Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Rep. Simpson slashes environmental funding

Appropriations bill would impact grazing, endangered species


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, may not be a member of the congressional Gang of Six, but he has spent much of this week fighting for budget cuts. However, his cuts would mainly impact the federal agencies that oversee environmental regulations and public lands.

Simpson spent much of this week and last debating the Interior Appropriations Bill, which he helped draft, in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Simpson is chair of the Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, one of 12 subcommittees that write the federal budget for the House. The subcommittee drafts appropriations for the BLM, the Forest Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, among other agencies.

His appropriations bill reduces spending by 7 percent from 2011 levels, but has come under fire from environmentalists who say it could close wildlife refuges, eliminate jobs and reduce funding for climate change programs. The House Appropriations Committee passed the bill last week, but it must still be approved by the full House before passing to the Senate.

The program's biggest cuts are to the Environmental Protection Agency, whose funding has been cut by nearly a third since fiscal 2010. This year, Simpson's bill would cut the budget by 18 percent, resulting in a hiring freeze for employees and prohibiting regulation of animal emissions and farm dust.

National wildlife refuges saw a $37 million decrease from 2011 as part of a 21 percent cut to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

A statement from the National Wildlife Refuge Association states that the cuts will result in the closure of 140 wildlife refuges nationwide. Over 300 employees would be laid off due to lack of funding, the association said.

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Still, Simpson maintains that his bill is about saving and creating jobs.

"Every time I talk to ranchers, farmers and small-business owners in Idaho, they tell me that the vast number of regulations being proposed by the EPA has created so much uncertainty for them that they no longer feel like they can be proactive about growing their businesses," he said. "The EPA is the biggest wet blanket on our lagging economy."

The bill would prevent the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from using government funds to list endangered species under federal protection. The service is currently struggling under a backlog of more than 250 species that have been deemed in need of protection but cannot be listed due to lack of funding.

Two of the few increases came to the BLM's Range Management Program and the U.S. Forest Service's Grazing Management Program. These programs would receive $16 million and $10 million, respectively.

It would also allow grazing permits on BLM land to be transferred without triggering the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires that an environmental impact statement be filed before permit issuance or transfers.

Simpson said the purpose of this provision is to allow the agency to sort through a backlog of permit renewals over the course of five years.

Calls to the Idaho office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine the impact of these cuts on endangered species and grazing practices were not returned by press time Tuesday.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com

Other highlights

Simpson's bill would also do the following, if passed as proposed by the full Congress:

- Increase funding for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to hire new inspectors and increase offshore oil and gas permitting.

- Prevent the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions or implementing requirements for cooling water intakes at nuclear and other energy plants.

- Prevent the U.S. Forest Service from prohibiting domestic sheep grazing on the Payette National Forest, a measure that was implemented to protect bighorn sheep from respiratory disease.

- Allow the BLM to extend soon-to-expire grazing permits while it completes required environmental reviews for 10-year permit renewals.

- Require litigants to exhaust the administrative appeals process before bringing grazing issues to federal court.




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