The Limited Role
of Federal Land Management Agencies in Voluntary Grazing Permit Buyout
The Voluntary Grazing Permit Buyout Act (H.R. 3324) would
direct federal agencies to immediately retire grazing allotments from commercial
livestock grazing whenever and wherever public lands grazing permittees and
lessees relinquished their permits or leases for buyout. No agency decisionmaking
or environmental review would be required; and the responsible agency would
have no authority to deny any application for buyout. The sole exception would
be if funding for permit/lease buyout was insufficient to meet demand, in which
case agencies would prioritize which permits/leases were retired first. By avoiding
agency decisionmaking and environmental review, the best interests of taxpayers,
the environment, federal grazing permittees/lessees, and the agencies themselves
would be served.
- The Constitution granted Congress primary authority
over federal public lands; Congress should use it to create a voluntary federal
grazing permit buyout program. The Property Clause in the Constitution
(Article 1, Section 19) gives Congress authority to manage federal public
lands. Thus, any authority the executive branch has to manage public lands
arises from expressed Congressional delegations of power to do so. Congressional
actions are not subject to environmental review under the National Environmental
Policy Act (NEPA), and Congress routinely passes legislation that affects
the environment without requiring (relevant) agency compliance with NEPA.
Grazing permit buyout is a fiscally prudent, economically rational, administratively
expedient, and environmentally beneficial program to reduce livestock grazing
on public lands. For these reasons, Congress should not hesitate to limit
agency decisionmaking when creating a permit/lease buyout program to retire
federal grazing allotments.
- Congress should avoid creating a voluntary permit
buyout program that includes federal agency decisionmaking and review.
Agency review under NEPA can be expensive and time-consuming. Both the BLM
and Forest Service are already backlogged on their environmental reviews of
grazing permit renewals. Since 1995 both agencies have been forced to ask
Congress for legislative riders to ease their burden by allowing for temporary
grazing permit renewals without environmental review. Requiring agency review
of permit/lease buyouts - which benefit the environment - would only
exacerbate the current administrative overload and related political controversy,
increase administrative costs, and delay payments to permittees and lessees.
- Any agency decisionmaking or review of grazing permit
buyouts would be subject to administrative appeals and/or litigation.
If federal land management agencies are given a role in deciding whether or
not to accept grazing permits/leases for buyout, their decisions would be
subject to numerous process requirements under NEPA, the Administrative Procedures
Act, Federal Lands Policy and Management Act and/or the National Forest Management
Act. These are elaborate processes that are best reserved for projects that
could potentially harm the environment.
In conclusion, it would be Congress - not permittees or
lessees - making the decision to end commercial livestock grazing on federal
public lands. The fact that H.R. 3324 would give permittees/lessees the option
to continue grazing livestock pursuant to current federal statutes, regulations,
plans and policies (or those adopted in the future) does not change the fact
that Congress is the first and last authority over federal public lands management.