WASHINGTON (Dec. 11, 2014) – Today, with a vote of 219 to 206 the House passed a trillion dollar omnibus spending package to fund the government through the next year. The Senate is expected to take up the measure soon and with large bipartisan support in the House, all indications are that the bill will pass.
Brenda Richards, Public Lands Council president, commended lawmakers for including critical policy provisions and funding levels for the land management agencies.
“The Public Lands Council remained very active during the development of the bill, making sure lawmakers understood the priorities of ranchers and the impact these decisions could have on the west,” said Richards, a rancher from Idaho. “There are several victories for ranchers in the package, including language that prohibits a sage grouse listing, a decision that could have devastating impacts on the ranching families in the West.”
The bill not only prohibits funding for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act, but also includes $15 million within the Bureau of Land Management budget for sage grouse conservation, continuing the efforts already underway to protect the species and its habitat; helping to prevent a future listing.
The range/grazing management budgets for the BLM and U.S. Forest Service will both remain level with the Fiscal year 14 allocations, providing the necessary resources for the agencies to continue working through the backlog of NEPA analysis and respond to litigation pressure being brought by radical environmental groups. These allocations run contrary to the President’s proposal to drastically reduce funding for the federal range programs.
Congress addressed the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers’ detrimental “waters of the United States” proposal, requiring the agencies to withdraw the controversial Interpretive Rule that attempts to clarify farming and ranching exemptions under the Clean Water Act. While the bill does not block the proposal in its entirety, Richards said this is a step in the right direction.
Richards applauded the decision of the House not to include an arbitrary increase in the grazing fee that the President had included in his budget request again this year. The proposed $1/AUM fee on top of the current market based fee would have cost an estimated total of $6.5 million and $5 million for BLM and the USFS permitees, respectively.
Combined with the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 14, Payment in Lieu of Taxes is funded in the full amount of $442 million. The Fish and Wildlife Service was also allocated $1 million in compensations for livestock loss due to wolves.
Also allocated was $3.5 billion for wildfire fighting and preventions programs within the Department of Interior and the USFS, $526 million for hazardous fuels reduction activities, and $65 million for the acquisition of aircraft to enhance firefighting capacity.
PLC urges the Senate to pass the omnibus bill.