GUEST opinion

Aug 5, 2011
by WLJ

Improve public lands management, end frivolous lawsuits

As every single rancher who lives west of the Mississippi River knows, our nation’s leading environmental laws have evolved from species and resource protection acts at their inception to land and water control acts today. Regrettably, this evolution of well-intended legislation has resulted in a federal public land management regime that places the opinions of untrained judges above those of trained land managers.

For too long, Congress has sat idly by watching as the courts transform federal laws away from what Congress intended and toward an ideology that abhors multiple-uses and openly states its desire to move both livestock and anything with wheels off of public lands. It is time Congress restores balance to the management of public lands, and that is exactly what I am trying to do in the Interior and Environment Appropriations Act for next year.

As chairman, I have tried to write a bill that restores some of that balance as early as this fall and creates an incentive for varied interests to negotiate new reforms to laws such as the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA).

These laws are long overdue for update and reauthorization, yet those reforms are not viable because one side of the discussion, congressional Democrats and their allies, have no reason to come to the table. Simply put, the status quo works just fine for them because the status quo leads to increasingly restrictive management of public lands through the courts.

For those of us who are concerned about the constant drain of taxpayer dollars through endless litigation and the impact that litigation has on the ability of public land managers to do their job, the status quo is unacceptable and must change.

With that in mind, I would like to highlight just a few of the many provisions I have included in the Interior and Environment bill that I believe help improve management of public lands and restore balance to the way in which public lands are utilized and enjoyed. Those provisions include:

• A five-year extension of a grazing rider that allows the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to extend existing grazing permits while they complete environmental work on 10-year renewals;

• A provision allowing the BLM to transfer permits under the same conditions without triggering the NEPA process;

• The elimination of funding for any new listings under the ESA or new designations of critical habitat;

• A provision exempting the process of trailing from NEPA requirements for the next five years;

• A provision requiring litigants to exhaust the administrative appeals process before litigating in federal courts on grazing issues;

• A provision requiring the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Forest Service, and Department of Justice to report to the Appropriations Committee detailed information on any EAJA payments and to make that information publicly available; • Provision blocking the EPA from implementing new greenhouse gas emission regulations, prohibiting a change in the definition of navigable waterways, and clarifying that aquatic pesticides are not subject to duplicative regulation under the Clean Water Act.

In addition, provisions added during full committee consideration of the bill include one that prevents the EPA from regulating animal emissions of ammonia under the Clean Air Act and another that stops the EPA from attempting to regulate farm dust.

I am well aware that my advocacy of these provisions will result in charges that I am “gutting the environment” or doing the bidding of “special interests.”

To the contrary, I want to protect the environment and the sustainability of our nation’s public lands, but I want to do so in a way that promotes the utilization of those lands for multiple uses and ends the costly and destructive consequences of managing federal lands through the courts.

Further, I hope that this bill serves notice that our nation’s underlying public land management bills must be reformed, reauthorized, and refocused on the actual management of public lands and the variety of uses they are expected to accommodate.

These bills must no longer be vehicles for litigious special interests to control land and water and promote an agenda that seeks an end to the use of public land for activities like grazing or motorized recreation.

Toward that end, I am working with House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings with the expectation that his committee will bring forward bills to reauthorize laws like the ESA in a way that restores balance to the management of our nation’s public lands, appropriately protects at-risk species and natural resources, and clarifies the role of the courts in future land and species management decisions.

It is my hope that the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and its members will be an active and forceful voice in the process of updating and reforming federal laws. I hope you’ll take every opportunity to provide me with your input and share that input with Chairman Hastings as well. — U.S. Representative Mike Simpson, R-ID