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  • DC Insider: They are at it again

    Unelected bureaucrats are trying to restrict responsible OHV access once again.

    In 1964 Congress passed the Wilderness Act, which established the legal basis for designating federal public land as Wilderness. This important legislation was passed to protect the most pristine federal lands for future generations – certainly a noble endeavor.

    A Wilderness designation is one of the strictest forms of public land management. Once Congress designates an area as Wilderness, nearly all forms of non-pedestrian recreation are prohibited – including riding a bicycle or using a wheelbarrow. This is why, to prevent abuse, only Congress can create Wilderness.

    The AMA supports appropriate Wilderness designations that meet the criteria established by the 1964 law. Until recently, this rule was generally followed by federal land management agencies. However, as we have seen in recent years, federal agencies have increasingly attempted to limit access to public lands by creating new land-use designations that mirror Wilderness.

    However, these agencies are not seeking congressional approval to do so.

    On Dec. 22, 2010, former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed Secretarial Order 3310 creating a new land-use designation called "Wild Lands" that essentially allowed officials in the federal Bureau of Land Management to manage public land as if it had received a "Wilderness" land-use designation from Congress, but without requiring congressional approval. This new policy would have restricted responsible off-highway riding in the designated areas.

    When the "Wild Lands" policy first emerged, federal lawmakers called the policy a "land grab" and a blatant attempt to usurp congressional authority. The AMA agreed.  

    The AMA opposed the "Wild Lands" policy because it would restrict responsible OHV riding with little or no public input whatsoever. Fortunately, Congress asserted its authority and blocked the "Wild Lands" proposal by refusing to fund it.

    However, the fight did not end there.

    On Aug. 2, 2012, U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) announced that despite a lack of funding, Wild Lands had been reincarnated within the federal Department of the Interior. Instead of designating targeted land as Wild Lands, the DOI would label them as having “Wilderness characteristics.” This was the defining language used to describe the Department of the Interior's "Wild Lands" policy.

    This de facto resurrection of the Wild Lands policy was in violation of the congressional funding moratorium that prohibits the use of appropriated funds to implement, administer, or enforce Secretarial Order 3310.

    Senators and representatives from western states were opposed to the administrative attempts to circumvent Congress.

    "Even though these proposals have already been overwhelmingly rejected, the administration is attempting to administratively put these policies in place," Hatch said. "This proposal will give Washington bureaucrats more control over the lands in Utah and across the West. It's wrong, and the Interior Department needs to stop trying to keep the public off public lands."

    "This is a prime example of why Congress must exercise vigorous oversight," said House Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings. "The Wild Lands policy expressly circumvents Congress' statutory authority to establish Wilderness areas."

    Now an additional threat has emerged.

    The AMA recently noticed the National Parks Service introducing the concept of “semi-primitive areas.” According to a recent draft environmental impact statement, semi-primitive areas are “areas [where] visitors would experience a more natural setting with an opportunity for solitude away from roads…semi-primitive zone[s]…could be accessed by visitors using only nonmotorized means.”

    The BLM has a similar definition, though less restrictive – motorized uses are allowed but kept to a minimum to protect a natural looking environment with only subtle evidence of man-made structures.

    This sounds like Wilderness Lite to me.

    The AMA is concerned that this designation will be used to ultimately limit – or even end -- OHV use on public lands. In the DEIS cited above, the NPS has stated that its goal is to increase the level of funding for these semi-primitive and rural zones to make certain national parks a destination for non-motorized activities.

    Opponents of motorized recreation want to eliminate OHV use so that Wilderness characteristics can return to an area. If this happens, the agencies can then use language lifted from Secretarial Order 3310 to designate an area as having Wilderness characteristics. While the DOI has insisted this will not affect land-use within an area, this designation will be taken into account when designing future resource management plans and DEISs.

    This is another example of federal agencies trying to do an end run around Congress to limit OHV access. Wilderness designation, because of the strict limitations that accompany it, is supposed to be difficult to obtain. Designating areas as semi-primitive is one administrative step closer to designating the land as having Wilderness characteristics. In turn, this is one step closer to a de facto Wilderness designation.

    Because the restrictions in Wilderness are so great, only Congress should have the authority to designate it. What the agencies are trying to do is rule by administrative fiat, without utilizing public input.  

    The American Motorcyclist Association opposes all of these administrative land-use designations because they can restrict responsible OHV riding.

    Please join us in working together to defeat these proposals and any that are certain to follow. More members means more clout against our opponents, and your support will help the AMA fight for your rights – on the road, trail, racetrack, and in the halls of government. To join, go to AmericanMotorcyclist.com/membership/join.

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  • DC Insider: Risk of E15 misfueling may increase with federal program

    Last August, I posted a blog titled, “Paying from both ends to support ethanol.” It was about how the U.S. Department of Agriculture was subsidizing ethanol production from the start by providing grants to purchase special ethanol blender pumps.

    The blog post elicited several comments and I wanted to provide an update on the latest efforts of the AMA on the E15 front. E15 is a blend of gasoline that includes up to 15 percent ethanol by volume.

    On April 24, the AMA provided comments regarding grants and loans for the Agriculture Department’s Rural Energy for America Program’s renewable energy systems (e.g., special ethanol blender pumps).

    Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced in 2011 that the USDA intends to install 10,000 blender pumps by 2016. REAP will be a key component to achieve the secretary’s goal and, thus, help grow the availability of E15 fuel.

    These special ethanol blender pumps will further limit access to E10-or-less fuel in rural areas. This will be a problem because rural areas tend to have an older “legacy” vehicle fleet than other parts of the country. Moreover, rural areas are the most vulnerable places for motorcyclists and users of small engine devices because options for regular gasoline may be few or even non-existent.

    The REAP will help one segment of the rural economy at the cost of other segments. Ultimately, the higher costs will have a negative impact on small rural economies.

    These special ethanol blender pumps may increase misfueling by consumers. In fact, the EPA is concerned enough to issue a plan for retailers on its website’s “E15: Misfueling Mitigation Plans” page to try to avoid misfueling by consumers.

    The REAP grant and loan program to purchase special ethanol blender pumps will only worsen the possibility of misfueling by consumers.

    Like always, the AMA has you—the motorcyclist—in mind concerning the unproven effects of E15 fuel on your ride.

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  • DC Insider: April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month

    On April 23, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood released distraction guidelines that encourage automobile manufacturers to limit the distraction risk associated with electronic devices built into their vehicles. High-tech devices designed for communications, entertainment and navigation, known as “infotainment systems,” will, inevitably, increase distracted driving and add to the ever-increasing number of crashes and fatalities attributable to distracted and inattentive vehicle operation.

    The American Motorcyclist Association sent a letter on April 24 thanking LaHood for his actions regarding his ongoing efforts to combat distracted driving and shares his view that “Distracted driving is a deadly epidemic that has devastating consequences on our nation’s roadways.”

    Issued by the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the voluntary guidelines establish specific recommended criteria for electronic devices installed in vehicles at the time they are manufactured that require drivers to take their hands off the wheel or eyes off the road to use them.

    The guidelines recommend disabling several operations unless the vehicle is stopped and in “park,” such as:

    •    Manual text entry for the purposes of text messaging and internet browsing;
    •    Video-based entertainment and communications like video phoning or video conferencing;
    •    Display of certain types of text, including text messages, web pages, social media content.

    The AMA supports NHTSA efforts to curtail distracted driving, and agrees with LaHood that infotainment systems are a step in the wrong direction toward achieving safer highways for all users, especially motorcyclists.

    Driver, rider and pedestrian safety should never be compromised in the effort to introduce yet another technology distraction to an already overly distracting automobile cockpit.

    You can count on the AMA to keep fighting for you—the motorcyclist—on this important issue of safer highways for all users. 

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  • DC Insider: AMA receives response on new transportation safety office

    As promised, once the AMA received a response addressing our concerns regarding the new U.S. Department of Transportation’s Integrated Highway Safety Program Office (IHSPO), we would share it with you.

    In a conference call, officials from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration responded to our letter on behalf of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The officials said the idea behind the office will be a “synergy out of data” and will be a virtual office used as a clearinghouse to avoid duplicate data.

    This virtual safety office will be available for the Federal Highway Administration, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the NHTSA.

    However, the officials informed the AMA that the current budget for the NHTSA does not include funding for the IHSPO. They did inform us that the FMCSA does include $5 million in its budget for the safety office but it’s unclear what the $5 million would be used for.

    Therefore, it appears the DOT will have a new IHSPO soon!

    You can count on the AMA to continue to get more information on this new safety office and how it will affect you—the motorcyclist.

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  • DC Insider: Capture the moment; earn cash!

    The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials announced this week its ninth annual Faces of Transportation photography contest. The national competition is open to everyone and asks for photographs of people and projects that are making communities better, while emphasizing the importance of transportation.

    According to an AASHTO’s press release, the theme for this year's competition is "A Snapshot of Transportation in America," which includes three new categories: "Building the Future," "Opening Communities," and "Taking the Road Less Traveled." A total of five awards will be presented this year. A $125 cash prize will be awarded to the best photograph in each of the three categories. $500 cash prizes will be presented to the winners of both the People's Choice and the Best Overall Photograph awards.

    AASHTO strongly encourages every submission to prominently feature people designing, constructing, using, and enjoying the nation's transportation systems. All entries should represent the positive effects of all modes of transportation on individuals and communities. Photographs that include recognizable individuals must be accompanied with a model release form and, regardless of category, all photos must include a caption that describes the scene. Failure to meet these requirements may lead to disqualification.

    Riders, this is our time to represent the motorcycling community!

    All entries must be received by July 31. Judging will begin on Aug. 1 and end Aug. 31. The general public will vote for the People's Choice Award at the Faces of Transportation web site, www.facesoftransportation.org.

    The winners of the Faces of Transportation competition will be announced at the TransComm (AASHTO Subcommittee on Transportation Communications) annual meeting in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Sept. 9. Entry forms and contest rules are available at www.facesoftransportation.org.

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  • DC Insider: Is a new federal safety office in the works?

    In a word -- Yes.

    The administration’s fiscal 2014 budget proposal calls for the creation of a new Department of Transportation Integrated Highway Safety Program Office.

    According to the budget proposal, the office will “enable best practices in highway safety, and to streamline highway safety research and data collection and analysis, in order to reduce the paperwork burden of grantees and to enhance the Department’s approach to safety.”

    The AMA spotted this new nugget of information in the president’s budget and decided to send a letter to Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood to address our concerns.

    With the prevention of motorcycle crashes as the utmost priority of the AMA, we wanted to know how this new office will incorporate the safety concerns of motorcyclists? Will the office be a clearinghouse for existing research? Or, will it create an additional bureaucratic layer involving ongoing research (e.g., Federal Highway Administration’s crash causation study, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s naturalistic study)? Will this office initiate new research? How will the new office be accommodated in the DOT’s organizational chart? In addition, will it only incorporate research from agencies within DOT or include research from other federal and/or international agencies?

    Once the AMA receives a reply, we will be sure to share it with you—the rider!

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  • DC Insider: President's Budget Proposal Would Slash Trail Funding

    On April 10, President Barack Obama submitted his proposed budget for fiscal 2014 to Congress. One proposed cut could be disastrous for motorized trail users.  

    Buried in the 1,377-page document is one-half of a page pertaining to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Capital Improvement and Maintenance program. The program funds improvements, maintenance and the operation of U.S. Forest Service roads, trails and recreation support facilities, such as buildings. For fiscal 2014, the CIM has added activities previously conducted under the Legacy Roads and Trails program.

    Even with the added activities, under the fiscal 2014 budget proposal, the CIM program would be cut by $67.7 million from the annual spending levels of fiscal 2013.

    The proposed cut is particularly disturbing in light of the Forest Service’s recent work on off-highway vehicle travel management plans. That is, it will need increased funding so critical maintenance programs are not cut. As these plans were developed, local Forest Service staff repeatedly told OHV enthusiasts that they lacked sufficient funding to maintain existing trails, provide trailhead facilities or to even inventory existing trails.  

    Furthermore, funding for good trail design, construction and maintenance are essential to meeting the Obama administration’s stated goals of erosion control, watershed health and forest restoration.

    In light of all this, why is the president asking the Forest Service to do more with less?

    The OHV enthusiast community has done all it can to assist the Forest Service in funding trails. In addition to consistently asking Congress to provide adequate appropriations, enthusiasts also support the federal Recreational Trails Program and state-level motorized trail programs that provide non-Forest Service funding for trails. The OHV community even supported the Forest Service’s controversial Recreation Fee program for the sake of getting badly needed funds for trail needs. But it is incumbent on the agency to seek and provide a reasonable level of funding for trails in its own budget.  

    Both the House and the Senate have already passed separate budget resolutions. As the chambers begin the process of reconciliation, the AMA will keep you updated on how you can tell your senators and representatives know how important the CIM and well-maintained and inventoried trails are to you.

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  • DC Insider: Not In My Backyard

    Now that spring has finally arrived I have the urge to leave the office, house, and cold-weather hangouts to go get some fresh air. I am not alone – many Americans enjoy getting out and enjoying nature.  Sometimes this involves an engine and other times it does not. However, our ability to leave the beaten path and experience nature is constantly threatened at the local, state and, especially, at the federal level.

    Two recent events in Washington, D.C., prove my point.

    First, in early April the federal administration unilaterally declared five new national monuments. Few will disagree that our nation has a rich history that must be preserved. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries areas of great archeological and cultural importance were disappearing at an alarming rate. To prevent this loss, Congress passed the Antiquities Act. The act gave the president the authority to designate an area as a national monument so federal protections could quickly be enforced.

    Fast forward to today. Instead of using the act to preserve areas that face rapid degradation, the executive branch (both sides of the aisle are guilty) uses the broad powers granted under the Antiquities Act to create new monuments that fall outside the original intent of the law. As a result, management policies for huge tracts of public land may change overnight, oftentimes without any input from local stakeholders. The result can create negative economic and social consequences for local communities.

    Currently, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) is attempting to resolve this imbalance in power between the executive and legislative branch by requiring that all new national monument designations obtain congressional approval. If his proposal passes, local communities – through their elected representatives and senators in Washington -- will get a voice in the designation of any new national monuments. 

    Second, Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) introduced a bill to designate 23 million acres of land in the Rockies as Wilderness. The reasoning for introducing the bill, H.R.1187, is to protect the natural habitat of the Rockies. Their intentions are noble, but their methods are certainly misguided. What they do not understand is that proper land management is more effective at protecting the environment, social and cultural values and local economies than closing off millions of acres of land to almost all activities, including motorized recreation.

    Since the sponsors do not even represent the area in question – a geographic area the size of Indiana – they cannot realistically consider the effects the legislation would have on hundreds of communities in the area. If the bill becomes law, thousands of residents would wake up and find their favorite activities are no longer permitted because a Wilderness designation is so stringent that even bicycles and wheelbarrows are not be permitted.  

    I, too, believe in protecting our nation’s valuable resources for generations to come. I also think Rep. Maloney has the perfect opportunity to do. Since she represents a portion of New York City, I urge her to act locally and introduce legislation that would designate Central Park as a Wilderness area. I can almost guarantee this will never happen (nor would I want it to) because of the adverse economic and social effects.

    The actions of Rep. Maloney and others prove that many are willing to support legislation that affect others, but would rarely support the same policies in their own backyard.

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  • DC Insider: House panel passes E15 bill

    On April 11, the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, chaired by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), held a session to make changes to H.R. 875, which is a bill that would repeal the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s waiver decision related to E15 fuel (gasoline containing up to 15 percent ethanol), and the authority of the agency to grant further decisions in the matter, until the EPA seeks an independent scientific analysis of the effects of E15.

    During the session, called a markup, the committee adopted several technical amendments offered by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.). The bill, introduced by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), then passed by a vote of 18-17. See how the committee members voted.

    “Time and again, we see instances where American businesses are unnecessarily harmed by the EPA’s regulatory and political agenda,” said Smith. “Mr. Sensenbrenner’s E15 bill is backed by both the American Petroleum Institute and the Environmental Working Group, two organizations that do not agree often. It is also supported by the American Automobile Association (AAA), as well as groups representing everyone from snowmobilers to boaters to motorcyclists.”

    In fact, this bill is supported by a broad spectrum of 35 organizations. The organizations, which include the American Motorcyclist Association, sent a letter of support to Sensenbrenner.

    “After examining the basis for the EPA to grant its waiver decisions in 2010 and 2011 to allow the introduction of E15 fuel, it is clear to me that this decision was wrong, rushed and based on incomplete science,” said Sensenbrenner.  “Numerous tests and warnings highlight the harmful effects of E15 fuel blends on engines and their components, but they have all been dismissed by the EPA.  Therefore, we must force the EPA to stop the use of E15 fuel as we cannot responsibly allow the approval of mid-level ethanol blends until the serious safety, fuel efficiency, engine damage and environmental concerns are addressed.”

    To view an archive webcast of the markup, go to http://science.house.gov/markup/full-committee-markup-hr.

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  • DC Insider: Health Insurance Discrimination – Are you covered?

    My dad always told me, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” When you’re young, you don’t really get it. What is there to prevent? What could possibly happen to you? You’re invincible, right? It’s not your intention to tempt fate; it’s just a normal part of being young. We all have moments though, when we are abruptly woken from our youthful dreamland and reality hits us like a freight train.

    As the first week’s theme of Freedom Friday --“Health-Insurance Discrimination”-- comes to a close, I was reminded of just such an incident that forever changed the life of a friend of mine. It was the weekend of July 4th in Salt Lake City several years ago. My friend and her new beau were on his motorcycle, enjoying their second date. As they were leaving the fireworks display they had just attended they were hit from behind on the freeway. The couple was thrown from his motorcycle. My friend hit the asphalt with such force that it actually shook her right out of her helmet and left her unconscious in the middle of the freeway. Somehow in the ensuing chaos, her brave beau, ran back into traffic and pulled her to safety. While this action prevented her from being hit by oncoming traffic, she was seriously injured. She was rushed to a local hospital and surgery was performed. Her life was spared.

    As fate would have it, this young couple later married and recently welcomed their first child.

    While this story has a happy ending, my friend faced a challenging recovery and expensive hospital bill. Being a single young woman, working as a waitress part-time, she didn’t have health insurance. The driver who hit them fled the scene. He was never apprehended.

    As adults, we are cautious and take measures to prevent situations like this. But what if you thought you had done everything you could do to protect yourself and found out too late that you were wrong?  The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was meant to protect workers from being denied health-care coverage based on their participation in legal activities such as motorcycle riding. Unfortunately, the intent of Congress was reversed when rules were written to implement the law. As a result, health-insurance benefit discrimination against motorcyclists and others continues.

    Do you know that you are covered if injured while riding, or do you just think you are?

    Don’t find out too late. Make sure to read the “Exceptions” section of your health insurance plan’s benefits. This will tell you exactly what your plan won’t cover. It’s better to be certain before something happens than to find out as a result of an accident. The AMA has been fighting health-insurance discrimination for years and is now on Capitol Hill lobbying to change the law so that this form of discrimination no longer exists. In the meantime, being prepared and exercising some prevention will protect you from the panic that comes from trying to figure out the cure.

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