Bipartisan Interior, Environment Appropriations Bill Reaches Senate Floor

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall
WASHINGTON, D.C. U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, took to the Senate floor last week to speak in support of his subcommittee’s bipartisan funding bill, the Fiscal Year 2019 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill.
The bill, authored in the subcommittee led by Udall and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), rejects the Trump administration’s devastating proposed cuts to critical programs and includes strong investments in New Mexico’s public lands, infrastructure, environmental protection and stewardship, and programs for Indian Country.
The bill is the first bipartisan Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill in years, and it was approved unanimously by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
And Udall successfully fought to keep the bill free of any new anti-environmental poison pill riders. Udall’s subcommittee’s bill rejects the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to the EPA, Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Health Service – which would have had devastating consequences for New Mexico and Indian Country.
“It is Congress’ responsibility to safeguard the environment, protect our air and water, fulfill our trust and treaty responsibilities, and conserve public lands the federal government holds on behalf of the American people,” Udall said. “These responsibilities require a reliable stream of resources to carry out. This Senate bill accomplishes those goals.”
The bill also rejects cuts to important land management agencies in New Mexico, including the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service. Udall fought to fund many priorities that are critical to New Mexico’s economy and way of life: the bill provides $425 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund; a significant increase for wildfire suppression, which will bridge the gap before Udall’s long-term wildfire fix takes effect next year; it fully funds the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program important to New Mexico counties; and it includes major wins for Indian Country health care and education, for arts and humanities programs, and for our public lands and national parks.
The full text of Udall’s remarks is available below.
Mr. President, I rise to speak in support of the Interior Appropriations Bill, which the Senate is currently debating.
I begin by thanking my Chairman, Senator Murkowski, for the important work she has undertaken to ensure that this bill arrives on the Senate floor with strong bipartisan support.  We all know the Interior bill is not an easy bill. And we faced contentious issues putting it together. So it is extraordinary that – working together under her leadership – we have produced a bill that was unanimously reported by the Appropriations Committee.
I also want to recognize Chairman Shelby and Vice-Chairman Leahy for clearing the path for us to bring this  bill to the floor. Their shared commitment to re-establishing regular order for the Appropriations Committee is why the Interior bill is on the floor of the United States Senate today —for the first time in nearly a decade.  I salute them as well.
I’m pleased that the Senate Interior bill is – on balance – a very good appropriations bill.
First, it includes critical funding for the Environmental Protection Agency to protect public health and the environment and to fund clean and drinking water infrastructure for states and localities across the nation.
The bill funds the Indian Health Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs and provides resources for new health care facilities and schools for tribes across the country that are working to improve health and education outcomes.  This funding helps fulfill our trust and treaty responsibilities to American Indians and Alaska Natives.
This bill includes strong levels of funding for conservation programs that preserve and protect our nation’s most special places, including our public lands.
And it fully funds wildfire suppression needs—providing more than $2 billion to protect communities and natural resources in New Mexico and across the West.
The Interior bill supports our nation’s arts and culture programs—from national institutions here in Washington like the Smithsonian Institution, the Kennedy Center, and the National Gallery of Art—to local arts and humanities programs in small towns across the United States.  This funding creates jobs and supports economic vitality in communities.
Over the last week, we have seen the Administration claim that the legislation sent over by the House has too much funding for these and other priorities.  I strongly disagree. It is Congress’ responsibility to safeguard the environment, protect our air and water, fulfill our trust and treaty responsibilities, and conserve public lands the federal government holds on behalf of the American people.  These responsibilities require a reliable stream of resources to carry out.
This Senate bill accomplishes those goals.  And in so doing remains faithful to the Bipartisan Budget Agreement this Congress passed and the President signed earlier this year.
We reject the shameful and inexcusable cuts proposed by the Trump Administration to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Indian Education, and to most Federal land management agencies — cuts that would put our environment at risk and prevent us from providing core services to tribal communities.
In addition to rejecting these cuts, Senator Murkowski and I worked together to satisfy requests from our colleagues to increase funding levels where we could, given our allocation.
We also followed the Chairman and Vice Chairman’s direction to keep out extraneous authorizing matters and any item considered a poison pill.  We all know that one senator’s poison pill is another senator’s antidote. We couldn’t please everyone — because the tough issues that have impeded this bill from floor consideration over the last decade have not gone away.   But we did the best we could.
Now, this bill is not perfect.  It includes several troubling provisions rolled over from prior years — including provisions related to the listing status of the sage grouse, the lead content of ammunition, biomass energy policy, and certain Clean Air Act exemptions. While I cannot endorse these provisions individually, they are ones we have carried previously to move this bill across the finish line.
But what the Appropriations Committee has brought to the full Senate is an Interior Appropriations Bill that is almost exclusively appropriations.
I’m proud of what we propose for fiscal year 2019.  In addition to the programs I’ve already highlighted, let me tell you about a few more accomplishments in this bill.  
This bill rejects the Administration’s elimination of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and instead provides $425 million, equal to the enacted level.
These funds will improve recreational access to our federal lands, protect iconic landscapes, deliver grants to states and local governments to create and protect urban parks and open spaces, preserve the battlefields of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, and give farmers and ranchers easements so they can steward their private lands in the face of development pressures.
Rather than following the Administration’s misguided proposal to eliminate funding for the National Endowments of the Arts and the Humanities, this bill actually provides an increase of $2 million dollars for each endowment — bringing the total to $155 million dollars for each.  I’m particularly proud that these funds will expand arts and humanities programs, create jobs, and support cultural institutions in every state.
The bill includes a 4 percent increase for the Indian Health Service and includes $10 million dollars in new grant funds to help tribes address addiction and substance abuse challenges in Indian Country.
This bill fully funds the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program — to assist local governments to improve their schools and roads and pay for public safety and law enforcement.
This bill maintains funding for the EPA at the fiscal year 2018 enacted level to protect our environment and public health.  We have taken a strong position rejecting the devastating cuts the President has proposed for the third year in a row. Our bipartisan track record on EPA funding makes it loud and clear that such extreme proposals will continue to be viewed in Congress as dead on arrival.
Now, I feel strongly that keeping EPA funding flat year after year is insufficient to meet the true needs of EPA’s clean water programs, clean air programs, state and tribal assistance grants, environmental enforcement, and a score of other critical public health and environmental programs.  While I recognize that the bill before us is a compromise, I will continue to pursue increased funding for these critical EPA programs in future years.
I recognize there is always room for improvement.  And I welcome all colleagues to speak with me and Senator Murkowski if you have an idea how to improve funding in this bill.
But as I conclude, I want to emphasize how tremendous it has been to work with Senator Murkowski on this bipartisan bill.  Even when we disagree, we have open discussions and listen to one another. That’s the way Congress is supposed to work. And I am proud to be Senator Murkowski’s partner on this bill.
I look forward to working with colleagues on this bill over this week so that we can pass an Interior Appropriations Bill that the American people can be proud of.
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