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Public Statements

Public Access and Lands Improvement Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. LABRADOR. Mr. Chairman, I rise today in support of title VIII of H.R. 2954, which I originally introduced as H.R. 657, the Grazing Improvement Act. I thank Chairman Hastings for recognizing the importance of this issue and for including it in H.R. 2954 for consideration today.

Livestock grazing is an important part of the rich ranching tradition in Idaho and the United States. My home State of Idaho produces some of the world's finest lamb and beef. Food production is a major part of Idaho's history, and it is an integral part of our cultural fabric and our economic security. These traditions are under attack, and we must preserve them for future generations.

The financial security of ranchers depends upon their responsible stewardship of the land. Unfortunately, the Federal process to review the permits which allows them to produce food has become severely backlogged due to lawsuits aimed at eliminating livestock from public lands. The local Federal land-managing offices cannot keep up with the pace of litigation and the endless environmental analysis. This diverts the already limited resources from these offices and leaves ranchers at risk of losing their grazing permits and jeopardizing their livelihoods.

Agriculture is a challenging way to make a living, but producers choose this path because it is their passion, and it is their way of life. Several ranchers in my State of Idaho have said, if they were to lose their grazing permits, they would have to subdivide their land and further reduce their grazing areas. My bill, the Grazing Improvement Act, would provide relief to these ranchers and to ranchers throughout the country.

It would, number one, extend livestock grazing permits from 10 to 20 years in order to give producers adequate longevity and production stability. It would codify existing appropriation language to put into statute annual riders. It would also encourage the respective Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture to utilize categorical exclusions to expedite permit processing.

I believe that protecting our environment can be done in a manner that does not impede our economic growth. It is time that we improve our regulatory structure so that we continue to prosper as a Nation. We can no longer allow the Federal Government to maintain an enormous backlog in processing grazing permits.

I thank the cosponsors of this legislation, and I look forward to working with my colleagues on this issue.

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Mr. LABRADOR. Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of my amendment of title VIII of H.R. 2954, which I originally introduced as H.R. 657, the Grazing Improvement Act.

My amendment is a commonsense reform to require groups who are not substantially justified or directly affected by final Federal grazing decisions to pay for the legal expenses of the other party when they lose in court.

In short, this is a ``loser pays'' system to discourage frivolous legal challenges to Federal land management grazing decisions.

Current law gives grazing permittees the right to a hearing in connection with grazing decisions and gives the ``interested public'' the opportunity to participate in the way Federal land is managed. However, it is doubtful that Congress ever intended to elevate the ``interested public'' to a level of equal standing to that of grazing permittees.

In 1995, the Bureau of Land Management established grazing regulations that far surpassed the intent of Congress. Some were given the ability to participate in the administrative appeals process allowing them to sue if the nonpermittees disagreed with a final grazing decision. Since then, environmental groups have been increasingly effective at abusing the current appeals process, not to promote environmental health, but for the sole reason of removing livestock from Federal lands. Each year, hundreds of appeals are filed on grazing decisions by groups. The cost to ranchers can hardly be measured. In a recent case in Wyoming, for example, an appeal cost a small group of ranchers over $125,000 in administrative appeal and attorneys' fees alone.

My amendment simply addresses this growing problem by clarifying the intent of Congress on who may appeal and litigate a final agency decision on a final grazing decision. It is time we ease the burden that environmental groups have placed on our ranchers.

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Mr. LABRADOR. Mr. Chairman, I agree that everyone should have a right to sue, but if you lose, I think you should pay. This amendment will allow Federal land managers to get back to managing lands, create greater certainty in the ranching community, and help strengthen rural economies in the West. This minor reform will save taxpayer dollars and countless hours and dollars spent by ranchers who are forced to defend against these nuisance suits.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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