Udall: End-of-Year Legislation Includes Hard-Fought Wins Supporting NM Jobs, Environment

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall

U.S. SENATE News:

  • As lead Democrat on Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, Udall blocked harmful anti-environment policy riders

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, ranking Democrat on the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, released the following statement Wednesday on the finalized appropriations and tax bills released late last night, which will fund the government for the next year and extend a number of tax provisions.

The U.S. House of Representatives will vote first on the bills — an “omnibus” appropriations bill and a bill extending numerous tax provisions. If approved, the two bills will head to the Senate where they may be considered as one.

“I’m extremely pleased with the funding levels in the omnibus appropriations bill, which will support jobs at New Mexico’s national labs and military bases, continued work toward reopening the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, fighting and mitigating wildfires, expanding visitor services and improving facilities at our national parks in preparation for the National Park Service centennial celebration, and Tribal health and education priorities. After years of sequestration budget cuts that were devastating for New Mexico communities, we’re sticking to an agreement reached earlier this year and continuing to move toward realistic funding levels that provide certainty to the contractors and communities that rely on federal funding. 

“The omnibus agreement also extends funding for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program, which reimburses counties across New Mexico and pays for services like schools and public safety. The bill extends the authorization for the Land and Water Conservation Fund for three years. This year, the bill provides $450 million for LWCF — almost $150 million more than last year — which funds the program at levels we haven’t seen since 2010. I still fully support permanent reauthorization and guaranteed mandatory funding for the program — and I promise to keep fighting to make that happen — but I welcome the funding increases and the reauthorization provided by this bill in the meantime.

“The LWCF has helped New Mexico conserve our cultural sites and beautiful landscapes, and it has created ballfields and community parks across the state. It helps create jobs at no cost to the taxpayers. And every dollar invested brings in $4 for our local communities. I will keep fighting to make the program permanent so it can finally live up to its potential.

“I’m particularly proud that this bill blocks all of the major anti-environment riders that Republicans tried to attach to the Interior appropriations bill. I fought hard against those provisions, which have no place in an appropriations bill. They would have turned back the clock on bedrock environmental laws that protect our air and water quality and endangered species, and they would have blocked efforts to address the threat of climate change. Taking such steps would have been an embarrassing and economically troubling signal to send the world’s markets less than a week after the historic international agreement to fight climate change. 

“Unfortunately, this bill comes at a huge cost and after weeks of wasted time and political bickering. I’m pleased to see renewable energy tax provisions extended for five years. These programs have contributed to tremendous growth in the solar and wind industries — and created jobs for New Mexicans. I’m also pleased that the bill extends tax credits for low-income families, which benefit many in New Mexico. But the full package will cost $650 billion over 10 years with no plan for how to make up the loss.

“I am concerned about the overall impact of these tax cuts, which come on the heels of the Bush-era tax cuts, on long-term fiscal sustainability and economic growth. My fear is that these unpaid-for extensions will undermine the deficit and set back our investments in jobs and support for families in New Mexico — and across the country — who are still recovering from the recession. I’m extremely disappointed that once again, partisan fighting in Washington has taken us so far off of the normal process that the Senate may have to vote for an enormous appropriations bill combined with a huge tax bill after Congress busted its deadline for legislation required to keep the government running.” 

HIGHLIGHTS

Udall is the lead Democrat on the Appropriations Subcommittee for Interior, Environment and Related Agencies. The sections of the bill produced by his subcommittee provide a total of $32.1 billion for environmental, land management, tribal and cultural agencies, an increase of $1.74 billion — 6 percent more than last year.

New Mexico Priorities in Interior Department and Related Programs

Payments in Lieu of Taxes – $452 million for payments to counties through the Payments in Lieu of Taxes program, which helps local governments pay for law enforcement, schools, roads and other critical services. This is the amount estimated in the president’s budget to fully fund payments in fiscal year 2016. The funding will be divided according to a formula determined by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Last year, New Mexico counties received $34.5 million. 

Valles Caldera National Preserve/Manhattan Project National Historical Park – The agreement includes $16 million to support new park units nationwide, including $3.34 million in base funding for the Valles Caldera National Preserve to support its transfer to the Park Service — equal to the fiscal year 2015 budget — and $180,000 in new funding to operate the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. The bill also includes $1.5 million to fund restoration projects at new park units, including Valles Caldera.

Bandelier National Monument – $5.1 million for construction on electrical systems.

Valle De Oro National Wildlife Refuge – $3.5 million for the first of two years of funding needed to complete the refuge.

Pecos National Historical Park – $386,000 for land acquisition.

Continental Divide National Scenic Trail – $2.3 million for land acquisition.

Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument – $2.9 million for land acquisition.

National Landscape Conservation System – The bill includes a $5 million increase to initiate foundational efforts at newly designated monuments, such as Rio Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks.

Land Grants & Acequias – The bill notes the importance of community land grants, acequias and ditches in the Southwest, and requests recognition of such traditional uses during land use planning. 

Institute of American Indian and Alaska Native Culture and Arts Development (IAIA) – $11.619 million.

Indian Land and Water Claims Settlements – The bill provides enough funding to complete the Taos Pueblo Water Rights Settlement and funds other N.M. settlements at their FY2015 enacted levels.

Tribal Colleges and Universities – $5.1 million to initiate forwarding funding for Navajo Technical University and United Tribes Technical College in North Dakota.

Tribal broadband funds – $2 million in new funding to support a tribal broadband initiative for Bureau of Indian Education schools.

U.S. Geological Service U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Aquifer Assessment – $1 million for border state aquifer assessments, including work by the Water Resources Research Institute at N.M. State University. 

Overall Department of the Interior Funding

National Park Service: The bill provides $2.851 billion for the National Park Service, $237 million more than the fiscal year 2015 level. That amount includes $135 million in new investments to support the National Park Service’s 2016 Centennial, including $14 million to preserve our nation’s civil rights historical sites and $16 million to fund newly authorized park units and expand critical responsibilities at existing parks. Funds provided for the Centennial include increases above the fiscal year 2015 enacted level of $54 million for park construction projects and $43 million for maintenance activities to help reduce the deferred maintenance backlog. Finally, it includes $15 million for the Centennial Challenge program, which uses federal funds to leverage non-federal investments in national parks on more than a one-to-one basis.

Wildland Firefighting and Prevention Needs: The bill provides $4.2 billion for wildland fire management activities at the Forest Service and Interior Department. This includes $2.1 billion for wildfire suppression for the agencies to respond to forest fires. Increases in the budget allocation provided by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 allowed the subcommittee to provide an additional $593 million above the 10-year average of fire suppression to account for a significant increase in firefighting needs in the past several years and the current forecasting models. The bill also provides an increase to hazardous fuels reduction programs, including $375 million for the Forest Service and $170 million for the Interior Department, which is a total of $19.2 million more than the fiscal year 2015 enacted level.  

Fish and Wildlife Service: The bill provides $1.508 billion for the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), $68.6 million more than the fiscal year 2015 enacted level. That amount includes $74.7 million for FWS law enforcement activities to respond to the global wildlife trafficking crisis. The total also includes $481 million for the operation of the National Wildlife Refuge System. The bill also restores cuts to Endangered Species Act implementation to ensure endangered species are protected.

Bureau of Indian Affairs: The agreement provides $2.796 billion, $194 million more than the fiscal year 2015 level. It includes a particular focus on Indian education and provides a $64 million increase for school construction and repair needs. The bill fully funds contract support costs at $277 million as required by the U.S. Supreme Court to be paid to Tribes that exercise self-determination and operate federal programs on their own behalf.

Forest Service: The bill includes $5.664 billion for the Forest Service. This includes $291 million for forest and rangeland research, $62.3 million for the Forest Legacy Program, $8 million for international forestry, and $40 million for the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Fund. 

Indian Health Service: The bill provides $4.809 billion, $167 million more than the fiscal year 2015 level. Notably, the bill provides a $10 million increase to address substance abuse and mental health needs among Native youth. It also provides a 14 percent increase to fund construction of new hospitals and clinics and to maintain existing facilities. The bill fully funds new staffing resources for health facilities that the government has recently completed constructing, and provides a $55 million increase to fully fund contract support costs at $718 million.

Republican Riders

Between the House and Senate bills, there were more than 20 riders seeking to degrade bedrock environmental and conservation laws, such as the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act. There were also attempts to add new controversial matter not in either bill and to diminish the executive branch’s ability to propose and implement commonsense rules and regulations. Through hard-fought negotiations on this bill, Udall and his Democratic colleagues were able to successfully block all new anti-environmental provisions, including the following items:

  • Language to block efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ensure that waters protected under the Clean Water Act are clearly and consistently defined;
  • Language to block implementation of the president’s landmark Clean Power Plan, including greenhouse gas emissions restrictions from new and existing power plants;
  • Multiple provisions aimed at weakening the Endangered Species Act by substituting politics for science, including riders that affected the listing status of grey wolves, the lesser prairie chicken and northern long-eared bat;
  • Language to block EPA efforts to strengthen public health protections against ground-level ozone pollution;
  • Language to authorize the construction of a road through pristine congressionally authorized wilderness and wildlife habitat at the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska;
  • Language to block efforts to strengthen environmental and water quality protections for mining operations;
  • Provisions that would have blocked efforts to ensure that impacts of greenhouse gas emissions are calculated consistently and appropriately considered in federal environmental planning decisions;
  • Language that would require the EPA to deem any biomass energy project as carbon neutral – even if the science didn’t support that decision;
  • Language to block the Bureau of Land Management from improving environmental and safety standards for the use of hydraulic fracturing on federal lands;
  • Language to overturn the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Tribal recognition process;
  • A provision to block the EPA from using the federal Superfund law to require industry to make financial plans to pay for the cleanup of hazardous waste;
  • Language to block implementation of a rule to stem the illegal, international trade in elephant ivory;
  • Language to block enforcement of a rule that imposes safety standards to reduce lead contamination during building renovations; and
  • Language to block the EPA’s ability to require industry to phase out hydrofluorocarbons and other refrigerants that damage the ozone layer.
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