December 19, 2019

Udall’s Major Bipartisan Interior Appropriations Bill Passes Congress

Bill includes language to protect Chaco, funding for national parks and public lands, programs for Indian Country

Udall fought back against cuts proposed by the Trump administration, securing strong investments for the EPA and conservation programs and pushing back on Interior’s Bureau of Land Management relocation 

WASHINGTON- Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, hailed the bipartisan vote to pass the Fiscal Year 2020 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill as part of a larger package of government funding bills. The bill includes the largest proposed budget for the EPA in a decade and provides strong funding for New Mexico’s public lands, protections for Chaco Canyon, programs for Indian Country, and gains for the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, and key programs for local economies. The bill was included in a Fiscal Year 2020 funding package that passed the Senate by a vote of 71-23 and the House by a vote of 297-120. The bill now heads to the president’s desk to be signed into law.

“I am proud that we have produced a bipartisan Interior funding bill that makes major investments in our public lands and environmental protection – benefiting our nation’s most treasured spaces and energizing our economy,” Udall said. “This bill recognizes that people all across this nation cherish clean air, clean water, our public lands and outdoor places, and the economic and cultural value these places provide to our communities. I am particularly glad that the bill includes a breakthrough in our work to protect Chaco Canyon – an important step forward as we partner with Tribes to safeguard this sacred place for generations to come, while respecting the rights of Indian Tribes and allottees to develop their lands as they see fit.

“Our Interior bill provides key investments for Indian Country, funding education, housing, infrastructure, and other priorities to help ensure healthy and prosperous Native communities. The bill boosts funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund – our nation’s most successful conservation program – and for the arts and cultural programs that enrich our communities and grow local economies. Simply put, this bill is a victory for New Mexico and the nation.”

New Mexico highlights of the Fiscal Year 2020 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill include: 

Protections for Chaco Canyon: The bill includes legislative language to reinforce a 10-mile buffer zone protecting Chaco Canyon from new oil and gas leasing. The language makes clear that Indian Tribes and tribal allottees can continue to develop their land for oil and gas exploration. The legal limits are paired with $1 million for Interior to partner with the Pueblos and the Navajo Nation to continue to identify cultural resources in the greater Chacoan region.

Gold King Mine: Udall secured $4 million for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to continue monitoring water quality in areas impacted by the Gold King Mine spill into the Animas River, and included language directing EPA to continue to work in consultation with affected states and Tribes on a long-term water quality monitoring program. In addition, Udall expects EPA to process all state, Tribal, and local requests for reimbursements for costs incurred in an expeditious manner.

Funding for PILT: The bill fully funds payments to counties through the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program, which are estimated at a total of $500 million. 

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF): The bill provides the highest level of funding for LWCF since 2003 -- $495 million – which is $60 million more than fiscal year (FY) 2019 for Federal land acquisition and State conservation grants. The President’s budget proposed a negative total for LWCF, in the amount of -$27 million, due to rescissions from previously appropriated funding.  LWCF is critical to 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 authorizing easements for farmers and ranchers that allow them to continue to steward their lands in the face of development pressures. This bill includes $5 million to acquire the Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano inholdings at Malpais National Monument and $2.9 million to acquire Mimbres River parcels in the Gila National Forest.

Valles Caldera: The bill would boost the base budget for the park by approximately $1.5 million, and directs the National Park Service to allow the park to retain those funds going forward, so they become part of the preserve’s annual budget, providing budgetary certainty.

Carlsbad: The bill provides $800,000 for cave and karst research at the National Cave and Karst Research Institute in Carlsbad, New Mexico. 

Land Grants, Acequias and Community Ditches: Congress continues to urge the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture to recognize the traditional uses of State-recognized community land grants, acequias, and community ditches in New Mexico and across the American Southwest during the land use planning process.

Indian Health Service’s Alcohol and Substance Abuse program: The bill includes $2 million, for the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Program, part of an integrated behavioral health approach to collaboratively reduce the incidence of alcoholism and other drug dependencies in American Indian and Alaska Native communities. This includes funding for grants and contracts with public or private detox centers that provide alcohol or drug treatment, including Na’Nizhoozhi Center in Gallup, New Mexico. 

Indian Arts and Crafts Act Enforcement: The bill provides $3.5 million within Fish and Wildlife Law Enforcement to work with the Indian Arts and Crafts Board to combat international trafficking of counterfeit arts and crafts and to conduct criminal investigations of alleged violations of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act.

Tribal law enforcement:  The bill provides $8 million in new funding for Tribal law enforcement priorities, including funding to address the crisis of missing, murdered and trafficked Native women and girls, and calls for the Bureau of Indian Affairs to produce a comprehensive needs assessment of public safety infrastructure in Indian Country.

Tribal ProgramsThe bill provides $6.047 billion for the Indian Health Service, $243 million more than fiscal year 2019 and $138 million more than the President’s budget request.  Within that amount, the bill includes increases of $125 million to meet court-ordered requirements for Tribal lease operating costs owed to Tribes and $84 million for staffing needs of new health facilities. Tribal programs provided through the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) are collectively funded at $3.223 billion, an increase of $142 million to the fiscal year 2019 level.  The bill accepts a budget request to separate BIA and BIE into two separate bureaus.

U.S.-Mexico Border Water Infrastructure Program: For New Mexico, the bill increases funding for the U.S.-Mexico Border water infrastructure program to $25 million, an increase of $10.5 million over fiscal year 2019, to significantly expand support for clean water projects to protect human health and the environment in border communities.

Smithsonian Latino Center:  The bill increases funding for the Smithsonian Latino Center and related programming by $3.2 million above fiscal year 2019, for a total of $5.8 million, to expand Smithsonian programming and collections related to the history, culture and art of American Latinos. 

BLM Departmental Reorganization: The bill provides no new funding for BLM reorganization. Udall has questioned whether the BLM’s plan to move its headquarters is a deliberate attempt to weaken the agency, and is questioning the costs and benefits of the move. 

PFAS: The bill also provides $43 million in new funding for environmental cleanup programs and related scientific research to help address contamination caused by PFAS chemicals and other contaminants of emerging concern. 

Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund: The bill provides $10 million for grants to federally recognized Indian Tribes for reclamation of abandoned mine lands and other related activities. 

National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities: The bill provides $162.25 million each to the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, an increase of $7.25 million more for each endowment than the fiscal year 2019. The increase was provided after the president once again proposed abolishing these programs, which support arts and cultural programs as well as thousands of jobs in New Mexico and across the country.

Wildland Firefighting: The bill provides $3.644 billion for fire suppression, of which $2.25 billion is provided through the wildfire budget cap adjustment authorized in the Fiscal Year 2018 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which Udall helped secure.  This additional funding gives the Forest Service and Interior Department an assured amount of funding to be used when a fire season exceeds the projection and all regular appropriated funds are spent.  This total is $1.221 billion above fiscal year 2019.  Prior to this reform, the agencies were forced to borrow from their non-fire accounts when this occurred, putting a hold on other activities and straining resources.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): The bill provides $9.06 billion for the EPA, $207 million more than fiscal year 2019 and $2.83 billion more than the President’s budget request.  The bill rejects the Administration’s proposals to cut research by 34 percent, grants by 33 percent, and regulatory and enforcement programs by 29 percent, as well as the elimination of several programs, including Environmental Education, radon risk reduction, lead paint risk reduction programs, and the U.S. contribution to the Montreal Protocol Multilateral Fund.  

National Park Service (NPS): The bill provides $3.37 billion for the NPS, $155 million more than the fiscal year 2019 level and $636 million more than the President’s budget request.  Within that amount, the bill increases funding for park operations by 3 percent for a total of $2.577 billion.  Historic Preservation Fund grants are funded at $118.6 million, which is $16 million more than fiscal year 2019.   It includes increases to the fiscal year 2019 level of $3 million for State Historic Preservation Offices; $2 million more for Tribal Historic Preservation Offices; $2.5 million more for Historical Revitalization grants; $3.5 million more for Civil Rights grants, including $1 million to increase funding for sites associated with the African-American civil rights struggle and $2 million to expand the program to preserve and interpret sites related to civil rights for other Americans, including women, American Latinos, Native Americans, Asian-Pacific Americans, and LGBTQ Americans; $2 million more for Historically Black Colleges and Universities restoration grants, and $3 million more for Save America’s Treasures.  Funding for National Heritage Areas is $21.9 million, which includes an increase of $1.6 million to fund newly authorized heritage areas.

A summary of the Interior Appropriations bill is available HERE.