U.S. Congressman Mike Simpson - Appropriations Committee Interior Chairman
U.S. Congressman Mike Simpson - 2nd District of Idaho

Simpson's I&E Report:
an Interior and Environment Appropriations Update from Chairman Simpson

Upcoming Hearings:

Tuesday, March 20, 2012
9:30 a.m.—Secretary of the Smithsonian Wayne Clough is scheduled to testify before the subcommittee on the Smithsonian’s FY13 budget request.

1:00 p.m.—National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis is scheduled to testify before the subcommittee on the NPS FY13 budget request.
 Note:  This hearing was rescheduled from March 8, 2012.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012
1:00 p.m.—The subcommittee will hear testimony from public witnesses.  To view the schedule for public witness hearings, please visit the subcommittee’s website here.  Witnesses will be posted a week in advance.

Thursday, March 22, 2012
9:30 a.m.—Public witness testimony will continue.

A Look Back at the Week:

BLM:  Simpson Questions BLM Director on Sage Grouse, Grazing
Chairman Simpson took issue with proposals to cut BLM range management funding in the President's FY13 budget request during a hearing on the BLM's budget proposal in the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee last Tuesday.  In addition to expressing his concern about budget cuts to the grazing program, he focused on the BLM's sage grouse conservation initiative.

The BLM has struggled under a huge grazing permit backlog over the past decade.  In order to permanently reduce this backlog and provide the BLM with the tools it needs to use its resources for effective land management, the FY 2012 BLM budget included a significant increase for rangeland management.  In spite of BLM's efforts to address the grazing permit backlog within the next few years, the FY 2013 request cuts that budget by $15 million.

"I'm very disappointed with the proposed decrease in range management.  Back in 2009, we talked about the importance of permanently reducing the backlog of grazing permits, which has been a problem at the BLM for years.  Now the BLM has gone from completing 84% of the grazing permits for renewal in 2009 to only planning to complete 33% in fiscal year 2013, " said Simpson. "This is simply irresponsible. While I understand the workload of permit renewals fluctuates from year to year, this level of completion is inexcusable, particularly given this subcommittee's focus on the issue.  

"Further," he continued, "the budget proposes to add a new grazing fee, which would increase what ranchers pay now by 74%--violating the current mandate that says the fee can't be raised by more than 25% a year.  There is a good reason for this mandate. Livestock producers, just like other small businesses, need certainty--they need to know their grazing permits will be renewed in a timely fashion and that fees won't dramatically increase from year to year. Despite the fact that range management is a large part of BLM's responsibilities, and that state and local offices in Idaho and other areas have stepped up to address these challenges in spite of major hurdles thrown their way, it doesn't seem to be a priority for this budget."

Chairman Simpson also expressed his concern about the possibility of sage grouse being listed as an endangered species. He pressed Director Abbey about the BLM's sage grouse conservation strategy and whether it will be effective in preventing a listing.

Simpson commended BLM for taking a proactive approach on the conservation of the sage grouse and reflecting this priority in the proposed budget. "That said, I want to make sure this investment will actually improve sage grouse habitat and prevent the species from being listed in 2015, which would be devastating across the West," he said.  "Now more than ever we need to see a return on this investment, not just waste this funding on planning exercises that don't help us reach our goal. Some of the greatest threats to the sage grouse are invasive weeds and wildfire. How will this investment be used to control cheat grass, for example, and prevent fires that destroy sage grouse habitat? Preventing this listing is a top priority for me, and it will require close partnership between federal agencies, states, and local land users.  We have to get this one right."

Director Abbey committed to doing everything possible to prevent a sage grouse listing, pointing to work already being done with states and stakeholders to identify and implement best management practices. He noted that the greatest threat to sage grouse is fire and indicated that the bureau is working to prevent and suppress wildfires in core habitat areas.

USGS:  Hearing Looks at Budget Request for Core Science Programs
Chairman Simpson focused on funding for science programs at the U.S. Geological Survey during a subcommittee hearing last Tuesday on the USGS budget request.  Director Marcia McNutt testified to the subcommittee.

At the beginning of the hearing, Simpson looked back on the agency’s problematic request from the previous year.  “What a difference a year makes,” he said in his opening statement.  “Just a year ago, this Subcommittee was sent a USGS budget proposal that would have cut $89 million and 230 FTEs from core science programs, largely to pay for an ill-conceived plan for the future of LandSat.  I think it’s fair to say that the Congress roundly rejected last year’s proposal, and that the Administration has paid attention. I want to thank you for sending us an FY13 proposal that I think we can work with.”

Simpson did express concern about cuts to water programs, recognizing that the agency has been involved in a major reorganization initiative.  “Clearly you are trying to take water programs in a different direction,” he said.  “I hope that we can talk in the coming months about where you’re trying to go, whether and how you’re consistent with your strategic plan, and how you’re measuring success.”

BOEM and BSEE:  Simpson Pushes for Results from Previous Budget Increases
During Last Wednesday’s hearing on the budget request for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), Chairman Simpson made it clear that the subcommittee expects results of increased funding provided in previous years for getting the bureaus up and running.  As a result of major reforms coming after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, BOEM and BSEE have replaced the former Minerals Management Services (MMS) and are charged with the management, safety, and environmental protection of energy produced on the Outer Continental Shelf.

Simpson started the hearing by going over what Congress did last year in the Fiscal Year 2012 Omnibus Appropriations Act.  “Both bureaus received full funding as requested in the President's budget. This was not easy given the many cuts we had to make elsewhere in the bill to make this happen.  Congress also included additional fees--to the tune of $52 million-- for the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement to help offset inspection costs. To ensure these fees were spent appropriately, we included language requiring at least 50% of these funds go towards approving permits. Today, I expect to hear how this is being implemented and how BSEE ("Bessie") is moving forward more quickly to process permits.

“Finally,” he continued, “the Congress also included language allowing the bureaus to hire highly-skilled employees at a higher pay scale. We recognized both bureaus’ difficulty filling many positions due to competition from the oil and gas industry, which can pay much higher salaries. So we gave the Department the authority needed to pay higher salaries for certain positions. Collectively, these provisions give the bureaus what they need to accomplish their mission. Gentlemen, there are no more excuses. As I've stated before, there will be no blank check coming from this Subcommittee. We expect results from appropriated dollars.”

Given these increases, Simpson expressed concern about the FY13 requested increase of $20 million for BSEE.  “After several years in a row of significant increases, the Subcommittee needs a thorough explanation of why another increase is necessary.  How many years in a row will this agency ask for additional funds?  In this budget climate and until we see tangible results, this increase is difficult to consider.”

“Today gas prices are again rising and reliable domestic sources of energy are more important for our economy and homeland security than ever before. We depend on you to help us produce domestic energy and domestic jobs in a responsible way,” said Simpson. “The revenue from oil and gas off the OCS is a significant boost to the treasury, but in the past five years that number generally continues to go down while the demand for energy increases.
With both bureaus fully functioning, we expect to see this revenue increase again.”

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