Congress returned to Washington after its 4th of July recess with a new sense of urgency. All of a sudden, the high cost of energy was on their minds after Members found out that it was very much on the minds of their constituents.
Many Members use the 4th of July holiday to spend time in their congressional district or state and quite often, mix with their constituents by walking in 4th of July parades, attending community BBQs, going to their local church or just spending time with family and friends.
Well, the visit back home was a little different this time. Members heard a message loud and clear that folks are very unhappy with the high gas prices. They came back to Washington with a fear that "if we don't do something about the energy situation, we are going to be in big trouble come the November elections."
Urgency aside, Democrats and Republicans have slugged it out in terms of what to do. Republicans want to authorize more off-shore drilling and Democrats want to go after oil speculators and compel more energy conservation. Much of the month has been spent in a virtual deadlock, because neither party seems to think that "compromise" is in its political interest. Now that they are about to leave town until after Labor Day, Congressional leadership is beginning to talk with each other about working out a compromise, though both parties seem wary about giving the other party too much credit for solving the energy crisis. Maybe we will have to wait until the start of the "heating season" before a new sense of urgency sets in.
A massive CR has nothing to do with a medical condition, but rather it is the description of what Congress will do in terms of funding the operation of the federal government when the new fiscal year begins October 1, 2008. Normally, Congress would enact specific appropriation measures for the various departments, but whenever it fails to complete work in time for the fiscal year to begin, it takes the easy route and passes a "continuing resolution" which means that agencies will be funded at the same level in the new fiscal year as they were in the previous year. Call it "status quo" funding, if you will.
Mind you, there is nothing wrong with this legislative approach. If fact, some policy experts prefer it since continuing resolutions tend to limit the growth of federal spending. But to show how the stalemate over energy policy has affected the appropriations process, Senate Democrats recently cancelled a mark-up session on the Interior Department's appropriations measure for fear that Republicans would use that appropriation measure as a vehicle to offer amendments on energy issues. Senate Democrats decided that the best course of action was no meeting at all rather than being forced to vote on some tough amendments.
We are, however, making some progress in the House Appropriations Committee. As the following chart indicates, the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee is recommending an increase in funding for the Forest Service Recreation and Trail programs over what was recommended in the President's budget submission for FY 2009. A number of ARRA members have contacted their Members of Congress on this issue and we are making some headway because of your diligence. For those of you who haven't yet contacted your Representative or Senator on this funding issue, it not too late to let them know what you think. Take action today on the ARRA Website (http://www.arra-access.com/ct/71zUY291-YbR/).
Cape Hatteras OHV Access
The Cape Hatteras OHV access issue is getting some attention here in Washington. In our May, 2008 edition of our Washington newsletter, we reported on the situation in North Carolina where a recently approved Consent Degree severely limits OHV access to some of the best sport fishing areas in North America. Well, the OHV community has been busy tackling this issue and legislation has been introduced in both the House of Representatives and the United States Senate that would reinstate the National Park Service's Interim Management Strategy for the Cape Hatteras area. The legislation, if enacted, would ensure that the Interim plan would remain in effect and thereby provide OHV access to Cape Hatteras until such time as a long-term off-road vehicle management plan is completed.
This week, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on S. 3113. The House companion legislation is H. R. 6233. You can read the text of both bills by going the ARRA website Federal Legislation page.
North Carolinian OHV enthusiasts as well as local and federal elected officials and national OHV groups are working hard in support of this legislation. It merits our support as well, so please contact your elected Representative/Senators and urge adoption of these measures before Congress adjourns this session. If you have an interest in contacting your elected representative, we have a special page on the ARRA website to take action on this issue! Visit http://www.arra-access.com/ct/IpzUY291-YbQ/.
Law of Unintended Consequences for Recreational Boaters
Recreational boaters throughout the United States are breathing a bit easier now that the U. S. Senate and the House of Representatives passed the Clean Boating Act of 2008. The bill now awaits the President's signature in order for it to become law.
In response to a federal court decision, Congress had to step in and bring some practicality to public policy. This time, it was the recreational boater who was threatened by a 2006 ruling by a federal judge who said that the Environmental Protection Agency incorrectly exempted recreational boats from the Clean Water Act. EPA made that interpretation back in 1973!
If the court's ruling remained in effect, beginning September 30, 2008, recreational boaters throughout the United States would have to pay large fees for annual permits similar to those of ocean-going cargo ships. Failure to have such permits and failure to abide by stringent dumping guidelines meant that recreational boating as we know it would have been dealt a fatal blow. Imagine having to pay a large fee for a federal permit just so a couple of times a year you could take your 14-foot fishing boat to your favorite lake.
Many people in the recreational boating community worked very hard on this legislation and ARRA sends them our congratulations. This is an excellent example of how a grassroots effort can make a difference! Well done, boaters!!!
Land Use Forum Meets in Washington, D. C.
A number of national OHV organizations met in Washington during July to discuss land use issues. In addition, we met with officials from the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service. Stakeholders present for the meetings were leaders from the American Council of Snowmobile Associations, American Motorcyclist Association, Americans for Responsible Recreational Access, BlueRibbon Coaltion, Motorcycle Industry Council, National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council, Off-Road Business Association, Specialty Vehicle Institute of America, Tread Lightly!, and United Four Wheel Drive Associations. The meeting sessions were held in ARRA's Washington office.
The purpose of this meeting was to exchange ideas, share war stories, and talk about the challenges facing us as we approach a new Congress and Administration in 2009. While there is a diversity of views, interests and strategies, we find that by periodically talking and meeting with each other, we can do a better job of working together on those interests that we share in common.
Larry E. Smith
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access