Lummis continues work on EAJA, EPA and forest health in next Congress
Worland – As U.S. Congress transitions from the 111th to the 112th, Wyoming Representative Cynthia Lummis will continue to work on transparency in the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), dust regulations and the Forest Ecosystem Protection and Recovery Act.
Ryan McConnaughey, northwest Wyoming field representative for Rep. Lummis, updated the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts at their annual convention in Worland, held Nov. 16-18.
McConnaughey said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) dust regulations are an issue the House Ag Committee has worked on, and will continue into next year.
“I’ve also been asked if Rep. Lummis will stay on the committees where she has been, and the answer is, I don’t know,” said McConnaughey. “I would assume so, because I haven’t heard otherwise, but that doesn’t mean anything until the committees are set later this week.”
Rep. Lummis sponsored the EAJA Act of 2010, and McConnaughey said it’s a simple bill that requires the U.S. Department of Justice to compile and make publicly available all the money that is reimbursed to organizations and individuals if they win a lawsuit against the federal government in court.
“The interesting part is those requirements were in the original bill that passed in 1980, but were taken out by another piece of legislation in 1995,” he noted.
McConnaughey brought up an EAJA study by Cheyenne attorney Karen Budd-Falen, where she concluded that in over 1,200 lawsuits, over $37 million has been spent from the federal government, largely to major environmental organizations.
“This bill requires the Department of Justice to keep track of that money, and make that information publicly available,” he said.
That would include how much money, the agencies and organizations involved and how much the attorneys charge for their services in fighting the battles in court.
“WACD is a supporter of that bill, as well as several organizations throughout the West and nationally,” he added.
“There have been some calls to expand that bill to include the Judgment Fund, which is a separate fund, and to bar large, well-funded organizations, that don’t do on-the-ground environmental and conservation work, from accessing the money,” he explained. “That’s something Rep. Lummis is looking at, but the Judiciary Committee has said the current bill is most likely to pass in its current form. There’s a better outlook for the bill in the House, but there is still some concern about the Senate.”
Rep. Lummis will work with groups who have supported the existing EAJA bill, and see if any changes or additions would work in the next Congress.
Moving on to the Forest Ecosystem Protection and Recovery Act, McConnaughey said it’s mostly about the bark beetle and its effect on national forests in the West.
“We describe it as a pragmatic approach to dealing with the bark beetle epidemic,” he said. “Rep. Lummis recognizes we probably won’t stop the current epidemic, and that the beetle does serve an ecological purpose. However, foresters and land managers continue to say they don’t have the tools or the support to effectively manage forests to keep an outbreak like this from happening again.”
McConnaughey said the bill is divided into two parts. The first provides for demonstration projects in western states – at least one and up to four in each state.
“Those will either be removing dead or dying trees, or providing for greener forests to prevent large scale outbreaks in the future,” he explained. “The bill also allows for any biomass to be taken and used in energy production, and counted in the energy regulations as green, or renewable, energy, and that provides incentives for private companies to come in and help with this problem.”
The second part of the bill allows the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture to declare emergency areas for forests affected by the bark beetle. It also allows governors to ask for disaster or emergency declarations, similar to floods, tornadoes or earthquakes.
“It provides for an expedited process in removing those trees, especially when they affect the health and safety of both the forest and its infrastructure, and the people using the forest,” said McConnaughey.
“The overall goal is to improve the health of the forests while providing private incentives for companies and stakeholders in individual communities to address the problem,” he stated, adding the bill has been a struggle. “Our staff and Rep. Lummis worked hard with the Forest Service in D.C. to craft this bill, only to have the administration decide they didn’t’ like it, and the same Forest Service personnel testified against it at the hearing.”
Rep. Lummis is again working with stakeholder groups. “She will make changes to the bill, and she will contact conservation districts about their ideas on the bill, to see if we can get an effective bill where state agencies, local stakeholders and the federal government can address forest health issues.”
Overall, McConnaughey said Lummis would really like to see a change in the idea of what environmentalism and conservation is, which is a boots-on-the-ground effort.
“So often we see large environmental and policy groups with no one in the field doing conservation work, but they gather large amounts of money under that auspice,” said McConnaughey. “Rep. Lummis would like to see a change in the culture where groups like conservation districts get the credit they deserve for hard-working conservation.”
Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.