Thursday, February 24, 2011

Public Lands Council: Block 'Wild Lands' designation

From the Public Lands Council:

The Public Lands Council (PLC) Executive Director Dustin Van Liew said blocking funds to implement the Department of the Interior’s “Wild Lands” Secretarial Order 3310 (the Order) and halting payments authorized under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) are encouraging signs members of the U.S. House of Representatives are listening to the concerns of public lands ranchers. These funding limitations were attached to H.R. 1, a continuing resolution (CR) approved by the U.S. House of Representatives to fund the federal government through the end of the fiscal year. The CR has now moved to the Senate for consideration.

Last month, PLC submitted a letter to Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar voicing opposition to the Order, which directs the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to designate areas with wilderness characteristics under its jurisdiction as “Wild Lands” and to manage them to “protect” their wilderness values.

“Shifting the BLM’s focus from multiple-use management to management for wilderness characteristics, as the Order would do, presents a threat to the longstanding multiple-use activities on public lands, including livestock grazing,” Van Liew said. “The Order would have far-reaching negative effects on public lands ranchers and the communities that rely on a thriving ranching industry. The administration should not be allowed to make decisions of such magnitude without getting input from local stakeholders or Congress’ consent.”

With regard to EAJA, Van Liew also said Representative Cynthia Lummis’ (R-Wyo.) amendment is a win for livestock producers.

“For years, radical environmental extremists have abused EAJA to fund petty lawsuits designed to bring down the public lands livestock grazing industry and other multiple-use industries,” Van Liew said. “As it stands, ranchers impacted by these suits must pay crippling legal fees to defend their land, business or way of life against the lawsuit. At the very same time, their own hard-earned money is being used to help pay the attorney fees for the very groups attacking them. It’s a true injustice.”

The Lummis amendment would put a six-month moratorium on all payments from EAJA to give Congress the time to study the issue and make necessary changes. Van Liew added that, while there has been no real oversight of EAJA, the cost to taxpayers reportedly exceeds $37 million in payments to radical environmental groups, many whose net worth exceeds $50 million.

“While the CR is not a done deal and still faces tests in the Senate before it can be sent to the President, it is encouraging that the House has included these two critical funding limitations,” Van Liew said, “PLC encourages the Senate to retain both the block on funding to implement the Order as well as the halt on EAJA payments.”

The PLC's partner organization, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, also applauds the House's amendment to deprive the Environmental Protection Agency of funding to regulate dust and impose Total Maximum Daily Load regulations on states around the Chesapeake Bay. States Colin Woodall, the NCBA's vice president of governmental affairs:

“I hope the activists turned government officials at the Environmental Protection Agency were listening to the very clear signal sent by the U.S. House of Representatives that enough is enough. Our elected leaders are growing weary of defending this agency that appears to be determined to put farmers and ranchers out of business. Burdensome, job stifling regulations are never a good thing. But when you have a struggling economy on the verge of a rebound, government overreach is definitely not a way to stimulate job growth and economic recovery. On behalf of U.S. cattlemen and women, I commend Representatives Kristi Noem (R-S.D.), Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) for leading the charge against overregulation and in support of economic growth in rural America and throughout the country.

“As a cattle rancher, Rep. Noem understands that dust is a part of farming and ranching. It seems like a no-brainer but apparently EPA officials haven’t stepped off the city sidewalks lately. We are thankful Rep. Noem’s commonsense and knowledge of the agricultural industry prevailed in the House over attempts to regulate family farmers and ranchers out of business. Regulating dust on a farm or ranch is like regulating flour in a bakery. Quite simply, it is ridiculous. Almost every farm and ranch in the country would be found noncompliant for going about their everyday activities ranging from driving a truck on a gravel road or moving cattle from one lot to the next. We all need to stop and question EPA’s motives since it is well known that scientific studies have never shown, whatsoever, that agricultural dust at ambient levels causes health concerns.

“Representatives Goodlatte and Rooney, both from states where agriculture is extremely important, understand the need for peer reviewed science before you impose regulations that would cause for sale signs to become a frequent occurrence on farms and ranchers across the country. Rep. Goodlatte’s amendment to stop funding for EPA to implement its TMDL rule for the Chesapeake Bay, which is based on flawed scientific assumptions, could also prevent the model from becoming a template for other watersheds. EPA’s data was even proven inaccurate by another agency in the same administration. One would think that contradiction would encourage EPA to take another look. Rep. Rooney’s amendment would protect cattle producers in Florida from EPA’s extremely detrimental, scientifically indefensible nutrient criteria rule. Both of these rules, if implemented, will cost cattle producers millions of dollars in compliance costs, financially devastate state economies and erase thousands of jobs.

“We hope these amendments don’t stop with the U.S. House of Representatives. We urge the Senate to follow suit if they plan to stop government overreach and job stifling regulations.”

Van Liew told me yesterday his organization has reached out to senators about the "Wild Lands" designation, adding that Western senators have voiced concerns about the program. He noted several letters written to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, including one from the Idaho delegation and another from the Western Caucus.

"We're optimistic that the Senate will be on board with both of these issues," Van Liew told me. "Specifically our Western senators have voiced opposition to the Wild Lands order. The EAJA funding is a little less certain at this point, but they do from the West on the Senate side realize there's an issue there.

"We need to have a period where Congress can look into the payments -- the amount of payments, where they're going and how that fits in with the overall budget concerns for the country," he said.

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