No relief expected from EPA overreach

Jul 13, 2012

U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-ID, says he does not expect the full House of Representatives to soon consider an appropriations act that reins in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) “overreaching” regulations and contains provisions essential for preserving reasonable livestock grazing access on public lands.

Simpson chairs the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, which recently voted out of committee the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for FY2013, which he supports. The bill’s provisions include $1.4 billion in cuts to EPA’s budget.

It strikes an appropriate balance between resource management, resource protection and resource enjoyment while addressing federal budget challenges, Simpson says.

Other provisions include allowing livestock to be moved or “trailed” to grazing allotments on public lands without unneeded environmental reviews, enabling the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service to permanently renew expired grazing permits while focusing environmental reviews on the most sensitive areas and extending 10-year grazing permits to 20 years “for ranchers doing a good job of following provisions of grazing permits,” Simpson told the Western Livestock Journal (WLJ).

The bill also requires litigants to exhaust the administrative appeals process before going to federal court on grazing issues. Simpson says he is concerned the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) has become “a slush fund for wealthy extremists in search of taxpayer funding of their unending and often frivolous lawsuits.”

The act directs the U.S. Department of the Interior, the EPA and the Forest Service to provide the appropriations committee with detailed information regarding EAJA payments and make that information available to the public.

Simpson told WLJ he expects the committee-passed measure will not go before the full House for vote, but rather go to a House and Senate conference. Their compromise most likely will then be rolled into an omnibus bill with other appropriations by Oct. 1, the start of the 2013 fiscal year—similar to the previous year’s process.

However, funding for federal programs at existing levels most likely will remain under a continuing resolution until the first of the year, depending on the outcome of November’s presidential election, he said.

The Interior/Environment appropriations act keeps language from previous years to allow BLM and the Forest Service to catch up on grazing permits, Simpson said. Otherwise, ranchers facing lawsuits sometimes must go through a National Environmental Policy Act process and do Environmental Assessments to extend their permits. “That makes it doubly expensive,” Simpson said.

He mentioned the Democrat-controlled Senate and the Obama administration last year opposed provisions contained in the act.

Many members on his appropriations subcommittee are concerned with EPA’s “overreach,” writing rules and regulations beyond the scope of Congress’ original intentions, he said. “The EPA is the most active regulatory body in government. Most of us believe it’s costing America jobs for questionable benefits.”

Since Simpson took over chairmanship of the Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee two years ago, annual funding for agencies under the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Act has been trimmed from $32 billion to $28 billion.

The House Appropriations Committee recently marked up the act, which cuts $1.2 billion, or 17 percent, from the current fiscal year’s level. The bill continues a cap on EPA’s personnel at the lowest amount since 1992, cuts the EPA administrator’s office by more than 30 percent, slashes the EPA congressional affairs office by 50 percent, rescinds specific unobligated grant and contract funding, and makes other reductions to agency programs.

“The biggest complaint I hear about the federal government is how the EPA is creating economic uncertainty and killing jobs,” Simpson said. “The EPA’s overly aggressive regulatory agenda and large budgets are signs of an agency that has lost its bearings. Throughout the Obama administration, the EPA has seen the largest funding increases in this bill, so it should come as no surprise that they are experiencing the largest cuts.”

The act also includes a provision exempting certain agricultural activities from greenhouse gas reporting. Under the guise of protecting the environment, EPA has imposed millions of dollars in penalties via unreasonable regulations, Simpson said.

“If we really want to do something about the national deficit, we need to get our economy going again. Unfortunately, the EPA is the wet blanket that is preventing small businesses, farmers and ranchers from investing in their businesses and creating jobs.”

During the House Appropriations Committee’s consideration of the bill, Simpson offered an amendment that removed language related to the Forest Service’s management of conflicts between bighorn sheep and domestic sheep. He said he plans to work toward a less controversial and more collaborative solution that does not threaten bighorn sheep or put ranching families out of business. — Mark Mendiola, WLJ correspondent