Report to Sublette County on NACO Legislative Conference
by Joel Bousman, President of Western Interstate Region (WIR)
March 13, 2017
It was an eventful trip this year to Washington DC to the National Association of Counties (NACO) and Western Interstate Region of Counties (WIR), commonly referred to as WIR/NACO.
I left on Feb 23rd for the airport in Salt Lake City. Spent the night in Green River, as I80 was closed when I got there. Missed my flight from SLC to DC. Got the next flight out and got into DC at 12:30 PM on the 24th.
I represent Sublette County as a member of the Public Lands Steering Committee (PLSC) of NACO and we spent the day on Saturday in public lands policy meetings. We were informed that the Secure Rural Schools funding received by forest counties expired in 2015 and the last payment to counties was in 2016. Unless this program is reauthorized by congress, payments will revert to the original 25% revenue sharing from timber sales on lands managed by the Forest Service. This amounts to about an 80% decrease in SRS funding to counties nationwide. In Sublette County, SRS payments are received by the schools and the county. The county uses our part under title 3 of this funding to pay for our search and rescue helicopter. Unless we can get congress to reauthorize this funding, the amount Sublette County would get from 25% revenue sharing would be miniscule.
We also were informed the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program has not yet been reauthorized for full funding. This is a federal payment to counties from the Department of Interior, which is intended to compensate counties with BLM managed lands because the county does not tax federal managed property. Counties will continue to need to lobby congress to ensure this program is funded at least at last year’s levels as part of the upcoming congressional budget. NACO has asked President Trump to include full funding of the PILT program in the Presidential Budget Request.
The PLSC adopted several resolutions, including a resolution supporting that congress establish a foundation for the purpose of helping support activities of the BLM. Also a resolution urging congress to support funding to counties to continue the existing Public Lands Survey System, and a resolution supporting the Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act of 2016. This is an effort to measure the outdoor recreation economy’s contribution to the U.S. economy. And finally a resolution asking congress to allow the Chief of the Forest Service to delegate appointment of citizens to the local Resource Advisory Committees to the appropriate Regional Forester, or Forest Supervisor. This has been a problem because lack of appointments by the Secretary of Agriculture to the RACs has resulted in the lack of a quorum and inability to achieve projects on the forest. An emergency resolution that would have asked for the removal of BLM and Forest Service law enforcement, and turn those duties over to the counties failed to have enough support for introduction.
On Sunday morning I participated in the Rural Action Caucus. This is an opportunity to discuss common concerns amount rural counties across America. Rural counties have many common issues and this caucus provides a basis for understanding how other counties address problems similar to Wyoming counties and is a worthwhile discussion. Members met with US Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Office and Office of Intergovernmental Affairs to discuss various programs within USDA Rural Development. We also received training on providing testimony during a congressional hearing.
Sunday afternoon was the WIR Board of Directors meeting. We had an update on activities of the National Endangered Species Act Reform Coalition (NESARC). This group, of which both NACO/WIR and the Western Governors Association (WGA) are members is a coalition dedicated solely to achieving improvements to the Endangered Species Act. As President of WIR, I have been active in working with the WGA and NESARC to promote needed changes to the ESA. Also a discussion about the Antiquities Act, economic impacts of designation of large tracts of land as National Monuments, and the fact that there is no existing mechanism of oppose such Presidential declarations.
As a member of the NACO Board of Directors, I attended the board meeting on Monday. The important part of this meeting is to take action on all the resolutions proposed by the various steering committees of NACO. These resolutions, once adopted, provide guidance for the lobbying efforts of the NACO staff members throughout the year. All the resolutions proposed by the Public Lands Steering Committee were adopted.
Western Counties thru WIR have joined with the Western Governors in addressing issues of common interest. We spent all day Tuesday on Capitol Hill lobbying congressional staff on the need to address the process for local and state government participation. The common message from our Western Counties and Western States was the need to allow more input from counties and states in regards to federal issues, including during the development of federal regulations and federal planning efforts. We met with the Offices of Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader McCarthy as well as the Office of Minority Leader Pelosi. Also met with the Senate GOP Conference and with the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs as well as the House Western Caucus. These meetings were mostly with staff members and the common message from our western governors was the need to strengthen the consistency review process for governors to have real input and not just a "check the box" by federal agencies that indicates they made contact with the governors. The common message from me as President of WIR was focused on the need to clarify and strengthen the coordination requirements in FLPMA and to better define and allow for more direct participation in the planning process for counties serving as cooperating agencies. I continually commented that the best natural resource decisions are made by people working together on the ground at the local level as opposed to the existing top down approach from Washington DC. The need to repeal Planning 2.0 was a common theme used as an example in all these meetings. By the way, Planning 2.0 has now been repealed by both the House and the Senate and is awaiting signature by the President. Maybe today.
On Wednesday, Wyoming Commissioners attended Wyoming Wednesday where we met with Senators Enzi and Barrasso as well as Congresswoman Cheney. Later on Wednesday, the WIR/WGA coalition had the opportunity to meet with the chief of staff for newly confirmed Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinkie. I had the opportunity to discuss wild horse management, Planning 2.0, energy development in Wyoming, and grazing permit renewal. I felt we were very well received by the Department of Interior staff. The next day, Secretary Zinkie arrived horseback to take on the duties of Secretary of Interior.
If anyone has any questions, please feel free to contact me anytime. Thank you for the opportunity to serve Sublette County.
Joel Bousman, Sublette County Commissioner, President of the Western Interstate Region of Counties