Senate Passes Federal Funding Bill

Legislation includes money for river repair, pipeline building and grazing provisions.

Published on: Dec 20, 2011

Over the weekend the Senate passed a package of spending bills that include support that enables the Army Corps of Engineers to repair levees along the Missouri River damaged by flooding. Senator Mike Johanns, R-Neb., says he voted to ensure this disaster funding didn't add to the debt, but unfortunately the legislation offsetting the cost of the relief did not pass. According to Johanns most people would agree that Washington spends too much money and rarely stops to think about how to pay the bill. The Nebraska Senator called on Congress to make tough choices like reducing annual discretionary spending.  He says that much more needs to be done to get our debt under control, but setting priorities and adhering to budget constraints is a step in the right direction.

Another part of the federal funding package includes the Keystone XL Pipeline project, a 36 inch pipeline running 1,600 miles from Canada to Texas. It would transport oil from supply fields in Alberta and North Dakota to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

Representative Sam Graves, R-Mo., says construction of the pipeline would quickly create thousands of jobs for pipefitters, welders, mechanics, and electricians among others. That does not count the hundreds of other jobs that would be created for manufacturers or for the local businesses along the route. Graves points out that one Department of Energy analysis concludes that it would essentially eliminate our dependence on Middle East oil.

The President has delayed the final okay of the XL Pipeline until after the election. However, Graves believes the administration should approve the Keystone Pipeline without delay.

"We should not wait for an election to create thousands of good-paying jobs," Graves said. "H.R. 3630 requires the President to approve the pipeline or tell Congress why it's not in our national interest."

According to Dustin Van Liew, Public Lands Council executive director and National Cattlemen's Beef Association director of federal lands, the bill also included critical policy provisions related to livestock grazing as well as greenhouse gas reporting requirements. Van Liew says PLC and NCBA encourage President Obama to waste no time in signing the bill into law.

Specifically, Van Liew pointed to a two-year extension of a provision to allow federal lands grazing permit renewals, despite a backlog of National Environmental Policy Act reviews, and a provision to allow grazing permits to be transferred without undergoing a NEPA analysis as long as the permit remains under current terms and conditions. Van Liew says this commonsense grazing provision will continue to provide livestock producers relief from the uncertainty and instability of the federal lands grazing permit renewal process.

In addition, Van Liew says language exempts the Bureau of Land Management from environmental law, litigation and regulation until the agency is able to complete environmental reviews of livestock trailing and crossing permits, the issuance of which is crucial to many ranchers on federal lands. He said the omnibus will also prohibit the U.S. Forest Service from using funds to reduce domestic sheep grazing due to management for bighorn sheep unless the management is consistent with a state wildlife plan.

Finally, Van Liew hailed Congress for including report language requiring EPA, USFS and BLM to report fees paid by the agencies through the Equal Access to Justice Act.