(The following is a press release from the Public Lands Council)
WASHINGTON—(Nov. 14, 2013) Today, the Public Lands Council (PLC) and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) hailed the House Committee on Natural Resources for passage of H.R. 3189 The Water Rights Protection Act (WRPA), the bill passed as bipartisan legislation with a recorded vote of 19-14. The bill was introduced in early October by Scott Tipton (R-Colo.) and co-sponsors, Mark Amodei (R-Nev.), Rob Bishop (R-Utah), Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), and Jared Polis (D-Colo.).
WRPA was developed to protect water rights from a recent directive and actions by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) which allow the agency to usurp water rights from private entities — despite private water development and property rights. The USFS is attempting to obtain these water rights for the federal government as a condition of issuing standard land use permits; however, USFS has repeatedly failed to provide just compensation — a violation of the Fifth Amendment.
“This bill is commonsense legislation, which will allow western producers to stay in business,” said Brice Lee, PLC president and Colo. rancher. “The directive and actions by the Forest Service and their attempt to unjustly acquire these rights amounts to a total negligence of states’ water law, private property rights, and the Constitution. The full committee taking up H.R. 3189 is promising — we are urging the House to take the bill to the floor and stop the USFS directive in its infancy.”
Last month, the Subcommittee on Water and Power held a hearing on the bill, inviting a panel of witnesses who testified to the importance of water rights to private business. Witnesses explained the necessity of sovereign state water laws, which are long-established in the West. Witnesses told the subcommittee how devastating the impacts of this directive are to industries, including ski companies and federal land ranching — stressing the importance of these water rights and their significance in keeping businesses viable in western communities.
NCBA President and Wyo. rancher Scott George applauded the committee for taking up and passing the bill.
“This legislation is urgent and the committee’s hearing sends an important message to the USFS — holding them accountable and ensuring they cannot abuse water-right holders any further,” George said. “Ultimately, the USFS directive and similar actions could put a lot of folks out of business. Committee passage of this legislation is a step in the right direction for Congress and serves as an opportunity for them to protect private property rights for the livestock industry.”
Both Lee and George urge the House to move H.R. 3189 to the floor for swift passage and for the Senate to take the bill up without delay.
PLC has represented livestock ranchers who use public lands since 1968, preserving the natural resources and unique heritage of the West. Ranchers who utilize public lands own nearly 120 million acres of the most productive private land and manage vast areas of public land, accounting for critical wildlife habitat and the nation’s natural resources. PLC works to maintain a stable business environment in which livestock producers can conserve the West and feed the nation and world.