Federal initiatives Updates from D.C. shared at Cattlemen’s ConferenceWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Douglas – Attendees at the 2015 Cattlemen’s Conference in Douglas on Aug. 12 enjoyed a variety of presentations, including a panel of speakers who provided information about federal issues currently affecting Wyoming.
“It’s a very different Senate this year. There is a return to regular order,” explained Senator Mike Enzi's Senior Legislative Assistant for Trade, Agriculture, Judiciary, Public Lands and Wildlife Travis Jordan.
Committees have been marking up bills, proposing amendments and completing projects.
“One example of this is that the House and Senate both passed a joint budget resolution that balances the federal budget,” Jordan noted, adding that Sen. Enzi is the chairman of the Budget Committee.
“There is a statutory obligation to do this, but it’s something that hasn’t been done in almost 10 years,” Jordan added.
Jordan also discussed the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which is currently under scrutiny.
“I want to credit the work that was done in the House of Representatives last congress. There was a group of members who got together and worked on studying the Act, figuring out how to make it work,” he said.
Multiple bills were presented to both the Senate and the House, including one that requires the federal government to consider scientific data that has been collected by local, state and tribal governments in areas of concern.
“They are the folks on the ground,” stated Jordan. “Our state biologists do a really great job of providing information, and it’s the type of information that should be considered by the federal government.”
Jordan highlighted Wyoming’s efforts for sage grouse as one example, projecting actions from the federal government by the end of September.
“I can’t say exactly what that action will look like,” he said. “The state of Wyoming has done an excellent job of putting Wyoming where it needs to be and making sure that Wyoming takes the initiative, and not the federal government, at managing the sage grouse looking forward.”
Jackie King, a field representative from Congressman Cynthia Lummis’s office, also touched on the ESA.
“The House of Representatives Interior Appropriations Bill includes a provision directed at the Fish and Wildlife Service, taking the wolf off of the list in Wyoming. The provision would also shield that rule from judicial review,” she commented.
The status of the grizzly bear was also mentioned.
Legislative Assistant to Senator John Barrasso Travis McNiven remarked, “The Governor’s office has asked the Fish and Wildlife Service to delist the grizzly bear. Those discussions are ongoing. The number of bears is well above the legal threshold to do so, so we will continue to work on that.”
Trade was another hot topic brought up by the panel, including recent agreements with Asia.
“We know that there is a growing demand for products from the United States there. There is growing income, and beef is one of those products,” noted Jordan.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement was brought up as well, with recent setbacks in negotiations.
“It’s one of those things that happens with trade agreements, and there is a lot of added pressure to get it done,” Jordan remarked.
Recent agreements with Brazil and Argentina allowing imports of fresh, live beef were also mentioned, pending discussions about updated risk analyses.
“Expect to hear more about that through the course of this year,” Jordan mentioned.
Water, a perpetually important topic in the West, was another issue touched on by the panel.
King denounced the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule and promoted the passage of the Western Water Bill.
“Congressman Lummis went down to the House floor personally to manage the House passage of that bill,” she commented. “The West-wide provisions of this bill provide language protecting state endowed water rights.”
McNiven discussed the Federal Water Quality Protection Act, filed by Senator Barrasso as a response to WOTUS.
“The bill is an effort to basically limit power, going back to the traditional navigable and useable streams and bringing the agency back to what should be done, instead of this extensive overreach,” McNiven stated.
Further discussion in Washington, D.C. includes Country of Origin labeling (COOL).
“There are two competing proposals,” Jordan remarked, referring to efforts to amend current COOL laws.
One proposal eliminates COOL all together while the alternate proposal creates a voluntary program.
“It would allow operators, but specifically packers, to label a product of its origin and be able to provide that to consumers who actually are interested in it,” he added.
Additional topics included feral horses and Bighorn sheep issues, as agencies continue to tackle those challenges.
Horses and sheep
“Wild horses out there have a real impact on the range, on the water, on the wildlife, on the habitat and on the sage grouse, and they are all negative impacts, so we need to continue to work on that,” explained McNiven.
He also commended Wyoming’s efforts over the past decade concerning Bighorn and domestic sheep, addressing the concerns of the Forest Service about competing resources.
“We as a delegation have been encouraging the Forest Service to look at Wyoming’s planning,” he said.
In further discussion, the panel mentioned the Sportsman’s Bill, created to add transparency in the Equal Access to Justice Act.
“Congressman Lummis has done work, championing bipartisan legislation to make attorney’s fees available and searchable on the internet,” explained King.
“The base text of what’s actually there has a lot of support in the Senate,” added Jordan, although he added that additional comments and amendments may prove to be controversial and of interest nation-wide.
As the session came to a close, conference attendees were able to direct comments and questions toward the panel, expressing their concerns.
“It is the time of the year to be out in the state to listen to folks and give an update on Washington,” Jordan stated. “We also take back the ideas that we hear here, to continue on with the rest of the session this year and on into next year.”