Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Simpson aims to limits EPA oversight

Appropriations bill would overturn court decision

Express Staff Writer

Idaho congressmen are attempting to further reduce the power of the Environmental Protection Agency in the latest version of a congressional appropriations bill, limiting its power to regulate pollution caused by the logging industry.

Rep. Mike Simpson and Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, all R-Idaho, included a provision in both the House and Senate versions of the consolidated appropriations bill that would overturn a federal court case. The consolidated appropriations bill is awaiting a hearing in the House Appropriations Committee.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in August 2010 that runoff from logging roads, which is diverted by culverts and ditches into nearby streams, is point-source pollution that must be regulated by the agency in compliance with the Clean Water Act. Prior to the decision, runoff was managed under state, not federal, law. According to a Simpson press release, the court's ruling would increase litigation on federal forests.

"[The] decision would devastate the forest industry in the Northwest," Simpson said in a press release. "This language is a simple but important fix to a misguided and problematic decision, providing the industry with needed certainty and allowing the EPA's long-standing policy on forest roads to stand."

The bill also reduces funding for the EPA by nearly 6 percent from a budget request from President Barack Obama. The program has been reduced by nearly $2 billion in fiscal 2011, and further cuts are expected in the next appropriations bill.

The bill would reduce funding for enforcement of EPA regulations, including $4.6 million from the EPA's proposed greenhouse-gas regulation program.

"We have reined in EPA spending in significant ways, bringing fiscal sanity back to the way the agency operates," Simpson said.

The bill also includes a prohibition on funding for the BLM's wild lands designation, which would have identified BLM land in need of special protection.

While only Congress can protect land under the Wilderness Act, wild lands would have been considered for protection on a similar level through a lengthy public process. However, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar rescinded the order that allowed the BLM to make such a designation in June after the decision came under fire from the Idaho congressional delegation and members of the Idaho Legislature. The lawmakers said the secretary did not have the authority to allow an entity other than Congress to create new land-use designations.

Simpson spokeswoman Nikki Watts said the prohibition in this year's appropriations bill had been carried over from last year's bill.

Katherine Wutz:

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