—National Cattlemen's Beef Association Public Lands Council
The House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources today advanced the Grazing Improvement Act (H.R. 657) on a bipartisan vote of 27-15. The legislation, which seeks to improve the livestock grazing permitting processes on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), will now go to the full House for consideration.
H.R. 657 was introduced in February by Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) as companion legislation to S. 258 in the Senate, also introduced in February by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). Public Lands Council (PLC) Executive Director and Director of Federal Lands for National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Dustin Van Liew said the Grazing Improvement Act will contribute greatly to providing a stable business environment to federal lands ranchers who face increasing uncertainty as to the future of their livestock grazing permits.
The legislation proposes to increase the term of grazing permits from 10 to 20 years, so that the burdens of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review of expired permits will be reduced, thereby giving ranchers increased certainty that they may continue grazing and their operations will remain viable. Among other provisions to reduce the NEPA burden, the bill also proposes to codify longstanding appropriations language that would allow grazing to continue under existing terms and conditions while the NEPA backlog is being addressed.
"We greatly appreciate the leadership of Rep. Labrador and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Hastings for their leadership on this important issue," Van Liew said. "Ranchers can no longer afford the incredible regulatory and litigious environment created by excessive application of NEPA. If we lose ranchers, we lose the stewards of the land, job providers in the West, and a crucial part of American livestock production. Like last year, we look forward to passage through the House this session."
During the committee’s consideration of the bill, two amendments were offered. An amendment by Labrador, which passed, would exempt range improvements from excessive and unnecessary environmental review and clarify the intent of Congress with regard to who may appeal agency grazing decisions. Van Liew said the amendment will prevent radical environmental groups from abusing the current appeals system, and further reduce the NEPA burden. He said this amendment is especially important at a time when wildfire has ravaged hundreds of miles of fence and many range improvements crucial to the proper care of livestock and the range.
An amendment introduced by Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), which would have imposed an arbitrary 74 percent increase of the federal lands grazing fee on ranchers, failed. The amendment’s alleged purpose was to "offset the increased cost of administering the livestock grazing program."
However, Van Liew asserted that this fee increase would likely decrease revenue to the government by forcing ranchers out of business. He added that the "increased cost" Grijalva mentions is due to overregulation and predatory litigation by radical anti-grazing groups.
"We are pleased that, once again, the proposal to increase the grazing fee was soundly defeated. The current grazing fee is fair, is based on market criteria and accurately reflects the cost of operating on public lands. The effects of the loss of public lands grazing on both the environment and the local economies in the West would be devastating," he said. "Altogether, the Grazing Improvement Act is now stronger than ever, and we look forward to seeing this commonsense legislation coming to a vote by the full House."