Udall On Interior And Environment Funding In Bipartisan Budget Agreement

From the Office of U.S. Sen. Tom Udall:

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 on the finalized bipartisan budget agreement to fund the government through September. 

“This bill is a strong, bipartisan agreement, and I thank lawmakers and staff on both sides of the aisle for their hard work to achieve a workable compromise. The deal funds key priorities for New Mexico and the nation, while preventing some of the president’s disastrous budget cuts from becoming law.

“I am pleased that this bill increases funding for the Department of the Interior to conserve and maintain our treasured public lands and uphold our trust and treaty obligations to Indian Tribes. And, after the president called for devastating cuts to the EPA, I am glad that this agreement shields the agency from ongoing attempts to undermine our ability to protect clean air and water and public health. I am particularly proud to have fought to include $407 million for emergency firefighting needs. This will give the Forest Service the necessary funds to fight increasingly severe wildfires — which continue to threaten New Mexico and the Southwest — without having to raid important forest health and watershed protection funds needed to prevent the next catastrophic fire.

“The omnibus agreement ensures that the EPA will have the resources needed to effectively implement my landmark chemical safety reform law, which was enacted last year. As the vice chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, I strongly support this bill’s investment in programs and services that benefit Native Americans. The bill includes new funding for the Indian Health Service’s efforts to treat substance abuse through detoxification centers, it will help make infrastructure improvements in Indian schools and hospitals, and it increases funding for initiatives to bolster Native arts.

“With the president proposing the complete elimination of the national endowments for the arts and the humanities, I am particularly proud to have worked to secure an overall increase in funding for both the NEA and the NEH. This bill’s strong investment in the arts and humanities will help fuel these engines of job creation in New Mexico and across the country. 

“The Payment in Lieu of Taxes program is fully funded at $465 million in this bill to support counties across New Mexico, and to help pay for essential services like schools, roads and public safety. The bill also makes critical investments in our national parks, specifically to our parks’ aging infrastructure. The agreement provides solid funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which this year supports three priority projects in New Mexico.

“LWCF is funded at $400 million, well above the average of the past 10 years, and I will continue to fight for permanent reauthorization and mandatory funding for the LWCF — a program that helps New Mexico conserve our precious cultural sites, promote recreational access to our iconic sites, and create jobs at no cost to the taxpayers. This bill sends a clear signal that Congress intends to continue to support LWCF and federal land acquisition, and I hope the administration joins us in funding this program in fiscal year 2018. 

“I fought hard against Republican attempts to attach damaging policy riders onto this bill. I am proud to see that the final agreement blocks harmful provisions that would have eroded pillars of environmental health and safety, like the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, and Clean Air Act. These anti-environment, poison-pill riders have no place in an appropriations bill.

“I commend my fellow members of the Appropriations Committee and House and Senate leadership for their efforts to keep the government open for the American people. I look forward to further reviewing the details of this agreement in the coming days.”

HIGHLIGHTS

Udall is the lead Democrat on the Appropriations Subcommittee for Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies. The sections of the omnibus funding bill produced by Udall’s subcommittee provide $32.380 billion in discretionary funds, an increase of $121 million above the fiscal year 2016 level. Those funds are supplemented by an additional $407 million in emergency firefighting funds, for a total of $32.687 million.  

New Mexico Priorities in Interior Department and Related Programs

Emergency Firefighting – The bill provides $4.2 billion for wildland fire management activities at the Forest Service and Interior Department. This includes $2.05 billion for wildfire suppression for the agencies to respond to forest fires, which with carryover balances fully funds estimated firefighting needs. A total of $407 million is provided on an emergency basis in order to prevent the agencies from resorting to borrowing from non-fire accounts and having to put ongoing restoration, construction, and acquisition projects in jeopardy of permanently losing funding and momentum. The bill also provides an increase to hazardous fuels reduction programs, including $390 million for the Forest Service and $180 million for the Interior Department, which is a total of $25 million above the enacted level.

Land and Water Conservation Fund – The bill provides $400 million to the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service for the four land management agencies to acquire and conserve lands and provide assistance to state and non-federal partners. This includes $5.48 million in New Mexico acquisitions, including $1.25 million for Rio Grande del Norte and $750,000 for Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, and $3.48 million for Brazos Cliff through the Forest Legacy program.

Gold King Mine Cleanup – The bill provides $4 million for a long-term water quality monitoring program, and directs the EPA to continue to work in consultation with affected states and Tribes on that effort. Additionally, a recent legal decision has left many stakeholders concerned that they will not be compensated for property damage, business losses, and other negative financial impacts. The bill directs the EPA to explore all legal and financial recourses that could compensate individuals for such damages and, if available, ensure that recourses will be extended to individuals located in all areas impacted by the spill in New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, and the Navajo Nation. The agency is required to report to the committees within 60 days of enactment on the details and timeline for such efforts, including plans for stakeholder engagement in all areas affected by the spill.

Payments in Lieu of Taxes – The agreement fully funds $465 million for payments to counties through the Payments in Lieu of Taxes program. The amount provided supports the Department of the Interior’s updated estimates to fully fund payments in fiscal year 2017.

Indian Health Services Alcohol and Substance Abuse Program – The bill provides $13 million in new funding for IHS substance abuse programs, with $2 million in new funding for detoxification services provided by partner facilities, such as the one in Gallup, N.M. It also provides a $12 million increase to improve mental health services for American Indians and Alaska Natives. 

National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities – The conference agreement provides $149.8 million each for the NEA and NEH to support arts and humanities programs, an increase of $1.9 million each above the enacted level.

Institute of American Indian Arts – $3.5 million increase to provide forward funding for IAIA.

United States-Mexico Transboundary Aquifer Survey – $1 million to continue developing a scientific foundation for state and local officials to address pressing water resources challenges in the United States-Mexico border region.

Bureau of Land Management Foundation — The bill authorizes the creation of a BLM Foundation, similar to the Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the National Park Foundation, to support BLM actives across the BLM’s mission areas, including conservation of national monuments restoration of lands. The bill also directs the first funding for the foundation, of $8.5 million dollars.

Additional funding for New Mexico Public Lands includes: 

  • Manhattan Project National Historical Park – $691,000 to expand park operations, an increase of $350,000 above last year.
  • Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge – $3.063 million to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to complete the visitors center. 
  • Old Santa Fe Trail Building – $4.77 million for the National Park Service to fund critically needed renovations of the historic structure.  
  • Overall Department of Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Funding
  • Key Funding for National Parks – The bill provides a 3 percent increase for national parks, including $56 million in new funding to address the Service’s estimated $12 billion deferred maintenance backlog. 
  • Protecting Investments for the Environmental Protection Agency – The bill protects key investments in environmental programs and grants within the EPA budget that were targeted for crippling budget cuts by both House and Senate Republican bills. The funding level protects all EPA staff, including all scientists, experts and support personnel. The bill also maintains funding for water infrastructure grants at the fiscal year 2016 level of $2.257 billion and provides an additional $1 billion in water infrastructure loans on top of the $2 billion provided in the fiscal year 2017 Continuing Resolution. Finally, the bill provides full funding for all of the EPA’s state and regional grants with targeted increases for programs such as diesel emissions reduction grants. 
  • Tribal Health and Education Priorities – The agreement provides important increases for the Indian Health Service (+5%) and Bureau of Indian Affairs (+2%) to meet the nation’s trust responsibility for serving American Indian and Alaska Native health and education needs. Contract support costs are fully funded, and the agreement provides a $22 million boost for construction and maintenance for Tribal health facilities. The bill continues to support important funding for construction and maintenance of Bureau of Indian Education funded schools. The bill also provides $2 million to increase capacity at BIE and Tribal schools for development and implementation of Native American language immersion programs.
  • Fish and Wildlife Service – The bill provides $1.52 billion for the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), $11.4 million more than the enacted level. That amount includes $75 million for FWS law enforcement activities to respond to the global wildlife trafficking crisis. The total also includes $484 million for the operation of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
  • Offshore Energy Programs – The bill provides $170 million for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and $205 million for the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement to continue to oversee the appropriate development and production of offshore oil and gas, and renewable energy projects in federal waters.
  • Bureau of Land Management – The bill provides $1.25 billion for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), $15.5 million more than the enacted level. The agreement also establishes a nonprofit foundation to assist the BLM in its mission, similar to foundations that already exist for the other land management agencies.

Objectionable Riders Removed  

Between the House and Senate bills, there were more than 75 riders to degrade bedrock environmental and conservation laws, such as the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act. Through hard-fought negotiations on this bill, Democrats were able to successfully block anti-environmental provisions, including the following items: 

  • Language to block efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure that waters protected under the Clean Water Act are clearly and consistently defined. 
  • Language to block implementation of the 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 gray wolves and lesser prairie chicken. 
  • Language to block EPA efforts to strengthen public health protections against groundlevel 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. 
  • 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. 
  • 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 enforcement of a rule that imposes safety standards to reduce lead contamination during building renovations. 
  • Language to block the EPA’s ability to require industry to phase out hydrofluorocarbons and other refrigerants that damage the ozone layer.

More information on the omnibus agreement can be found here.

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