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As an avid outdoorsman, a clean environment and strong conservation programs are of the utmost concern to me.  Protecting the environment can go hand-in-hand with our efforts to expand our economy.  One of my top priorities in Congress is to continue to support efforts that balance growth with stewardship.  By reducing rates of pollution in more cost-effective ways, we can ensure that our policies are economically and environmentally sound.

Environment in the House-passed Budget of 2015

Representative Tom Price, chairman of the House Budget Committee in the 114th Congress, introduced the House Republicans’ Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 Budget, “A Balanced Budget for a Stronger America,” on March 20, 2015.

This budget recognizes the importance of the federal government’s involvement in protecting our nation’s natural resources.  However, as we have seen in recent years, bigger government has not resulted in better government, especially in regards to the actions of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  For this reason, this budget streamlines or repeals ineffective and counter-productive regulations like many of those put in place by the EPA.  It would call upon Congress, in consultation with the public, to enact legislation to reform our regulatory system to make it more cost-effective, more transparent, and to ensure that federal regulations do not stifle economic growth or disproportionately disadvantage low-income Americans.

This budget came before the House on March 26, 2015, and was passed with my support by a vote of 228 to 199.  I was encouraged that my colleagues chose to support a budget that offers the American people a brighter future. 

Conservation in the Farm Bill

On February 7, 2014, President Obama signed the Agriculture Act of 2014 into law.  This bill, more commonly referred to as the “Farm Bill,” was a bipartisan agreement reached between the House and Senate to reauthorize farm and nutrition programs through the end of FY 2018.  Included in the Farm Bill is the reauthorization of conservation programs that are important to our environment, including the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).  Additionally, this bill consolidates numerous smaller conservation initiatives into these larger programs in order to reduce duplicative efforts and increase efficiency.  Lastly, this bill ties conservation compliance standards to crop insurance eligibility, ensuring that producers implement approved conservation plans for any highly erodible lands that are being used to produce crops.  I voted in favor of the Agriculture Act of 2014.

Asian Carp

Many catfish farms began using Asian carp in the 1970s as a means of effectively removing algae and other build-up affecting overall pond function.  Unfortunately, due to the large flooding in the area during the 1990s, many of the catfish farm ponds overflowed and released Asian carp into nearby streams and the Mississippi River Basin.  The carp have since made their way up the Mississippi River, competing with indigenous fish for resources and endangering local ecosystems.

Congress has already acted on this issue and is working with the Army Corps of Engineers in association with the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration to provide funding and assistance for mitigating the effects that Asian carp are having on the Great Lakes.  Rest assured that as Congress continues to examine the ramifications of Asian Carp and possible solutions, I will continue to be actively engaged in this issue.

Protecting the Great Lakes

The Great Lakes are one of Wisconsin’s greatest natural resources.  They contain approximately 20 percent of the world’s freshwater and supply more than 30 million Americans with their daily drinking water.  It is absolutely essential that we make every effort to protect this treasured resource for future generations of Wisconsinites.

Congress approved—with my support—$300 million to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) as part of the legislation providing funding for the federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year, H.R. 2029, the Consolidated Appropriations Act for FY 2016.  Of its many purposes, the GLRI is charged with cleaning up toxins and areas of concerns, combating invasive species like Asian carp, promoting healthy waterways, restoring wetlands and other habitats, and working with a variety of partners to protect and preserve the Great Lakes.

EPA’s Intrusive Regulations

The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers intend to implement a rule that would expand the scope of federal regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act (CWA).  The proposed rule would assert CWA jurisdiction over nearly all areas with any hydrologic connection to downstream navigable waters, including man-made conveyances such as ditches, pipes, and farmland ponds.  This regulatory proposal runs contrary to state water law, previous Supreme Court decisions, and existing compacts.  While I believe the federal government has a clear role to play in protecting the environment, I am deeply concerned with this regulatory initiative coming from the EPA.

In an effort to address this proposed rule, Representative Bill Shuster introduced the Regulatory Integrity Protection Act of 2015.  This legislation would prohibit the EPA and Corps from enforcing the proposed rule that would redefine “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) under the CWA, expanding the EPA’s jurisdiction into state and local waters.  It would require the agencies to consult with state and local officials to formulate a new regulatory proposal to define the scope of waters covered under the CWA.  I was happy to support this bill when it passed the House in May of 2015.

On October 9, 2015, a federal appeals court ruled that the regulation cannot be enforced nationwide.  According to the court, “a stay temporarily silences the whirlwind of confusion that springs from uncertainty” of the rule until it is determined whether the EPA’s efforts are legal.  The House then acted once more to nullify the overreaching WOTUS rule.  On January 13, 2016, the House considered S.J.Res. 22, which expressed congressional disapproval over one of the largest federal land grabs in history while deeming the rule ineffective.  The resolution passed by a vote of 253-166.

I am also deeply concerned with the EPA’s Clean Power Plan initiative.  On August 3, 2015, President Obama released the final version of this plan, which the EPA estimates will cut carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants in the United States by at least 32 percent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.  Unfortunately, rather than trying to grow our economy for everyone by keeping energy costs low, the president is once again picking winners and losers.  This final rule would add more burdensome regulations that will destroy jobs and raise energy costs for hard-working families already struggling to make ends meet.  It will also do little, if anything, to meaningfully reduce global carbon emissions, according to the EPA's own estimates.

A growing number of states, including Wisconsin, have signaled their intention to challenge the president's coercive Clean Power Plan in court.  It also appears that the president's Clean Power Plan may well rely on the EPA taking unilateral action well outside the scope of the agency's regulatory power as granted by Congress.  This caused the Supreme Court to temporarily block implementation of the rule on February 9. Additionally, the House passed in a bipartisan fashion and with my support H.R. 2042, the Ratepayer Protection Act, by a vote of 247 to 180 on June 24, 2015.  Like the Court’s stay, this bill would protect the states from being coerced to comply with the president's plan until the legality or illegality of his unilaterally imposed federal mandates can be determined.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was first enacted in 1965 to help preserve, develop, and ensure access to outdoor recreation facilities in the United States.  Since the program’s origin, the total annual appropriations from the LWCF have fluctuated broadly. Nearly all of the revenue is derived from oil and gas leasing in the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), but the fund may receive up to $900 million in discretionary spending each Fiscal Year, which is determined by Congress.

Wisconsin has received approximately $211.5 million in LWCF funding over the past 50 years for the protection of federal, state, and local resources such as the Ice Age and North Country National Scenic Trails, the Apostle Islands, and Devil’s Lake State Park.  Working forests, wildlife habitat, and water quality are further protected by grants through the Forest Legacy Program.  Outdoor recreation also helps to drive our economy. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly three million people participate in hunting, fishing, and wildlife watching in Wisconsin each year, contributing $3.9 billion to the state economy.

As part of the FY 2016 Consolidation Appropriations Act, the fund was reauthorized through the end of FY 2018. The legislation appropriates $450 million from LWCF for FY 2016, with more than 50 percent directed to state and local recreation, conservation, and battlefield protection programs.  These funds will help ensure that public land is protected and available for recreational use.

Sportsmen’s Issues

During the 114th Congress, I serve as an active member of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus.  I am happy to serve in this capacity and believe in supporting policies that help sportsmen and women.  Consisting of more than 300 members of Congress, the Caucus promotes and helps pass legislation that affects sportsmen. This includes issues related to conservation efforts, gun rights, and other fishing and hunting-related concerns.

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