Washington, DC—Rural interests contending with federal government red tape and environmental litigation would receive much-needed flexibility and assistance under two separate bills being co-sponsored by Idaho Senators Jim Risch and Mike Crapo.
Risch and Crapo are joining other western senators in introducing the Grazing Improvement Act of 2011, which seeks to provide stability to ranchers and other public land user groups by offering flexibility on grazing permit renewals. Currently, permit holders can be at the mercy of year-to-year appropriations decisions. This legislation would permit federal agencies to issue permits and leases while environmental analysis and spending decisions are pending. Additionally, the agencies would be able to issue categorical exclusions under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) during the review process, which would provide continuity and reduces the uncertainty of permits being revoked due to spending decisions by Congress.
The Government Litigation Savings Act affects a wide range of public lands interests by assisting individuals, small businesses and non-profit groups in recovering attorney’s fees and costs related to federal litigation on natural resource issues. Court documents reviewed in drafting the legislation provide examples of certain groups having sued the government over 1200 times and receiving upwards of $35 million in taxpayer funds. In response, the act would require organizations that file numerous lawsuits to show a “direct and personal monetary interest” in the legal action, establish caps on attorney fees, and create an online database to track funds paid out of the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) fund, which has operated with little federal oversight since being established in 1980. Veterans groups and Social Security claimants have exemptions under the bill, which is supported by more than 20 outdoor and user groups, including the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association and U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, Safari Club International, Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever and the Boone and Crockett Club.
"When dealing with public lands management there needs to be a balance between conservation and use," Risch said. "This legislation protects that balance by providing more flexibility to users and by protecting taxpayer dollars from the abuses of outside groups intent on tying up management decisions in the courts."
"These proposals represent common-sense efforts to level the playing field for Idahoans and all westerners who use federal public lands day in and day out," says Crapo. "Idaho’s ranchers and other public land users deserve a fair shake when it comes to managing our federal lands and addressing critical natural resource issues, whether it be through the permit process or in the courts."
Both bills are being introduced by Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), with Risch and Crapo joining as original co-sponsors.