Apr 17, 2023 | Blog

Issue Alert: Congress Returns To Capitol Hill: Alliance Ramps Up Engagement

Congress Returns to Capitol Hill: Alliance Ramps Up Engagement

Semanko to Testify, Federal Action Plan Released


CONTACT: Dan Keppen (541) 892-6244

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As Congress returns to Capitol Hill after a two-week recess, a Family Farm Alliance representative will testify before one of several committee hearings scheduled on issues important to Western farmers and ranchers. The Alliance also unveiled its action plan that will guide the organization’s engagement with federal lawmakers and the Biden Administration for the remainder of the 118th Congress.

Norm Semanko to Testify on Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA)

Congress resumes work today as several committees prepared for hearings this week on issues important to Western farmers and ranchers.

Alliance General Counsel Norm Semanko will testify tomorrow (April 18, 2023) before the House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife and Fisheries (WWF), which will hold a legislative hearing at 10:30 a.m. EDT in room 1334 Longworth House Office Building. The subcommittee will consider a number of GOP-led Congressional Review Act resolutions disapproving the Biden Administration’s implementation of the ESA, along with a Democratic proposal to protect the North Atlantic right whale.

CLICK HERE to download a PDF version of the hearing memo prepared by Subcommittee staff. You can also watch the hearing HERE on YouTube.

Mr. Semanko will testify in support of H.J. Res. 46 by Rep. Cliff Bentz (R-OREGON), which would roll back a Biden Administration rule that ended a Trump Administration rule on designating critical habitat under the ESA. Critical habitat designations can carry with them significant economic and regulatory burdens that must be shouldered by agricultural water managers and rural communities, which Mr. Semanko’s written testimony outlines.

“The Alliance strongly supported the 2020 Final Rule promulgated in the Trump Administration and believed that rule’s critical habitat exclusion procedures were necessary to provide greater transparency and certainty for the public and stakeholders,” said Mr. Semanko.

Mr. Semanko serves as the General Counsel of the Alliance, as part of his duties as Office Managing Shareholder of Parsons, Behle and Latimer’s office in Boise, Idaho. He is the firm’s water law practice group leader in the Pacific Northwest Region. He has more than 30 years of experience with water resources, environmental, natural resources, land use, public lands and regulatory issues.

Alliance Rolls Out “Six Point Plan” to Tackle Western Water Challenges

As the 118th Congress returns and with election day less than 18 months away, the Alliance today publicly rolled out its “Six Point Plan” intended to guide the organization’s advocacy efforts in Washington.

Extreme weather events in the Western U.S., rising inflation and the Ukraine crisis all have a direct and serious impact on American consumers, along with global food supplies. Federal policy makers must understand the relationship between all of these challenges and how they intersect to impact national and global food security.

We cannot continue to allow policy decisions that slowly and permanently downsize Western agriculture by focusing on long-term theoretical processes centered solely around conservation,” said Alliance President Pat O’Toole, whose family operates a sheep and cattle ranch in Wyoming. “Our irrigated system of agriculture in the West has and can continue to provide the most stable food supply in the world – but only if we allow it to function.”

The following recommendations – three each for the Biden Administration and Congress to consider – reflect a philosophy that the best solutions come from the ground up and are driven locally by real people with a grasp of “on-the-ground” reality and who are heavily invested in the success of such solutions.

Three Priorities for the Biden Administration

  1. Efficiently and effectively implement the billions of dollars now available to repair aging water infrastructure, improve conservation efforts, and develop new storage and delivery infrastructure.
  2. Include agricultural water users dependent upon the Colorado River as partners as Reclamation develops future long-term operating provisions on the River.
  3. Restore our dead and dying federal forest lands through active forest management and work to better quantify watershed health improvements associated with these and other water conservation actions.

Three Priorities for Congress

  1. Cut Red Tape – If we are serious about building and rebuilding infrastructure, improving forest health, and protecting and promoting American production agriculture, then Congress must pass real, meaningful solutions that expedite federal permitting processes.
  2. Pass a Farm Bill that Addresses Western Agriculture Challenges – Projects that help producers and water managers adapt to the water supply impacts of climate change must also be encouraged and supported.
  3. Carefully evaluate legislation that could have negative unintended impacts to Western producers.   

The Family Farm Alliance board of directors on March 20, 2023 formally adopted an 8-page policy paper that provides further details on these priorities.

“This Nation needs our farmers and ranchers to produce food and fiber,” said Mr. O’Toole. “Laws and regulations need to be updated to mandate accountable and transparent results from diverting water away from Western farms and creating man-made droughts. There’s never been a more important time to maintain our country’s food productivity.”


We will continue to keep you informed on this and other developments impacting Western irrigated agriculture.
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