It seems like some issues never go away. You can probably recite them right along with me: transportation reauthorization/Recreational Trails Program; sage grouse; monument designations; federal funding issues and the like. You probably think; is he ever going to write about something else?
Now you can see my dilemma. It does seem like we are in an issues rut. However, we don’t always set the agenda. Rather, we spend a lot of time reacting to the agenda set by others.
A question often asked of me when people find out that I spend a lot of my time in the halls of Congress is, “do they ever get anything done?” And when I respond in the affirmative, a response they do not expect, a look of puzzlement often comes across their faces expecting me to spin some sort of yarn.
The truth is that while issues do hang out there for a very long time, step by step, many times very small steps, things do happen. The Recreational Trail Program (RTP) is one such example. (You knew it was only a matter of time before I would hit the “replay” button.) During the last full week of June, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee reported out a six year authorization measure for federal transportation programs. Unlike a couple of years ago when this very Committee tried to totally eliminate RTP, this year they left it alone, meaning that the current status quo remains. This is a significant victory on our part and other supporters of RTP. We were able to generate significant political support, thanks to many of you, so that a strong team of Senators were willing to go to bat for this program. Months of hard work has paid off.
Of course, whether the Congress can find the financial means to fund a six year bill is still up in the air and I frankly feel it is unlikely. And, we still need to wait for final action on RTP by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, but we have every indication that the program will be okay. Where we once had a problem in the Senate EPW Committee, that problem no longer exists. Progress!
The sage grouse issue keeps popping up in various congressional measures. We already reported that the House-passed Department of Defense authorization measure imposed a ten year delay. If that wasn’t enough, both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees included language in their respective bills that would forbid the Interior Department from using any funds for one year to write a rule to list the greater sage-grouse as either threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. At the same time both committees tied the Department’s hands on writing regulatory rules, they also appropriated in excess of $40 million for the acquisition of sage grouse habitat. The potential hiccup in all of this is that it is entirely possible that the appropriations measure for the Interior Department will not make it through the Congress in time for the start of the new fiscal year, October 1, 2015. If that becomes the case, a continuing resolution will have to be enacted by Congress and rider language having to do with the sage grouse and other issues will not be included.
Regulatory control of recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs) by the Consumer Product Safety Commission continues to be an issue of concern, but Congress has begun to take a very careful look at what the Commission is up to. As you know, legislation has been introduced in both the House and the Senate which would direct the National Academy of Sciences to take a “second look” at the issue. And, we have begun to see some traction in the Congress. S. 1040, introduced by Senator Dean Heller (R-NV), was already reported out of the Senate Commerce Committee on May 20, 2015. On the House side, more than 58 co-sponsors have lined up behind H.R. 999, introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), which is currently pending before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Our hope is that the CPSC is beginning to take note that the very committees that have jurisdictional oversight of the Commission’s work are having serious concerns about the Commission’s agenda as it relates to ROVs. Call these little steps, but very important ones, nonetheless, in resolving this issue. If you haven’t already sent a message to your Representative and Senators about the ROV issue, take your own step by clicking here.
Congress returns on July 6th for a packed full month of business before breaking again for the August recess (remember small steps?). I have already begun thinking and worrying about what the next few weeks will be like and I haven’t even celebrated the Fourth of July! Maybe I need to reorder my priorities…
With all due respect to our snowmobile brethren, there is never a better time to be outside than in the summer months. Especially as we approach the national holiday celebrating the birth of our country, #239 and counting, our hope is that folks will have fun to the fullest, but remember also that responsible and safe behavior is best for oneself and one’s family.
As you recreate, please remember to share with us photos you have taken while out on the trail. Whether it is hiking, mountain biking or riding your ROV, we want to share in your experience.
Larry E. Smith
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access (ARRA)