TESTIMONY: Appropriations Subcommittees on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies

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Written Testimony of James D. Ogsbury, Executive Director
Western Governors' Association

Submitted on March 17, 2016 to the
United States House Committee on Appropriations
Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies

Regarding Fiscal Year 2017 Appropriations for the
Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), National Park Service (NPS), U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, the Western Governors' Association (WGA) appreciates the opportunity to provide written testimony on the appropriations and activities of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), National Park Service (NPS), U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). My name is James D. Ogsbury and I am the Association’s Executive Director. WGA is an independent, non-partisan organization representing the Governors of 19 Western states and 3 U.S.-flag islands.

The agencies within the Subcommittee’s jurisdiction wield significant influence over vast areas of the American West, as 94 percent of all federal lands are situated in the western states and the federal government owns over 46 percent of the land within active WGA states. The work of this Subcommittee is of vital importance to Western Governors, as it helps establish how these lands are managed and how federal agencies interact with other levels of government and the public.

Western Governors recognize that there is a certain tension between state and federal governments, one that is embedded in the very fabric of our Constitution. It is equally clear that these different layers of government must have a close and productive working relationship if our citizens are to prosper and thrive. Western Governors believe that such cooperation is only possible when states are regarded as full and equal partners with the federal government.

The promotion of greater partnership between states and the federal government is central to the mission of WGA and represents a key theme of the WGA Species Conservation and Endangered Species Act Initiative, a signature project of the Association’s Chairman, Governor Matt Mead of Wyoming. The goal of wildlife conservation is essential to preserving the heritage of the West. This is possible only through the cooperative efforts of state and federal officials across multiple disciplines, including data sharing and species management.

For the past three years, the Subcommittee has adopted report language directing federal land managers to use state fish and wildlife data and analyses as principal sources to inform land use, land planning and related natural resource decisions. Western Governors are deeply appreciative of your assistance in encouraging a positive relationship between the states and the federal government in the use of wildlife data. Federal managers need data-driven science, mapping and analyses to effectively manage wildlife species and habitat, and in many cases states generate the best available wildlife science.

This direction from the Subcommittee is having a positive effect with federal agencies. For example, in their recent rulemaking on Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Revisions to the Regulations for Petitions [80 FR 29286, May 21, 2015], FWS and the National Marine Fisheries Service recognized the important role of state data and proposed common-sense process reforms. Western Governors view this progress as a direct result of the Subcommittee’s efforts to urge federal agencies to use state data, and are grateful for your steadfast commitment to this principle. With this encouraging progress, WGA urges you to maintain this position and reiterate it in your Fiscal Year 2017 report.

Remaining on the topic of species conservation, Western states routinely invest enormous amounts of time, money and manpower in the management of wildlife and habitat conservation. It is appropriate for federal agencies to provide sufficient resources for species protection, particularly on federal lands. When federal lands are inadequately managed, state and local efforts to protect habitat and species will not be sufficient to assure the success of species. Federal agencies must demonstrate their commitment to species preservation and recovery by committing sufficient funding for conservation efforts on federal lands, and Western Governors encourage you to adequately fund these habitat management activities.

Western Governors believe that states should be full and equal partners in the implementation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and should have the opportunity to participate in pre-listing and post-listing ESA decisions. The Act is premised on a strong state-federal partnership. Section 6(a) of the ESA states that, “In carrying out the program authorized by the Act, the Secretary shall cooperate to the maximum extent practicable with the States.” WGA submits that such cooperation should include partnership with states in the establishment of quantifiable species recovery goals, as well as in the design and implementation of recovery plans.

ESA listing decisions can have dramatic impacts on vital state interests, influencing a state’s ability to conduct almost any activity – from road siting to new home construction to environmental projects. Consequently, states should have the right to intervene in proceedings regarding the ESA. Western Governors urge the Subcommittee to support the legal standing of states to participate in administrative and judicial actions involving ESA that, by their nature, implicate state authority and resources. This is not a new concept: several federal statutes – including the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act – already vest the states with the role of co-regulator with the EPA.

With respect to funding levels of appropriated programs, WGA recommends the enactment and full funding of a permanent and stable funding mechanism for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program administered by the Department of the Interior (DOI). PILT funding does not represent a gift to local jurisdictions; rather it represents important compensation for the disproportionate acreage of non-taxable federal lands in the West. Similarly, payments under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRS) are critical to compensating communities whose timber industries have been negatively impacted by actions and acquisitions of the federal government. Western Governors hope that you will consider full funding for both PILT and SRS payments in Fiscal Year 2017.

The Subcommittee knows very well the pressing problem of “fire borrowing,” by which funding for routine Forest Service management activities is transferred to emergency firefighting activities. By diverting funding from management activities that reduce wildfire threats, this practice increases the overall fire risk and all but ensures that future wildfires will be more damaging and costly. WGA strongly supports efforts to solve the issue of fire borrowing, and would like to see the federal government use a funding structure similar to that used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in its response to natural disasters.

The 2014 Farm Bill accorded Governors the opportunity to request that National Forest System lands within their states be considered for insect and disease (I&D) designation, and the Forest Service responded by designating 46.7 million acres of land for expedited treatment. The Farm Bill authorized the appropriation of $200 million to accomplish the work required under the statute. This work will reduce the threat of wildfires in areas of high risk, and WGA requests that funding be appropriated at a reasonable and sustainable level for I&D designation projects.

Data for water management and drought response planning is critical to western states. Western Governors request adequate funding levels for the Cooperative Water Program and National Streamflow Information Program, both administered by the DOI’s U.S. Geological Survey. This data is integral to the water supply management decisions of states, utilities, reservoir operators and farmers. They are also used for flood forecasts, making them essential to risk assessment as well as water management. These two programs are important elements of a robust water data management framework in the western states, and provide needed support for drought mitigation efforts throughout the West.

Infrastructure management is another crucial element of drought response. EPA’s Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs) provide necessary support for communities to maintain and enhance their water infrastructure. The Western Governors’ Policy Resolution 2014-04, Water Quality in the West, encourages adequate funding for SRFs.

The following recommendations are intended to help ensure that taxpayers realize a healthy return on the investment of limited discretionary resources. This goal will be more readily achieved to the extent that federal agencies better leverage state authority, resources and expertise.

Western Governors continue to be concerned about the number of wild horses and burros on BLM lands, which is presently estimated to be almost double the current Appropriate Management Level (AML). Overpopulation can degrade rangeland, causing harmful effects on wildlife and domestic livestock and threatened and endangered species habitat. WGA supports a process to establish, monitor and adjust AMLs for wild horses and burros that is transparent to stakeholders, supported by scientific information (including state data), and amenable to adaptation with new information and environmental and social change.

While the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ proposed rule expanding the definition of “waters of the United States” is currently being resolved in federal court, WGA continues to view the development of this proposal as an example of process failure. Congress intended for the states and EPA to implement the CWA in partnership and delegated authority to the states to administer the law as co-regulators with EPA. States should be fully consulted and engaged in any process that may affect the management of state waters. While Western Governors appreciate the outreach from EPA and the Corps since the release of the proposed rule, we note that the agencies did not engage the states in substantive consultation prior to the release. Western Governors encourage congressional direction to EPA to engage the states in the creation of rulemaking, guidance or studies that threaten to redefine the roles and jurisdiction of the states.

States have exclusive authority over the allocation and administration of rights to groundwater located within their borders and are primarily responsible for protecting, managing, and otherwise controlling the resource. The regulatory reach of the federal government was not intended to, and should not, be applied to the management and protection of groundwater resources. WGA encourages the Subcommittee not to permit the use of appropriated funds for any activity that would implement a directive on groundwater management or otherwise subvert States’ primacy over water management. Federal agencies should work through existing state authorities to address their groundwater-related needs and concerns. Such collaborative efforts will help ensure that federal efforts involving groundwater recognize and respect state primacy and comply with federal and state statutory authorities.

States also have delegated authority from EPA to manage air quality within their borders. Last year the EPA tightened the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for ozone to .070 parts-per-million, a level equal to background ozone levels in much of the West. Attaining the revised ozone standard will present significant challenges for many western states – challenges exacerbated by factors such as wildfire, transported ozone, and background ozone. For decades eastern states have enjoyed the benefit of financial and technical support from EPA for ozone research and mitigation. Given the attainment challenges presented, and the unique character of the West, funding should be appropriated for EPA to assist western states in discharging their ozone responsibilities.

Western Governors and federal land management agencies deal with a complex web of interrelated natural resource issues. It is an enormous challenge to judiciously balance competing needs in this environment, and Western Governors appreciate the difficulty of the decisions this Subcommittee must make. The foregoing recommendations are offered in a spirit of cooperation and respect, and WGA is prepared to assist you as you discharge these critical and challenging responsibilities.

Again, thank you for the opportunity to provide written testimony. Please feel free to contact WGA if you have any questions about the content of these remarks.

Identical testimony delivered to Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies.

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