Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson, Chairman of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, questioned BLM Director Bob Abbey regarding a number of issues, including the Wild Horse and Burro program, grazing on public lands, and the Administration’s new “Wild Lands” policy. Simpson’s subcommittee examined the President’s FY2012 budget request for the Bureau of Land Management.
One of Simpson’s biggest criticisms of the budget request is the fact that it diverts funding from land management accounts in order to fully fund land acquisition accounts. “With the current budget crisis facing our country, I find it puzzling that the BLM requests $50 million for land acquisition and $1 billion for the new America’s Great Outdoors initiative when it has difficulty managing the land it already holds,” said Chairman Simpson. “I’m deeply concerned that this proposal will exacerbate an already out-of-control problem facing the BLM, and that is the increasing cost of litigation. When you shift resources from land management to acquisitions, you are unable to provide the land managers in your field offices with the resources they need to make environmentally sound decisions, leaving the door wide open to groups looking for any opportunity to sue.”
Chairman Simpson also expressed concern about the fact that the BLM is unable to track payments that go out under the Equal Access to Justice Act, which allows those who win lawsuits against the government to recoup their legal costs. “I find it incredible that these fees come out of your budget, but you can’t track them,” said Simpson. “How can you possibly operate responsibly when you have no idea how much money is coming out of your budget to pay for lawsuits?”
Simpson recently joined other Western members in requesting a study by the Government Accountability Office on payments under EAJA.
During the hearing, Simpson also spoke about his frustration about the ever-increasing costs of the BLM’s Wild Horses and Burros program. The President’s budget request includes a $11 million increase over current funding, and Simpson questioned whether the agency would be able to put the program on a sustainable path in the future.