Monday, June 20, 2016

Simpson Op Ed

Why the Interior Appropriations Bill is Important to Idaho

By Congressman Mike Simpson

Washington--“As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I have an important duty to carefully scrutinize the roughly one-third of the federal budget known as discretionary spending. Earlier this week, the House Interior and Environment Appropriations bill for FY17 was marked up before the full House Appropriations Committee.  As vice-chair of the subcommittee that oversees these agencies, I have a unique opportunity to influence federal policies that directly impact Idaho.  This appropriations bill allocates spending to land management agencies and conducts oversight on policies ranging from grazing on public lands, recreation, and maintenance of our National Parks.  During the appropriations process, ensuring that our tax dollars are used effectively and to the benefit of Idaho is a priority.  I want to share with you some of the great benefits to Idaho contained within this most recent appropriations bill.  

“Among the important items passed in this bill is funding for Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT), a crucial program that compensates rural Idaho communities for federal land owned within the state.  One way to look at PILT is to compare it to a property tax on federal lands requiring the government to pay its part for the land it owns so that rural communities have necessary funding for their key local programs.  PILT directly benefits local government spending for firefighters and police, public education, roads and bridges, and other basic infrastructure needs.     

“The bill also addressed the issue of sage-grouse and the related land management plans proposed by the Bureau of Land Management.  Last year we witnessed a victory for western states when the Fish and Wildlife Service determined that sage-grouse does not warrant a listing as an endangered species.  While a step in the right direction, this created uncertainty for many people in Idaho who were left wondering how these management plans would impact their livelihood.  That is why the Interior bill included language that prevents future listing of sage-grouse and also a prohibition against further changes to resource management plans that are deemed inconsistent with state management plans.  This language would allow the state management plans - which were carefully crafted in coordination with the Department of the Interior - to be implemented.

“I was also pleased to see the inclusion of full funding for wildfire suppression efforts.  I have long advocated for treating catastrophic wildfires as we would any other natural disaster, such as tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes.  However, until those important reforms are made, we must ensure we have the proper funding to protect our precious lands and provide agencies access to the tools necessary to effectively mitigate and reduce the impact of destructive wildfires.  This funding is necessary to combat the catastrophic wildfires we have unfortunately become accustomed to each summer.   

“The Interior Appropriations bill for FY17 also included language that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from expanding its jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act by changing the definition of “navigable waters” to “Waters of the United States.” In Idaho, water is life, and I don’t intend to sit back and watch the EPA take control of state waters, leaving Idaho farmers, ranchers, and landowners at the mercy of federal regulations. The bill also targets several other overreaching EPA rules and cuts their funding for regulatory programs 21 percent below President Obama’s request.

“Overall this bill is good for Idaho.  I am honored to be your representative in Congress and I consider it a privilege to sit on subcommittees that are important to Idaho. I have a responsibility to you, as your representative and a fellow Idahoan, to ensure that our tax dollars are used carefully and federal agencies avoid unnecessary waste.  This latest House Interior and Environment Appropriations bill is an example of compromise and careful allocation of funds that ensures the federal government meets its obligations to taxpayers throughout Idaho and the United States.”  

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