Simpson may gain positions on subcommittees

Simpson Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho

TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) -- With the elections done, U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson has his work cut out for him.

The Idaho Republican is poised to likely become the chairman of the interior and environment subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, another result of the nation's sweep of GOP victories that put Republicans in leadership of the U.S. House.

In Idaho's 2nd Congressional District, which includes the Magic Valley, that's an assignment that would give Simpson a stronger voice in a slew of issues encompassing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, federal lands and national parks.

Simpson has been a critic of some EPA regulations, such as those regarding arsenic levels in drinking water, that have shouldered rural communities with financial hardships.

"I'm not one who is out to get the EPA, if you want to call it that," Simpson said in an interview with The Times-News of Twin Falls. "I'm out to make sure they do their job as Congress intended them to do."

While it's widely expected for Simpson to get the chairmanship, he cautioned that it's still up to a congressional steering committee to make the final call.

The subcommittee oversees funding for the EPA, the various agencies of the Interior Department, and the U.S. Forest Service, among others.

Simpson noted that spending reductions will be necessary, adding: "EPA's one of the primary targets because of the huge increases they've received in the last couple years."

He cautioned that the hard work is just beginning.

"People sometimes think that it will be easy just to cut back the federal government, but these are hard decisions," he said. "It's what we were elected to do."

Though the subcommittee's work involves funding, there's also a policy element because of amendments that can be attached restricting how the money can be spent.

For example, an amendment limiting the EPA's regulation of greenhouse gases died in the subcommittee on a tied vote. Simpson also cited past successes in preventing the EPA from regulating methane releases from confined animal feedlot operations.

Of course, there's much more ahead than the EPA.

Simpson said he'll be focused on issues like ensuring adequate funding for fighting wildfires. He also wants to make sure that the Bureau of Land Management addresses a backlog of grazing permits that's built up, a crucial issue in Idaho and across the West.

National parks have a backlog of maintenance needs, Simpson noted, while visitor numbers continually go up even in the economic slump.

The House's Republican majority won't remove all obstacles to Simpson's efforts to make the Boulder Mountains and White Cloud Peaks in central Idaho a wilderness area.

U.S. Rep.-elect Raul Labrador, who will represent Idaho's 1st Congressional District, said during this year's campaign that he opposes the proposed Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act. But Simpson still expects an easier go of his bill in the House, where the chairman of the House Resources Committee is expected to be U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington state.

On the Senate side, Simpson still predicts issues in getting Sen. Jim Risch's support, Simpson said. Risch, R-Idaho, has expressed reservations about the bill, which ultimately involves 332,775 acres and forging a compromise among different user groups.

Simpson said he plans to reintroduce the legislation.

As for the election of Labrador, Simpson said he's worked with both Republican and Democratic members in the delegation.

"I think all of us view it as once you're elected, you're elected to work with whoever the member of the other district is," he said.

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