by Frank DuBois
The Federal Land Council News
My column this month is about NDAA & CRomnibus … read on to learn of these beasts
Two massive budget bills passed Congress just before they adjourned, both of which have impacts on property rights and federal lands.
First up is the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Yes that legislation, purportedly to fund our national defense, contains the largest federal lands package to pass Congress since the 2009 Omnibus Public Land Management Act. The natural resources title of the bill contains approximately 70 riders and takes up many pages of this huge bill.
It includes language to designate 250,000 acres of new Wilderness and withdraw hundreds of thousands of additional acres from mining and oil and gas leasing. It includes new parks, wild and scenic rivers and other such environmental designations. Within the Wilderness provisions is a section sponsored by Senator Heinrich that designates the 45,000-acre Columbine-Hondo Wilderness in northern New Mexico.
It also contains the Heinrich-Udall language to transfer the Valles Caldera Preserve from a multiple-use trust to the sole jurisdiction of the National Park Service. In a joint statement Senators Heinrich and Udall say the transfer is “to increase public access.” In a floor statement Senator Heinrich says current management has resulted in “drastically limited public access with relatively high entrance and permit fees” and the new management will result in “expanded public access.” A more realistic assessment comes from the Washington Post:
The Park Service is taking on Valles Caldera and numerous other properties at a time when the agency is struggling with more than $11 billion in deferred maintenance at existing parks and monuments and is looking to boost entrance fees at parks across the nation to generate more revenue in advance of the agency’s centennial. Can the agency afford what amounts to its largest expansion in nearly four decades?
The transfer does include grazing language, but it has long been National Park Service policy to discontinue grazing on its lands, so we shall see.
There is, however, some welcome grazing language in the natural resources title of the bill. For years the Forest Service and the BLM have been behind on thousands of NEPA analysis documents on the renewal or transfer of grazing permits. I know, it is ridiculous to do a NEPA analysis on a permit that allows something to continue as is, but that’s what the DC Deep Thinkers have brought us. The problem has received a band-aid fix each year, but this new language gives us a permanent fix. It reads, in part, “The terms and conditions in a grazing permit or lease that has expired, or was terminated due to a grazing preference transfer, shall be continued under a new permit or lease until the date on which the Secretary concerned completes any environmental analysis and documentation for the permit or lease required under the National Environmental Policy Act.” Also included is language which says the issuance of a new grazing permit may be categorically excluded from NEPA if certain conditions are met. The final version of the grazing provision did not contain the language Senator Heinrich had pushed in the Senate which would have allowed for the permanent retiring of grazing permits in New Mexico.
Both New Mexico Senators were supportive of the natural resource package. “Protecting these special and important places will increase tourism and create jobs in the surrounding communities while ensuring New Mexicans can enjoy them for generations to come”, said Senator Udall. Senator Heinrich remarked, “This is a historic moment and absolutely critical for jobs across the western United States and particularly in New Mexico. The public lands package will help grow our economy in the energy, tourism, sporting and recreation sectors.”
It’s sad to report that neither Senator mentioned livestock grazing. In fact, Senator Heinrich gave a floor speech containing 1,379 words and never mentioned livestock grazing once. Therein he stated, “New Mexico’s critical public land based economic engine will continue to grow in the energy, tourism, sporting and recreation sectors.” He even specifically mentioned his efforts in the bill “to streamline the oil and gas drilling permit process”, but nothing about the livestock grazing permit process. I guess it’s hard to include livestock grazing in his “public land based economic engine” while at the same time trying to arrange for its permanent retirement.
The second item produced by our crafty Congressmen is an appropriations bill dubbed CRomibus because it is an omnibus spending bill for eleven agencies and a continuing resolution (CR) for one other. The bill funds the eleven agencies through September 30, 2015 and is a CR for the Dept. of Homeland Security because of the outrage over Obama’s actions on immigration.
The agencies that hold most of our interest are contained in the regular appropriations and don’t let anybody tell you about severe cuts in the budget. The EPA is the only entity to receive an actual cut, in its case a well deserved -$60 million. All the other agencies of interest (BLM, FS, USFWS, etc.) received increases, and the four land management agencies received $306 million for more land acquisition.
The big news in this bill are the so-called “riders”, which are policy directives stipulated by Congress. In most cases these are “no money shall be spent” type insertions.
One of the biggest riders will prevent the listing of the sage grouse as an endangered species for one year. The critical habitat for the sage grouse would cover millions of acres over multiple states and this gives some breathing space to those states working diligently on programs to prevent a listing. Another rider of great importance would prevent the EPA from implementing its redefinition of “waters of the U.S” which would have resulted in a huge land grab by the feds.
Other riders of interest would: Prevent the government from requiring reports on “greenhouse gas emissions from manure management systems”; prohibits any requirement that ranchers obtain greenhouse gas permits for “methane emissions” produced by bovine flatulence or belching; prevents contributions to the U.N.’s Green Climate Fund (Obama had pledged $3 billion); prohibits the regulation of lead in ammunition and fishing; and prevents the closure of 250 FSA offices.
Oh yes, Michelle Obama and the other DC Deep Thinker’s attempts to control the food intake of our children is in the CRomnibus too. The School Nutrition Association didn’t receive their first goal, which was a waiver for those schools which were losing money because of the new standards. However, the bill does suspend further salt reductions, grants exemptions from the 100 percent whole grain standard and ends the ban on potatoes! We all know what goes good with potatoes.
And all that, my friends, is why these tired old eyes will never be the same.
Till next time, be a nuisance to the devil and don’t forget to check that cinch.
Frank DuBois was the NM Secretary of Agriculture from 1988 to 2003, is the author of a blog: The Westerner (www.thewesterner.blogspot.com) and is the founder of The DuBois Rodeo Scholarship (www.nmsu.edu/~duboisrodeo).