machine": ExxonMobil is not making as much money as it once did, one of a number of struggles it now faces, the Wall Street Journal reports. While the oil giant has vowed to increase its oil and gas output, there has been no such shift. Exxon's four million barrels a day is “no higher today than it was after its merger with Mobil" in 1999, per the Journal. “Under former CEO Rex Tillerson, Exxon bet big hunting for oil in risky, expensive locales like the Russian Arctic,” according to the report. “But as oil prices fell, those projects didn’t pay off the way Exxon had hoped."


California’s climate plan: As the state continues to warm, there are plans in place to restore floodplains by planting trees, shrubs and grasses in low land in between levees as a way to help protect the state from inundating floods. “Researchers say it is unclear whether climate change will make California drier or wetter on average,” the New York Times reports. “What is more certain is that the state will increasingly whipsaw between extremes, with drier dry years, wetter wet ones and a rising frequency of intense periods of precipitation.” State water officials say they’re working on “upward of 20 or 30” projects, per the report.



  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a legislative hearing Tuesday to examine the Endangered Species Act Amendments of 2018.
  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing Tuesday to “examine the Department of the Interior’s final list of critical minerals.”
  • The House Oversight Subcommittee on the Interior, Energy and Environment holds a hearing on Tuesday on tribal energy resources. 
  • The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy holds a hearing Wednesday on “The Role of Energy Storage in the Nation’s Electricity System.”
  • The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management holds a hearing on “Recovering from 2017 Disasters and Preparing for the 2018 Hurricane Season” on Wednesday.