As Chairman of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, Congressman Mike Simpson has been instrumental in ensuring that western interests are protected in the final appropriations bill for FY2012. The bill focuses on fiscal responsibility, reducing costs created through unnecessary litigation, and responsible management of our natural resources. The Interior and Environment appropriations bill, which is included in H.R. 3671, the Consolidated Appropriations Act for FY2012 was filed last night and can be viewed on the committee's website.
"The deficit crisis facing our country has underscored the need for fiscal restraint," said Simpson."This bill responds to that need not only by reducing funding for nearly every agency under the subcommittee's jurisdiction, but also by making fundamental reforms necessary to ensure long-term fiscal health for agencies like the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service."
The bill reduces funding overall for the agencies under the subcommittee's jurisdiction and specifically cuts funding for the EPA by nearly 6% below the President's request. Overall, funding for the EPA has been reduced by nearly $2 billion, or 18.4%, during calendar year 2011 under Simpson's watch. These cuts include:
Cutting the EPA Administrator's immediate office budget by one-third;
Reducing funding for EPA's regulatory programs;
Restraining spending on EPA's proposed greenhouse gas regulations by cutting $4.6 million from the President's request.
"After unparalleled increases in FY10, we have reined in EPA spending in significant ways, bringing fiscal sanity back to the way the agency operates and curbing the agency's regulatory overreach," said Simpson. "I'm hopeful that by restoring some fiscal sanity to the EPA's budget we will also provide a positive charge to our recovering economy."
In addition to reducing spending, the bill makes important reforms to address growing costs to taxpayers due to frivolous lawsuits. Such lawsuits are one of the biggest unbudgeted costs for land management agencies. As litigation costs siphon funding away from critical priority programs, agencies are forced to divert taxpayer dollars intended for carrying out legitimate land management responsibilities.
"I've been appalled to learn that some state and field offices of agencies like the BLM and Forest Service have reported spending more than half of their current budgets responding to litigation," said Simpson. "These unaccounted for costs undermine any effort to implement a responsible budget, and we can't expect to reduce government spending unless we address some of the underlying issues."
To bring these costs under control, ensure greater accountability of taxpayer dollars, and increase transparency, Simpson included provisions in the conference report to:
Extend for two years authorities to renew grazing permits while prioritizing work on the most sensitive environments;
Require that environmental groups exhaust BLM's administrative review process before litigating on grazing issues, saving the BLM significant taxpayer money currently wasted on litigation that could be resolved through the administrative process;
Allow the Forest Service to use an administrative "objection" process rather than post-decisional appeals, saving the agency time and money and reducing litigation;
Direct the Department of the Interior, the EPA, and the Forest Service to make publicly available detailed access to Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) fee information;
The bill also increases congressional oversight by requiring the President to submit a report to Congress describing all Federal agency spending for climate change programs and activities in fiscal year 2011 and requiring the DoI, EPA, Forest Service, and Indian Health Service to report quarterly on the status of balances of appropriations.
Other provisions in the bill include:
A prohibition on funding for carrying out the Department of Interior's "Wild Lands" initiative;
Full funding for wildlife suppression and level funding for hazardous fuels reduction, as well as language directing the Forest Service to allocate hazardous fuels reduction funding based on highest priorities for reducing fire risk;
Language prohibiting the EPA from requiring permits for storm water runoff from forest roads.