On Tuesday, the House Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee passed a $13 billion spending measure for Fiscal Year (FY) 1998 that contains millions more for active forest management, Everglades restoration and national parks operations, but excludes the $700 million allocated for land acquisition under the bipartisan budget deal. The bill provides provides increased funds for the U.S. Geological Survey and Department of Energy (DOE) Fossil Energy R&D program. Details on those funding levels are provided in an AGI special update.
Chairman Ralph Regula (R-OH) began discussion by stating the importance of addressing the substantial backlog maintenance costs at our national parks, adding that maintenance and upkeep improve visitor levels as well as the local environment. In addition to further resource allocations to address backlog maintenance, the Chairman stated that all fees are to stay on an 80/20 basis in the facility that collects them. Thus, 80% of fees are to remain in the collecting unit, and 20% to be spent in the smaller units of the agency. The fees are to be used to reduce the tremendous backlog of operation and construction needs at our parks, forests, refuges, and other public lands.
Subcommittee discussion focused on the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the Woodrow Wilson Institute for Scholars, the DOE fuel cell program, and the $700 million allocation for land acquisition.
A considerable amount of time was devoted to a strictly partisan debate regarding the value of the NEA. The subcommittee's ranking Democrat Sydney Yates (IL) proposed an amendment that the language "terminates" and "close-out costs" addressing the NEA allocation be stricken, and this was accepted without objection. However, an amendment to replace the $10 million NEA allocation with last year's level of $99 million was defeated 5-6 despite the Democrat's pleas to "at least keep funding level so that there's a level playing field for debate on the House floor." Rep. David Obey (D-WI) stressed that the rest of the House looks to the subcommittee and committee structures as experts and defers to them. Thus, by refusing to maintain last year's funding, the subcommittee was "effectively biasing the debate." "The House expects us to provide guidance...if we don't, we may as well resign our subcommittee positions." Rep. George Nethercutt (R-WA) responded by saying that the NEA has been encouraged to involve the private sector more in matters of financial support, and has had "fair warning." "I'll give them money if they try to get some themselves. Other agencies have done it."
Rep. David Skaggs (D-CO) asked that the "terminate" language addressing the Woodrow Wilson Institute for Scholars be removed, and this was conceded without objection. Chairman Regula stressed that the Institute has no mission statement and that the "things produced there have no real focus." A commission has been established to make recommendations on how to better honor the memory of Wilson. Rep. Yates stressed that the Institute should be permitted to operate while the commission is at work.
In response to Rep. Moran's (D-VA) concern about the decrease in funding for the DOE Fossil Energy R&D fuel cell program despite the Administration's request for an increase, Regula stated that current concerns are with air pollution reductions. Although fuel cells have shown promise, the practical use of them is "way down the road."
Referring to the $700 million set aside for land acquisitions, Chairman Regula stated that 30% of U.S. land is already owned by the Government, whereas the same figure for the United Kingdom is only 5%. He asked, "How much more do we want?" Because the funds are not yet authorized, the Chairman asked that debate on their use be reserved. Rep. Obey had other things in mind, however, as he stressed that the Committee should earmark $65 million specifically to purchase land outside Yellowstone. "There's no harm done by putting something in to help Yellowstone. Let somebody else object later." Obey insisted that if the allocation is $700 million, there is no logical objection to the Committee's reserving a lesser amount. Going into the vote, Regula stressed that the Committee would preserve a stronger stance by retaining the $700 million as a negotiating item. "It is premature now to bust the budget. We're already at our 602B allocation." The amendment was defeated, again 5-6.
The spending measure contains the following items: a $79 million increase for the Forest Service; $136 million for restoring the Everglades, a $79 million increase; a $78 million increase for operating the National Parks; a $42 million increase for operating the National Wildlife Refuges; an $87 million increase for the national Forest System; $236 million for LWCF Land Acquisition including $8.5 million for Sterling Forest and $76 million for South Florida, an $87 million increase; a $6 million increase for managing public lands and resources by the BLM; a $1 million increase for the Appalachian Clean Streams Initiative; a $13 million increase for natural resource science research by the USGS; and $8 million increase for Forest Service Research; as well as selected increases for targeted energy technology research.
The Full Committee markup is tentatively scheduled for June 26.
Contributed by Jenna Minicucci, AGI Government Affairs Intern
Last updated June 20, 1997