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

A Look Back at the Week

Simpson Questions EPA Budget Priorities

Focuses on infrastructure, need to reduce spending in oversight hearing with Acting EPA Administrator

On Wednesday, Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson questioned the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Administrator regarding the President's FY14 budget proposal for the EPA. As Chairman of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, Simpson oversees the EPA's budget.  During the hearing, Simpson focused on water infrastructure and the need to reduce federal spending.

Over the past two years that Simpson has chaired the subcommittee, he has cut the EPA’s budget by over 20 percent.  In his opening statement, he responded to criticism of these cuts. “Let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture,” Simpson cautioned.  “Between 2009 and 2010 the Interior bill increased by $4.6 billion and EPA’s budget increased by $2.65 billion. This was an unprecedented 35 percent increase in EPA’s budget in one year alone. With that in mind, the FY14 budget would still provide EPA with a half a billion dollar cushion.”  

“I highlight this point to provide context for the ongoing discussion about the continued need to reduce Federal spending,” he continued. “It also exemplifies the degree to which unchecked spending was the norm in Washington just a few short years ago. And even with the targeted reductions to the Agency’s budget over the past three years, we still have yet to break even.”

Chairman Simpson also raised the issue of funding for water infrastructure.  Earlier this year, he hosted an oversight hearing on this issue, looking at funds appropriated to the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds and the infrastructure needs throughout the country. The State Revolving Funds start with federal seed money provided to state and local communities as loans with matching requirements.

“As I understand it, these funds were eventually supposed to be self-sustaining.  Is there a point at which that happens so that these communities have access to the funds they need for their water systems? In the hearing we had on this issue, it was said that there was a $700 billion backlog, and doing this at $2 or $3 billion a year it'll take us almost 250 years to address all the needs out there,” said Simpson. “Unfortunately, the $2 billion we put into this each year puts huge pressure on the rest of our budget, but it doesn't address the problem. This is a huge problem and we need to come up with a solution.  How do we get from point A to point B?”

In light of these concerns, Simpson criticized the agency’s budget priorities, particularly the choice to eliminate funding for the rural water technical assistance grants.  “It's a tough budget year, so I assume that you reduced lower priority things and funded the higher priority things,” Simpson said.  “So it seems like what you’re saying is that [a new EPA building in Las Vegas] and a new public outreach program are more important than the rural water technical assistance.  I guess I’m questioning your priorities…At some point we need to ask ourselves whether we prefer to cut everything just a little bit in order to get the deficit under control -- and in doing so we fund all programs at a reduced rate which may help no one -- or do we decide to eliminate a few programs that have run their course.”

Simpson to BLM: Efforts to Prevent Sage-Grouse Listing Must Work
Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman holds hearing on FY14 budget proposal for BLM

Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson examined the President’s budget proposal for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) during an appropriations subcommittee hearing Tuesday.  Simpson chairs the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, which oversees the budget for the BLM and other land management agencies.  During the hearing, Simpson questioned BLM Principle Deputy Director Neil Kornze on grazing, sage-grouse, and the impact of frivolous litigation on the agency.

In his opening statement, Simpson commended BLM, which is working to meet a court-imposed listing deadline, for its efforts on sage-grouse conservation.  “That being said,” he continued, “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.  Now more than ever we need to see a return on this investment, not just wasting this funding on planning exercises that don’t help us reach our goal.”

As Simpson continued, he criticized BLM’s focus on limiting existing uses of BLM land, like grazing and recreation, in order to protect sage-grouse, rather than focusing on the primary threats to the species. “As we all know after the last fire season, the greatest threat to sage grouse is wildfire,” Simpson continued. “Two million acres of priority sage grouse habitat burned in wildfires.  But as BLM focuses on sage grouse, it seems that the agency is looking mostly at limiting existing uses rather than controlling invasives like cheat grass and preventing wildfires.  In fact, your budget decreases funding for hazardous fuels removal.  Last year’s fire season shows us that no matter how much we limit existing uses of public lands, wildfires could easily be the nail in the coffin for sage grouse listing.  This is a top priority for me—and we need to work together on a real solution. ”

Simpson also raised his concerns about the cost of frivolous litigation to the taxpayer and the impact it has on the ability of the BLM to carry out its mission.  “When I raised this issue with outgoing Interior Secretary Salazar a couple of months ago,” he said, “he responded that he was, at the time, the defendant in 3,000 lawsuits.  Three thousand!  That number alone tells you that we have a problem with frivolous lawsuits.”

The hearing also covered issues including renewable energy production on public lands, proposals to increase grazing fees, and invasive species. 

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