U.S. Congressman Mike Simpson - Appropriations Committee Interior Chairman
U.S. Congressman Mike Simpson - 2nd District of Idaho
Chairman Simpson's I&E Report
The I&E Report:  an Interior and Environment Appropriations Update from Congressman Simpson                  

Simpson Holds Hearing on Department of Interior Budget Proposal
In subcommittee hearing, Simpson questions Salazar on PILT, the Department’s national sage-grouse conservation strategy, energy development, and wildland fire funding

Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson, who chairs the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, today held his first subcommittee hearing of the year, as Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar testified before the subcommittee regarding the Department of Interior’s FY2013 budget request.  During the hearing, Simpson questioned Salazar on a wide variety of issues, including PILT, the Department’s national sage-grouse conservation strategy, oil and gas exploration and permitting, and wildland fire.

PILT:
Because federal lands may not generally be taxed by state or local governments, the Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program was created to compensate local governments for the loss of income due to the presence of federal land in their state or county.  In 2008, PILT was authorized as a mandatory program and fully funded for five years, shifting it out of the Interior budget through September 30, 2012.  The Department proposes to extend the current funding for an additional year, legislation that needs to be taken up by the appropriate authorizing committee, but does not provide a clear offset.

“It’s important to note that, while that authorization expires at the end of this fiscal year, the federal government’s obligation to fund PILT does not,” said Simpson.  “If Congress is unable to reauthorize mandatory spending for PILT in the coming weeks, we are going to have to pay for it out of this budget, and it will require cutting money from the Department’s other priorities.”

Sage-Grouse Conservation:
Simpson also signaled that he will have more questions for the Department and the Bureau of Land Management regarding the impact that the budget will have on grazing throughout the west.  He expressed concern about cuts for grazing programs in the budget proposal and raised the issue of sage-grouse conservation efforts, noting that a decision to list sage-grouse as an endangered species would have huge ramifications across Idaho, devastating land users and undermining BLM’s land management efforts.  The Department included $15 million in its budget for a recently-unveiled BLM national sage-grouse strategy to address sage-grouse conservation.

Wildland Fire:
Simpson also expressed concern about proposals to cut funding for hazardous fuels reduction, as well as a proposal by the Department to re-instate language requiring 90 percent of the funds to be used in the wildland urban interface. 

“Reducing the threat of catastrophic wildfires is always a top priority for Congress and the Department.  Last year, however, the Committee was very concerned about the constraints put on the use of hazardous fuel dollars.  These funds help clear brush and prevent forest and rangeland fires…The problem [with the requirement to spend 90 percent of funds in the wildland urban interface] is that much of the land managed by the Department is not in the wildland urban interface,” said Simpson.  “The FY12 bill specifically directs the Department to remove this requirement and instead allow the agencies to allocate funds based on the highest priority projects in the highest priority areas, and I was dismayed to hear that the Department and OMB are still pursuing this requirement despite the report language.  I hope you will work with me to ensure that we are complying with the FY12 language.”

Energy Development:
Much of the hearing focused on the Department of Interior’s proposals regarding energy development, including both conventional and renewable energy.  Simpson warned that the subcommittee would be holding the Department fully accountable for funding provided in FY11 and FY12 to ensure that permits and plans for oil and gas production can move forward. 

“We’ve hardly scratched the surface in meeting our full potential in oil and gas exploration and production—both onshore and on the outer continental shelf,” said Simpson.  “The [newly created Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement] now have both the funding and the tools you told us they need.  With gas prices on the rise again, the public and Congress will have no patience for more delays.  It’s time for the bureaus to get to work.”

In coming weeks, Chairman Simpson will hold hearings on agency budgets, during which many of these issues will be visited in more detail.

Simpson Questions Forest Service Chief on Budget Priorities
Subcommittee hearing focuses on Forest Service's FY13 budget proposal

On Friday Chairman Mike Simpson examined the U.S. Forest Service budget proposal for FY13.  Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell testified on the budget before the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee.  Simpson questioned the chief on resource management proposals, trail maintenance, and fire suppression.

Resource Management
Simpson started the hearing by noting that the Forest Service had recently announced an initiative to improve forest health.  "I'd like to commend the Chief and the Department for the recent announcement to increase the pace of restoration and job creation on our national forests," said Simpson.  "In FY12 we gave the Forest Service numerous new tools and dedicated funding to increase efficiency and more quickly implement projects on the ground.  Chief, now it's up to you to ensure your message is heard loud and clear, that Forest Service officials are implementing your direction and that forests are accountable for the targets and goals set for them."

Trail Maintenance
During the hearing, Simpson shared concerns he's heard from recreation users in Idaho.  "Our office receives many calls regarding the poor condition of our trails.  Trails in our backcountry cannot be accessed because of downed trees, mainly from the expansive bug infestations in Idaho's forests," said Simpson.  "I understand that it is difficult to set aside money for trail maintenance with all the other pressures on the forest that need funding.  Would you be willing to look at designing a specific fund for trail maintenance that would receive funds from recreation fees and work with user groups to match with labor and some funds as well?"

Chief Tidwell replied that he shared concerns about the current trail maintenance backlog and was very interested in working with Chairman Simpson on a proposal that would provide incentives for volunteers, youth, and land users to partner with the Forest Service to meet this need.

Fire Suppression
Simpson reiterate his support for providing land managers with flexibility in using funds intended for reducing hazardous fuels.  Report language to this effect was included in the FY12 Omnibus Appropriations Act.  "Removing the requirement that you spend 75% of hazardous fuels funding at the wildland urban interface (WUI) increases flexibility for land managers," Simpson said.  "I want Forest Service Employees to be focused on putting together the best possible and most economical projects--not what percentage of the funds falls within lines on a map.  I realize that most of the money will probably be spent in the WUI, and I don't care if 95% is spent there or 50%, as long as that decision is based on priorities and not arbitrary requirements."

Upcoming Committee Action

At 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, February 28, Chairman Simpson will hold a hearing on the Indian Health Services budget proposal for FY13.  IHS Director Yvette Roubideaux is scheduled to testify.

At 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, February 28, Chairman Simpson will hold a hearing on the Bureau of Indian Affairs budget proposal for FY13.  Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Larry Echohawk is scheduled to testify.

At 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, February 29, Chairman Simpson will hold a hearing on the Environmental Protection Agency budget proposal for FY13.  EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is scheduled to testify.

At 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, March 1, Chairman Simpson will hold a hearing on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service budget proposal for FY13.  FWS Director Dan Ashe is scheduled to testify.

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