Udall: Omnibus Funding Bill Rejects Poison Pill Riders, Dangerous Cuts to EPA and Public Lands
Bill finally ends 'wildfire borrowing' starting in FY2020
Increases funding for LWCF, National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, fully funds PILT
WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall, ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, issued the following statement on the Interior and Environment provisions in the omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year 2018:
“The American people support investments in clean air and water, public lands, parks, and the arts and humanities, which are vital to the health and well-being of our communities and our economy. So I’m very pleased that, even in these divisive times, we were able to work together and agree on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies funding that is good for New Mexicans, Indian Tribes and all Americans. Together, we rejected the Trump administration’s proposal to make massive and dangerous budget cuts, and instead, we restored funding for the EPA, increased funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, among other programs. And we added $1.9 billion in funding for water infrastructure and to complete badly needed maintenance and construction at parks, wildlife refuges, Tribal facilities and arts and cultural institutions.
“With New Mexico in another year of drought and bracing for the 2018 fire season, I am relieved that the bill finally ends the practice of ‘fire borrowing,’ which has drained the Forest Service budget to fight devastating wildfires. On top of a solid down payment for 2018, Congress, starting in FY2020, will treat severe wildfires as the natural disasters they are. Additionally, the bill permanantly reauthorizes the ?Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act so land management agencies have the resources to consolidate public lands and prioritize access for hunting and fishing. The bill also provides for a mandatory extension of the critically important Payments in Lieu of Taxes program, which will ensure counties in New Mexico and other states get exactly the amount they are legally entitled to. And it delivers funding for Secure Rural Schools for both 2018 and 2019.
"As vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, I also am very pleased that we have agreed on increased funding for the Indian Health Service, which delivers essential health care across Indian Country, despite being chronically underfunded compared to other federal health care providers. This bill also makes crucial infrastructure investments across Indian Country, providing resources to repair and replace Tribal schools, public safety and justice facilities, and irrigation and dam safety projects.
“Finally my Democratic colleagues and I worked hard to block a long list of anti-environment provisions that have no place in an appropriations bill. While I am disappointed that the Interior and Environment bill continues to be the target for poison pill riders, I am relieved that, once again, we were able to protect our bedrock environment and conservation laws.”
The omnibus bill recommends $35.252 billion in discretionary funding for agencies funded by the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies bill. That amount is $2.972 billion above the fiscal year 2017 discretionary funding level and $8.053 billion more than the president’s request. It is also $3.222 billion more than the Senate bill. Wildland fire suppression needs are fully funded within the subcommittee’s discretionary funding level rather than addressed through emergency appropriations as in the fiscal year 2017 enacted bill.
The bill makes major infrastructure improvements for national parks, refuges, forests and other public lands; provides significant funding increases to upgrade aging clean and drinking water systems and create jobs in communities nationwide; makes significant investments to build and improve Tribal health care, education and public safety and justice facilities, and funds key operating programs to fulfill our trust responsibility for American Indians and Alaska Natives; and it makes critical infrastructure investments at our nation’s premier cultural institutions. The bill rejects proposed funding cuts to vital land management and environmental programs proposed by the Trump administration in its budget request—in particular protecting the Environmental Protection Agency’s environmental, research, and public health programs by preserving funding at the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. The bill also increases funding for conservation grants and federal land acquisition projects funded through the Land and Water Conservation Fund and fully funds critical payments to counties through the Payments in Lieu of Taxes program.
Finally, the final bill rejects poison pill riders that would have gutted America’s bedrock environmental and conservation laws.
Key Points & Highlights
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 the Trump administration as well as the House and Senate Republican proposals. Total funding continues at the fiscal year 2017 enacted level of $8.058 billion, with $703 million more for water infrastructure and $63 million more for Superfund cleanups provided in addition to the base funding level. This funding level protects all EPA staff, including all scientists, experts and support personnel, and rejects requested funding for large-scale, agency-wide buyouts. The bill also protects the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), the critical EPA program relied on worldwide for assessments of toxic chemicals, by maintaining funding at the fiscal year 2017 enacted level and ensuring that the program continues to operate within EPA’s research office. Finally, the bill provides full funding for all of EPA’s state and regional grants with targeted increases for programs such as diesel emissions reduction grants, rejecting deep cuts proposed by the President that would have devastated state environmental efforts.
Investing in Infrastructure. The bill provides a total of $2.97 billion for EPA’s water infrastructure programs. Funding includes $2.857 billion for the Clean Water and Drinking Water revolving funds, which are provided directly to the states for water and wastewater infrastructure projects. This is an increase of $600 million to the fiscal year 2017 enacted level and will help supply Americans with clean drinking water and replace aging sewer systems. The bill also supports an estimated $6 billion in new lending under the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program (WIFIA) and provides sufficient administrative funding to ensure that loans can be processed without delay. The WIFIA program will utilize $55 million in appropriations to finance more than 100 times that amount to accelerate investments in water projects with national and regional significance. Finally, the bill begins funding for new water programs authorized in the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WINN) Act to support testing for lead contamination schools and child care centers ($20 million), lead reduction projects in rural areas ($20 million), and water projects in communities working to improve compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act ($10 million).
The bill also includes $1.17 billion in additional increases to the fiscal year 2017 enacted level for infrastructure investments within the deferred maintenance and construction accounts for land management agencies, Tribal programs, and cultural institutions funded in the bill.
Wildland Fire Management. The bill provides $1.95 billion to the Forest Service and Interior Department for wildland fire suppression, a decrease of $104 million below the fiscal year 2017 level, but $500 million more than the president requested. With carryover balances, this total provides for the forecasted costs estimated by the agencies for fire suppression. The bill also funds hazardous fuels reduction at $430 million for the Forest Service and $184 million for Interior, a total increase of $44 million above last year’s level. A total of $65 million is made available to the Forest Service to upgrade fire facility infrastructure, purchase equipment and aircraft, and improve training and night air operations.
The agreement also includes a “fire fix.” Starting in 2020, a new mechanism will adjust budget caps to fully accommodate firefighting and end fire borrowing for eight years. This change will ensure a reliable stream of funding for fighting catastrophic wildfires to save life and property while also accommodating critical forest management, forest restoration, and other activities that will improve the condition of the nation’s public lands.
National Park Service. The bill provides $3.202 billion for the National Park Service, an increase of $270 million above the fiscal year 2017 level. The bill includes critical investments to address the Service’s estimated $11.3 billion backlog in deferred maintenance at parks nationwide, including $359.7 million for national park construction needs, an increase of $150 million above the fiscal year 2017 level. The bill also includes $2.48 billion for operations of national parks, an increase of $52.9 million above the fiscal year 2017 level. Within that amount, $30 million in new funding is provided for critical repairs and maintenance needs. The bill also rejects the president’s request to reduce funding for national parks and partnership programs across the country. A total of $23 million is provided for the Centennial Challenge program to match non-federal investments and fund infrastructure and visitor services needs at parks around the nation.
Indian Health Service. A total of $5.54 billion is provided to fulfill the nation’s trust responsibility to provide health care for American Indians and Alaska Natives through the Indian Health Service, which is an increase of $497.9 billion above the fiscal year 2017 level. Within that amount, the bill includes $3.95 billion for Indian Health Service programs, an increase of funding of $258 million, or 7 percent, more than the fiscal year 2017 level. The bill makes major investments to improve health care for American Indians and Alaska Natives, including providing $98 million in new funds to cover current services needs for Tribal health programs; $72 million in new funds for the Indian Health Care Improvement Fund, which will improve funding parity and health care quality; $65 million in new funds to fully find the costs of staffing new Tribal health facilities; and a total of $58 million for investments at facilities that face accreditation emergencies to ensure continued operations and improve patient safety and health care quality. This amount is an increase of $29 million above the fiscal year 2017 level. The bill also makes major increases to improve the quality of health care facilities across the country by increasing funding for Indian Health Facilities by 59 percent above the fiscal year 2017 level, for a total of $868 million. These include $243.5 million for health care facilities construction, an increase of $125.5 million above the fiscal year 2017 level; $167.5 million for health care facilities maintenance, an increase of $91.8 million above the fiscal year 2017 level; and $192 million for sanitation facilities construction, an increase of $90.3 million above the fiscal year 2017 level. Contract support costs are fully funded by an indefinite appropriation estimated at $718 million.
Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Indian Education. The bill also includes $3.064 billion for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Indian Education, an increase of $203.9 million above the fiscal year 2017 level. Operations of Indian Programs as funded at $2.410 billion, which is an increase of $70.4 million above the fiscal year 2017 level. That amount includes a 5 percent increase for Tribal law enforcement programs, including $7.5 million to address the nation’s opioid crisis, as well as $4.4 million in new funds to implement Tribal tourism and economic development opportunities authorized by the 2016 NATIVE Act. The bill also includes significant increases to BIA’s Tribal construction programs to make significant infrastructure investments in Indian Country. The bill provides $238.3 million for education construction maintenance programs, including a total of $105 million for school replacement construction funding, which more the doubles the program compared to its fiscal year 2017 level. The bill also provides $35.3 million for public safety and justice construction programs, including $18 million to construct new facilities; and provides $67.2 million for natural resources construction projects, including irrigation and dam safety needs. Indian Land and Water Claims Settlements are funded at $55.5 million, an increase of $10 million above the fiscal year 2017 level. Contract support costs are fully funded with an indefinite appropriation estimated at $242 million.
Fish and Wildlife Service. The bill provides $1.595 billion for the Fish and Wildlife Service, $75 million more than fiscal year 2017 and $292 million more than the president’s request. This includes a significant investment of $50 million to be used on deferred maintenance at national fish hatcheries and on national wildlife refuges. The National Wildlife Refuge System is provided with a $2.8 million increase above the fiscal year 2017 level. Science programs receive an increase of $282,000 despite the president’s budget request to zero out funding completely. Wildlife trafficking enforcement programs are increased by $2 million more than the fiscal year 2017 level to combat trafficking in protected animals as well as illegal logging and violations of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. State and Tribal Wildlife Grants are increased to $63.5 million, $1 million more than the fiscal year 2017 level.
Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The bill provides a total of $425 million for land acquisition, conservation easements, and state assistance grants, which is $25 million more than the fiscal year 2017 level and well above the $64 million level proposed in the president’s request. LWCF is critical for improving recreational access to our federal lands, protecting iconic landscapes, delivering grants to states and local governments to create and protect urban parks and open spaces, and providing farmers and ranchers with easements to allow them to continue to steward their private lands in the face of development pressures.
Strategic Land Management Fund Reauthorized. The bill permanently reauthorizes the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act (FLTFA), which allows the proceeds from select Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land sales to provide funding for high-priority land conservation within or adjacent to federal lands in 11 Western states and Alaska. The program helps consolidate checkerboard land ownership in the West and advance local community, conservation, and recreation needs. The reauthorization also includes new direction to prioritize access for hunting and fishing.
Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT). The bill fully funds payments to counties through the PILT program. Payments are estimated at a total of $530 million, which is $65 million more than last year’s level.
Historic Preservation. Within the budget for the National Park Service, a total of $96.9 million in provided for the Historic Preservation Fund, including $48.9 million for state historic preservation grants, $13.5 million for civil rights grants, and $13 million for Save America’s Treasures preservation grant program.
National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities. The bill also increases funding for the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities, which provide grants to cultural institutions in every state, to a total of $152.8 million each, which is $3 million more than the fiscal year 2017 level. The president’s request proposed terminating the endowments.
Smithsonian Institution. The bill provides a total of $1.043 billion for the Smithsonian Institution, which is $180 million above the fiscal year 2017 level. Included in that amount is a total of $198 million to fund a critical, multi-year renovation of the National Air and Space Museum.
Other Cultural and Arts Programs. The National Gallery of Art receives $165.9 million, an increase of $10.4 million above last year’s level. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is funded at $40.5 million, which is $4.1 million more than the fiscal year 2017 level. The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars is provided $12 million, an increase of $1.5 million to the fiscal year 2017 level.
Poison Pill Riders Eliminated
Between the House and Senate bills, there were more than 30 riders seeking 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, Udall and Democrats were able to successfully block these anti-environment riders. Some of the worst riders were:
Waters of the United States. This rider would have allowed this administration rescind and replace federal protections for streams and wetlands without using long-standing and standard public processes.
Endangered Species Act. Provisions would have weakened the Endangered Species Act by substituting politics for science, including language that would have legislatively de-listed gray wolves in Wyoming and the Great Lakes region.
Ozone. Language would have blocked the EPA’s efforts to strengthen public health protections against ground-level ozone pollution.
Methane. This provision would have blocked the EPA from enforcing Obama-era Clean Air Act regulations on methane emissions from new and modified sources in the oil and natural gas sectors. The rider would have helped circumvent legal challenges to the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back an existing rule to reduce natural gas waste and prevent greenhouse gas pollution.
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