On November 21st, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources passed S. 258, the Grazing Improvement Act of 2013. The legislation, sponsored by Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), was introduced as a means to add stability and efficiency to the federal grazing permit renewal and administration process. However, in the process of making the legislation palatable to certain Democrats on the Committee, troubling provisions were included which PLC adamantly opposes.
Nevertheless, this action marks a substantial step in the process of passing pro-grazing legislation in Washington, where countless issues and legislation have fallen victim to gridlock. The bill passed by the Committee would codify appropriations rider language that safeguards grazing while the land management agencies work through their extensive backlog of National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) assessments on expired permits. It would also allow for the life of grazing permits to be extended beyond the current 10-year maximum to up to 20 years, provided certain criteria are met. For more than a decade, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) have labored under a backlog of unnecessary and burdensome NEPA assessments on grazing permit renewals. This bill would provide sole discretion to the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture on when to complete NEPA, while allowing for the analysis to take place on allotments rather than permits (as is currently the case for BLM). Additionally, the bill would allow for NEPA analysis to take place at a broader scale, based on ecological similarities among multiple allotments. Finally, the bill would provide for certain grazing decisions to be categorically excluded from full NEPA – something which is not explicitly included in current law. The actions that could be excluded from NEPA review are issuance of permits that are continuing under current practices, and crossing and trailing of livestock.
As the bill advances in both chambers of Congress, PLC will continue to champion the abovementioned provisions of the GIA, knowing that some clarifying adjustments will be needed. However, we recognize that detrimental language was added during the Senate markup, a provision that creates a pilot program allowing for “voluntary” permit buyouts in Oregon and New Mexico. As PLC has long held, these “voluntary” buyouts are not often “voluntary” at all. Radical anti-grazing groups, once provided with a legal avenue to eliminate grazing, will apply pressure to ranchers until they finally give in and sell out. According to the Committee passed language, grazing would be permanently ended wherever “voluntary” relinquishment of a rancher’s grazing permit occurs. Up to 25 permits could be relinquished in each state annually. While the inclusion of this language was likely necessary to get the bill through committee, PLC will fight to see the language eliminated as the bill moves forward.
The House version of the Grazing Improvement Act, which passed out of the Natural Resources Committee in June, does not contain buyout language. We will continue supporting its passage in both the House and Senate, with the ultimate goal of bringing the two versions together in conference for a final bill that will strengthen the industry. We will oppose anything moving to the President’s desk which does not advance our industry’s goals.