Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson, Chairman of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, moved the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for FY2013 through committee this week. The bill contains several provisions essential for preserving responsible access to public grazing and may be considered by the full House within the next month.
"This bill strikes an appropriate balance between resource management, resource protection, and resource enjoyment," said Simpson. "The bill provides the resources necessary to manage federal lands for a multitude of uses while at the same time providing the funding required to protect our most treasured parks, forests, and refuges. It ensures that agencies have the resources they need to meet their obligations but does so within a reduced budget that reflects the fiscal challenges facing our nation. It is not a perfect bill - it is a compromise bill that focuses on the biggest issues facing public land managers and the very real challenges facing the Treasury and taxpayers."
The bill also addresses the growing, and unaccountable, costs to taxpayers of the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA). Simpson is concerned that while EAJA was intended to provide a mechanism for lower and middle income individuals to challenge the actions of an onerous federal government, it has become a slush fund for wealthy extremists in search of taxpayer funding of their unending, and oftentimes frivolous, lawsuits.
"The Equal Access to Justice Act is the perfect example of a well-intended federal program that has become far too expensive and morphed into something far removed from its intended purpose," said Simpson. "Today, EAJA is funding frivolous and legitimate lawsuits alike and doing so at great cost to the taxpayer. The Interior bill shines a light on EAJA's excesses by requiring detailed reports on who is receiving taxpayer money and how much they're getting. This is information the public has a right to see but has been difficult, or impossible, to get for far too many years."
Highlights of the bill and report:
Makes permanent a provision enabling the BLM and Forest Service to renew expired grazing permits while focusing environmental review on the most environmentally sensitive areas;
Includes a provision allowing the trailing of livestock to grazing allotments on public lands without unnecessary environmental review;
Includes a provision allowing 20 year grazing permits for the Forest Service and BLM;
The bill makes permanent language requiring litigants to exhaust the administrative appeals process before litigating in federal court on grazing issues.
The report also includes language directing the Department of the Interior, the EPA, and the Forest Service to provide the Appropriations Committee with detailed information regarding EAJA payments and to make that information publicly available. The information required includes: detailed reports on the amount of program funds used; the names of the fee recipients; the names of the federal judges; the disposition of the applications (including any appeals of action taken on the applications); and the hourly rates of attorneys and expert witnesses stated in the applications that was awarded, for all EAJA fee payments awarded as a result of litigation against any of the Department of Interior bureaus, the EPA, or the Forest Service, or their respective employees. The report shall also include the amounts, outside of EAJA awards, paid in settlement of such litigation. Such information will also be included with each agency's annual budget submission in the future.