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By Senator Mike Crapo

At the start of every new Congress, Senate committee assignments are reviewed and changes are made. While some of my committee assignments have remained the same-I've retained my positions on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, Senate Finance Committee and the Senate Budget Committee-I have been successful in obtaining two new committee assignments (both ones I've held in the past) that reflect priorities Idahoans place on our remarkable natural resources and a commitment to our strong Native American heritage. I once again hold a seat on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, with jurisdiction over Indian land management and trust responsibilities, Indian education, health, special services and loan programs, and Indian claims against the United States. And, I hold a seat on the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, with jurisdiction over legislation related to issues such as pollution, highway construction, environmental policy, fisheries and wildlife, nonmilitary environmental regulation and nuclear energy, public works and water resources. This week, I'll highlight why the EPW Committee is important and next week, I'll highlight the Indian Affairs Committee's responsibilities.

From the Idaho National Lab to the highways, byways and waterways that traverse Idaho's mountains, valleys and plains, it's important that Idahoans have a say in legislation that affects infrastructure, energy development and the environment. Since virtually two-thirds of the state is federal land, much of the governance over that land from use to conservation and overall stewardship happens at the federal level. During the 111th Congress, the EPW Committee will consider legislation that will affect Idaho in many ways. Major legislation that will be considered will include climate change and a multi-year reauthorization of the omnibus bill that provides federal funding for transportation projects.

Although I left the EPW committee four years ago, I continued my work on Endangered Species Act reform and the Owyhee Initiative, and have achieved victories on both: Through my continued presence on the Senate Finance Committee, critical tax provisions in the Endangered Species Recovery Act became law under the tax title of the 2008 Farm Bill, and the Owyhee Initiative legislation was included in an omnibus public lands bill that passed the Senate in January. These are examples of positive legislative changes for Idaho. One helps property owners meet requirements of environmental laws in a manner that offers incentives, not penalties, and the other implements comprehensive public land management policy that takes into account the needs and wisdom of multiple stakeholders on the ground, each with their own interests and priorities.

With the new Administration, there will likely be changes to current regulations, and new policies proposed. It's very important that Idaho's voice is heard in these debates about how best to conserve our natural resources and use them wisely. I look forward to continuing to work with the countless Idahoans whose wisdom and reason are backed by years of experience. This will help craft responsible policies, discontinuing what doesn't work and supporting programs and initiatives that do. On the transportation side, we need to ensure that formulas in the transportation reauthorization keep federal dollars behind the roads, bridges and infrastructure in Idaho that comprise national transportation routes and are travel destinations for people from all over the country.

I look forward to working with my colleagues on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and continuing to make sure that Idaho priorities are advocated for at the federal level. Conservation and progress need not be at odds. Please continue to keep me informed about your concerns and experiences in the issues that affect you, your business and your family.