Livestock groups hail passage of omnibus package

Dec 23, 2011
by WLJ

Public lands permit owners dodged a bullet last week when Congress passed the omnibus that includes a two-year extension on the current federal lands grazing permit regulation.

The signing of a $915 billion omnibus spending bill to fund the federal government through September 2012 passed Congress on Dec. 17, much to the relief of several ag groups.

The heavily debated legislation that makes long-sought changes to government policy and funding levels for fiscal year 2012 passed by a vote of 67-32.

The omnibus funds the departments of Defense, Education, Energy, Homeland Security, Labor, Health and Human Services, Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency, among other agencies.

The House and Senate negotiated the $1 trillion omnibus to combine the nine remaining appropriations bills through the end of the fiscal year 2012.

Dustin Van Liew, Public Lands Council (PLC) executive director and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) director of federal lands, commended lawmakers for including critical policy provisions related to livestock grazing as well as greenhouse gas reporting requirements in the spending bill. He said PLC and NCBA encourage President Obama to waste no time in signing the bill into law.

Specifically, Van Liew pointed to a two-year extension of a provision to allow federal lands grazing permit renewals, despite a backlog of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reviews, and a provision to allow grazing permits to be transferred without undergoing a NEPA analysis as long as the permit remains under current terms and conditions.

“This commonsense grazing provision will continue to provide livestock producers relief from the

uncertainty and instability of the federal lands grazing permit renewal process,” Van Liew said.

“Livestock producers face a constant threat of environmental activists filing lawsuits to end grazing on federal lands. We commend Congress for taking a critical step to providing stability to the federal grazing permit process while also ensuring federal lands ranchers are able to continue producing safe, wholesome beef and lamb.”

In addition to the grazing language, Van Liew said language was included to exempt the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from environmental law, litigation and regulation until the agency is able to complete environmental reviews of livestock trailing and crossing permits, the issuance of which is crucial to many ranchers on federal lands. He said the omnibus will also prohibit the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) from using funds to reduce domestic sheep grazing due to management for bighorn sheep unless the management is consistent with a state wildlife plan, which Van Liew said is a “tremendous victory” for the sheep industry and the rural west.

Ashley Lyon, NCBA deputy environmental counsel, said overzealous regulators at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who do not understand production agriculture have attempted to advance regulations that would harm America’s farmers and ranchers. She said the omnibus spending bill will prohibit EPA from requiring livestock operations to obtain permits for emissions of greenhouse gases. She said the bill also will prohibit EPA from requiring reporting of greenhouse gas emissions from manure management systems.

Finally, Van Liew hailed Congress for including report language requiring EPA, USFS and BLM to report fees paid by the agencies through the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA).

“Initial studies have shown that millions of taxpayer dollars are being paid annually to wealthy special interest litigants. This is the first step to bringing ac countability and transparency to EAJA,” Van Liew said. “We encourage President Obama to sign the omnibus immediately.”

While this piece of legislation added to the omnibus is a relief to ag groups, some congress members voiced strong opposition against the entire document.

“Here we are again, a bill 1,221 pages long. Not one member of this committee has read of—of this body has read…1,221 pages representing $915 billion of the taxpayers’ money,” Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, said on the Senate floor. “It’s outrageous. I have amendments to save the taxpayers billions of dollars as associated with this bill. But never mind because we’re going to go home for Christmas.”

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, said the passage of this spending bill is a “failure” for the American people.

The vote was expected to be the last vote in the Senate for this year. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor