Conventional D.C. wisdom suggests that not much lawmaking gets done during an election year. Congressional actions leading up to the November election are being viewed through a highly politicized lens, which makes reaching agreement on legislation practically impossible. While Congress may be too cautious to move forward on any legislative pieces, we’ll still see some action on the Hill this year.
As I mentioned last week, congressional committees are knee-deep in the appropriations process for the Fiscal Year 2013 budget. Last Wednesday, American Forests submitted written appropriations testimony to encourage lawmakers to prioritize the funding of forest and water programs. With last December’s averted government shutdown still fresh in my memory, I can only hope that Congress will reach some kind of agreement on the budget before the November election. Aside from the onerous task of appropriations, the temporary legislative halt will allow Congress to focus more on field hearings and agency programs.
Field hearings give members of Congress the opportunity to travel around the country to hear directly from local community stakeholders. Field hearings on the Farm Bill have already started and will continue through this month. Next week, the House Natural Resources Committee will hold field hearings in Alaska to discuss the effect of energy prices on rural communities.
For the Forest Service, it’s the perfect time to talk with Congress about the new Planning Rule and how it will improve land management in this country. The agency says the new rule will work to address forest threats like insect infestation, wildfire and climate change. The agency’s work around the Planning Rule has certainly grabbed Congress’ attention. Yesterday, a House Agriculture Committee forestry panel met to review a recent Forest Service report that talks about increasing the pace of restoration in our national forests. The report outlines several actions that will allow the agency to increase restoration efforts, such as expanding collaborative landscape partnerships, implementing a bark-beetle-reduction strategy and utilizing the new Planning Rule on several national forests.
So while it may seem that D.C. is too caught up with the election to budge on legislation, there are plenty of other channels for moving forward.