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Somewhere back in high school civics class - just after the part about how a bill becomes a law - it seems that a chapter was left out. This missing section must have something to do with the federal bureaucracy and how its authority supersedes that of lawmakers, the ones elected by the people.

Unfortunately, this missing lesson is being learned firsthand by Western ranchers with permits for livestock grazing on federal lands.In 1993, Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt said he and his major federal land management agency, the Bureau of Land Management, were set on changing the way federal lands were managed. The result was a set of regulations known as Rangeland Reform. Under a delayed implementation process, Babbitt consented to give Congress six months to develop its own management plan. However, when Congress put forth its proposal, the Public Rangeland Management Act (PRMA), BLM officials spent their valuable time and resources discrediting what the lawmakers were trying to do.

Following a script that looks suspiciously like the objections anti-grazing activists have circulated on the Internet, BLM officials mounted a public relations effort to upset the lawmaking process.

It would be one thing for bureaucrats, like those in the BLM, to review proposed legislation and respond at congressional hearings on how implementation can be improved. It is quite another thing to undermine proposed legislation in favor of something the bureaucratic department has concocted.

The difference between the two proposals is this: Rangeland reform, as the bureaucrats would have it, imposes a national standard for range use and conservation practices. It significantly adds to an already burdensome paperwork load, and it eliminates incentives for permittees to undertake beneficial natural resource improvements. The Public Range Management Act, as designed by Congress, would enact more localized rangeland standards suitable to the area and climate. It also sets a grazing fee, 30 percent increased from present levels, designed to bring a fair rate of return to the federal government.

By congressional design, the PRMA doesn't weaken federal or public involvement in managing natural resources. It merely seeks to build a more functional partnership.

Westerners applaud the efforts of Congress to take charge of setting the framework for how government agencies carry out their responsibilities.

Until someone actually uncovers the missing chapter that places federal bureaucrats in charge, let's stick with what we learned in civics class: Elected lawmakers write the laws that give regulators direction. Regulators don't get to invent their own.

Brent Tanner

Salt Lake City