House editorial: 2019 will be good year for Idaho

Congressman Mike Simpson is having a pretty good year.

Somehow Simpson has continued to manage walking the fine line between being practically the state’s patron saint of public land issues and maintaining or increasing the state’s input on environmental protection and wildlife regulations.

Historically he has worked overtime on behalf of Idaho’s sportsmen both with his unswerving support for access to public lands, his years-long work on Cecil D. Andrus-White Clouds Wilderness, but also for those rural Idaho communities that depend on the federal government’s continued financial support – payment in lieu of taxes, or PILT – to offset the loss of tax income that comes from living in the backyard of the state’s massive stock of public lands.

Simpson also cobbled together 150 sponsors and bipartisan support for his Wildfire Disaster Funding Act which, in March, passed in the Omnibus Appropriations bill. The legislation sets aside $2 billion a year outside the Forest Service’s regular budget to battle fires during the annual wildfire season. “Fire borrowing was intended to be an extraordinary measure, but as fire seasons have grown more destructive, it has become common practice – and has created a devastating cycle that prevents agencies from doing needed hazardous fuels removal or timber harvests, leading to worse fires,” Simpson told the Associated Press at the time.

Several changes in the FY 2019 Interior and Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, which passed by a 25-20 vote margin last week, include language that directs the federal Bureau of Land Management to work with state or local agencies on issues like prohibiting banning recreational use of public lands except in cases of public safety, aquifer recharge and sediment build up caused by flooding.

Simpson also managed to help increase funding for PILT, argued for a $30 million increase for hazardous fuels management, which will provide funds to clear underbrush and thin trees to help prevent fires from climbing to treetops, fueling runaway megafires, and secured a $175 million increase to the National Park Service coffers to chip away at an $11.6 billion maintenance backlog.

Along with the news release containing information about provisions beneficial to Idaho because of Simpson’s work as chairman of the Energy and Water Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, were links to video clips of Simpson arguing his point of view on several topics.

These brief video clips are often worth watching because they offer fascinating windows into the world occupied by our congressional delegation two time zones to the east. They give perspective on how well-versed and pragmatic Simpson is on issues of importance to the state of Idaho and his constituents.

While arguing for clearer terminology than “navigable” “waters of the United States” included in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act, Simpson said, “Navigable to what? A steam ship? A canoe? A rubber raft?”

That’s just one example of Simpson’s use of humor and language to communicate the, at times, farcical work of hammering out a single set of appropriations for a single year that will try to meet the needs of a nation of millions, maintain billions of acres, and fraught with agendas from lobbyists, activists, attorneys and congressional colleagues with their own baggage containing more of the same from the opposing side.

The best thing about it being a good year for Mike Simpson is that it’s also a really good year for Idaho.