Trailing permits continue: No NEPA required until 2013
In the days immediately preceding the Christmas holiday, Congress passed the final Fiscal Year 2012 megabus appropriations bill on Dec. 23 with a rider that offers a two-year reprieve on National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements for BLM trailing permits.
“We heavily favored that language, and we’re glad to see that Congress did include the language so our members in the cattle and sheep industry are not negatively impacted by the BLM, which is now going in the direction of completing those environmental, or NEPA, documents for trailing permits,” says Public Lands Council (PLC) Executive Director Dustin Van Liew.
Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna says the rider is tied in with an extension on language that’s been included in the federal appropriations bill for a number of years.
“That language renews grazing permits without NEPA analysis, as long as they’re renewed on the same terms and conditions,” says Magagna. “Along with the renewal of those permits, we were also able to get added language that applies to the transfer of permits, so long as the terms and conditions are the same.”
Magagna says that the delay on NEPA analysis for trailing permits runs through Fiscal Year 2013, or through September 2013.
“We’re pushing for them to include language in underlying grazing permits so it’s taken care of within the grazing permit itself rather than entirely new NEPA process, which is long and drawn out,” says Van Liew. “Some permits include the provisions already, and those are acceptable to the agency to going forward. In the meantime, this allows the agencies to issue trailing permits so business can continue uninterrupted.”
Although NEPA analysis for some instances of trailing that take place in the same fashion year after year could be included in a grazing permit itself, Magagna says there are other trailing events that can’t be anticipated until the actual season in which they’re being made, and so NEPA would always have to be a last-minute process.
“I would hope that Congress would recognize these are very short term movements of livestock that have minimal, if any, impact on the resource, so down the road we could forego the NEPA requirement entirely,” says Magagna. “It wasn’t there until the Idaho district court decision, and that court decision was not appropriate, and we need to get Congress to step up to remove it entirely.”
Magagna mentions the grazing bill introduced by Senator John Barrasso, which addresses a number of public lands grazing issues.
“It doesn’t include trailing, because this issue hadn’t arisen yet when the bill was filed, but if we’re able to move the bill in a future Congress, it would be a vehicle for addressing some of these concerns,” he explains.
Had the rider not passed through Congress and the President, Van Liew says agencies would have had to complete NEPA prior to spring turnout, and they likely wouldn’t have issued trailing permits.
“At the end of the last grazing season there were some cases in Idaho where the agencies weren’t willing to issue trailing permits for folks who were coming off of grazing permits, so it left them in the impossible situation of staying on permits too long or trailing without permits,” says Van Liew.
Meanwhile, Van Liew says livestock producers should continue to interact with BLM as often as possible to ensure they have flexibility built into their trailing permits.
“Working with state and regional offices is important in providing the information the agencies may request to provide flexibility and to enable the agency to complete the environmental documentation,” he notes.
Moving forward into 2012, Van Liew says other issues his organization will keep track of are, first and foremost, the 2012 Farm Bill.
“An important piece of legislation for federal lands grazing is the conservation title, and conservation programs in the west rely heavily on EQIP, or the Environmental Quality Incentives Program,” says Van Liew. “We will work with Congress to ensure that program stays intact through negotiations on the Farm Bill.”
Van Liew says both PLC and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association will continue to focus on Equal Access to Justice (EAJA) reform.
“We’ll work with the House to see that legislation is passed through the full house, and we’ll focus on the Senate to see if we can get some movement,” he says, adding that the recent appropriations bill did include report language that will require the BLM, Forest Service and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to report all EAJA payments throughout FY2012.
Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.