Van Liew details challenges, successes for grazing permittees on CapitolWritten by Christy Martinez
PLC Executive Director Dustin Van Liew attended the 2012 Cattle Industry Convention and Trade Show, hosted by the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, in Jackson and updated the group on May 31 as to the current happenings in Washington, D.C.
“Federal permits account for about half of beef production in the West, and for sheep they account for about 48 percent of the entire industry,” said Van Liew. “A removal or reduction in permits for grazing would reduce infrastructure to the point where both industries would be significantly harmed.”
PLC has three primary focuses – lobbying on Capitol Hill, engagement and work with federal agencies and litigation. Van Liew said one of the things the group has worked on over the past year is the Public Lands Endowment Trust, which developed with El Paso Corporation and the Ruby Pipeline.
“Radical environmental groups completed an agreement with El Paso Corporation that provided funds to conserve areas around the pipeline, and the leadership of the livestock industry saw this,” said Van Liew. “They could have opposed and screamed about it, or sat down to work something out for the best interest of the industry.”
Van Liew said that began the process of working with El Paso to help the industry perpetuate into the future, and that culminated with PLC’s 2011 annual meeting, where the group unanimously entered into an endowment trust that will, over 10 years, provide a base endowment of $15 million.
“The revenues from the trust can be used via the PLC board to implement projects that protect, enhance and advance the public lands grazing industry,” explained Van Liew. “There is one caveat – no offensive litigation, which was easy for us to agree to. After that, the sky’s the limit on what the revenues can go toward in positive projects in the West.”
In late May the PLC Board of Directors approved guidelines for how the funding will be distributed, and issued a call to its affiliates to provide proposals that the board will review and choose from each September at their annual meeting.
“This September in Winnemucca, Nev. we anticipate the board making a decision on a few projects to start the process of the trust that will exist for 75 years into the future,” said Van Liew.
Van Liew said the annual appropriations bills passed by Congress have provided some success for those who graze on public lands.
“With the gridlock in Congress, one thing they have to do is fund the government, so there are opportunities through the appropriations bills to make adjustments, find solutions and pass small legislative riders that advance our mission and cause,” he noted. “Something that has been in place since about 15 years ago is the grazing rider, which allows federal agencies to renew grazing permits in spite of the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) backlog. If this rider was not in place, many permits would, in effect, be canceled, because of the fact NEPA is not complete. In fiscal year 2012 we got a two-year extension, and added language to allow for the transfer of permits outside of NEPA.”
Another rider in the most recent appropriations bill exempted trailing and crossing of livestock from NEPA analysis on federal lands.
“We believe it’s a minor agency action, and should in no way be subject to NEPA. The language we put in was adjusted in the conference committee process, and after that the Solicitor said it was not sufficient to exempt trailing from NEPA,” said Van Liew. “Chairman Simpson is on board with us to clarify that trailing and crossing is exempt from NEPA, and there’s no way a solicitor should misinterpret that.”
Grazing bill continues
To address those two issues and others in the long-term, there is much support for the Grazing Improvement Act, which was introduced in the Senate by Senator John Barrasso.
“It will extend federal grazing permits from 10 to 20 years, so that the interval time when NEPA does have to be completed is double the time length, and cuts in half the opportunity for special interest groups to file suit against the decisions,” noted Van Liew.
The bill would also codify the grazing riders that go into the legislative appropriations every year.
“They would then exist into the future on statute for the federal agencies to continue renewing permits, in spite of the NEPA backlog,” he continued. “It would also codify an option for agencies to categorically exclude renewal of grazing permits where the current grazing will continue into the future.”
Van Liew said the bill would also seek to put an exemption on the trailing and crossing permits in statute to exempt them fully from NEPA.
“We’re also looking at exempting any preference transfers from NEPA, because recent litigation has shown that’s the next area the radicals will target,” he said.
Farm Bill may move forward
“The Senate actually seems to be making progress, and may actually pass legislation in a bipartisan fashion,” said Public Lands Council Executive Director Dustin Van Liew of progress on the 2012 Farm Bill.
Van Liew spoke to the 2012 Cattle Industry Convention and Trade Show in Jackson on May 31.
“Chairman Stabenow from Minnesota plans to bring the Farm Bill to the Senate floor and move it through in a fast and clean fashion,” said Van Liew. “If that happens, the House has said they’re looking at the week of June 18 to take the Farm Bill up on the House side.”
He said there’s likely to be a drastic difference between the two pieces, because the House will cut farther into various programs, especially nutrition programs.
“It’s really up in the air at this point whether they’ll make it through the Farm Bill process, or at the very last they might have to pass an extension, which really is problematic for many areas of the ag world,” noted Van Liew.