Government Affairs Program SPECIAL UPDATE


Congress Passes Final Spending Bills, Leaves for Holidays

(11-24-99)


This update was originally sent out as an e-mail message to AGI's member societies

IN A NUTSHELL: Nearly two months into fiscal year 2000, Congress and the White House reached agreement on five remaining appropriations bills, including those that fund the U.S. Geological Survey and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The $385 billion omnibus bill (H.R. 3194; H. Rpt. 106-479), however, has yet to yield final budget numbers since both sides agreed to a 0.38 percent across-the-board cut to all federal agencies, leaving control over specific cuts to agency heads. The bill includes $101 million for the purchase of the Baca Ranch in northern New Mexico, site of the world-famous Valles Caldera. It also includes provisions that impact oil royalties and hardrock mining on public lands. Almost as notable are the provisions left out, including a highly controversial one relating to coal-mining practices in West Virginia. A separate tax bill extends the percentage depletion allowance for marginal oil and gas wells. Before heading home for the holidays, Congress passed a flurry of bills that had been held up by the budget debate, including H.R. 1528, the National Geologic Mapping Reauthorization Act of 1999, which now awaits the President's signature. With the last of the appropriations bills completed, the first session of the 106th Congress is over. Legislators return January 24th to begin the second session.

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Although budget debates are famous for producing some unusual maneuvers, this year's process yielded a bumper crop, including proposals for a thirteenth month (quickly named "Spendtember"), an unprecedented number of controversial legislative provisions tacked onto spending bills (after the Senate passed a rule to limit them), symbolic amendments attached to dead bills, and of course all manner of creative accounting. It took seven continuing resolutions to keep the government operating into the new fiscal year, but the last five of the thirteen appropriations bills for fiscal year (FY) 2000 are now on the President's desk with his approval assured. Included in this summary are reports on funding for geoscience agencies in the omnibus bill and synopses of geoscience-related provisions in both the omnibus spending and tax bills.

The final omnibus bill, totaling $385 billion, rolled together five remaining appropriations bills -- Interior, District of Columbia, Foreign Operations, Commerce, and Labor/HHS -- as well as four separate authorization bills. At the top of the agenda for negotiating sessions between the White House and congressional leaders was modification or elimination of the many contentious "riders" -- unrelated legislative provisions added to spending bills. The final compromise left no clear winners, but it has left some members of Congress with their nose out of joint. In particular, Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) was uncharacteristically unsuccessful in his attempt to include language overturning a recent federal court decision that found the coal-mining practice known as mountaintop removal to be in violation of the Clean Water Act. His amendment was ultimately added by the Senate to a continuing resolution that had already been superceded by a later resolution and thus was purely symbolic -- it was not even brought up before the House. After compromises had been reached on the riders, negotiations slowed over congressional insistence on an across-the-board one percent cut that would affect all federal agencies. The final compromise bill includes a smaller 0.38 percent cut to all federal agency discretionary spending with decisions left to individual agency administrators as to the distribution of the cuts (but with no program to be cut more than 15 percent).

U.S. Geological Survey Budget
In the President's budget, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) requested $838.5 million. The final appropriation for the USGS -- pending the impact of the 0.38 percent across-the-board reduction -- is $823.8 million, $14.7 million below the President's request but $24.9 million above the FY 1999 allocation. According to AAAS calculations, the USGS total funding for actual research and development for FY 2000 is $496 million, a small decrease from last year. The USGS spending levels in the omnibus bill are the same as in the conference report for the Interior and Related Agencies appropriations bill (H.R. 2466; H. Rpt. 106-406), which the President vetoed in October. As reported by AGI in an earlier special update: "the USGS would receive $823.8 million, slightly more than either the House ($820.4 million) or Senate ($813.1 million) bills provided but still less than the $838 million request. Most of the increase over FY 1999's $798 million goes toward uncontrollable costs with no funds provided for presidential initiatives to create community information partnerships or a disaster information network. Other increases are $2.4 million for upgrading seismic networks and other real-time hazard programs in the Geologic Division and another $2.0 million for upgrading streamgage networks in the Water Resources Division. Quite a number of increases go to specific, earmarked projects including $0.5 million for the Great Lakes geologic mapping project, $2 million for minerals programs in Alaska, and a number of smaller increases for various volcanic, hydrologic, and biologic projects. The conferees accepted the USGS's proposal to create consolidated survey-wide Science Support and Facilities accounts but rejected the proposed Integrated Science line item." For more information on USGS appropriations, see http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/appropsfy2000up.html#int.

NOAA Budget
As reported by AGU, "funding for NOAA in FY 2000 totals $1.7 billion, $213 million more than the House approved level but $95 million less than the Senate-passed appropriation. Oceanic and Atmospheric Research will receive $300.5 million, National Ocean Service gets $278.8 million, and National Marine Fisheries receives $421.7 million for the year." For more information on NOAA appropriations, see http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/appropsfy2000up.html#noaa.

Funds for Valles Caldera Purchase
In two separate parts of the omnibus bill, The U.S. Forest Service is provided with $40 million and $61 million for acquisition of the Baca Ranch in northern New Mexico. The ranch property encompasses much of the Valles Caldera, a spectacular collapsed volcano. The combined amount of $101 million would cover the purchase price agreed to in September by the Clinton Administration and the current owner. Expenditure, however, is contingent upon passage of separate legislation to authorize the purchase and submission to Congress of an appraisal of the property by the General Accounting Office. Identical House (H.R. 3288) and Senate (S. 1892) versions of the necessary authorizing legislation were introduced on November 9th by Reps. Heather Wilson (R-NM) and Tom Udall (D-NM) and by Sens. Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), respectively.

Oil Royalty Moratorium Lifted
For several years, the Administration and Congress have been in a pitched battle over proposed Minerals Management Service (MMS) regulations on how royalty calculations are made for oil and gas from federal lands. The oil industry has argued that the proposed rule would cost them an unjust amount, whereas environmental groups and others accuse the industry of underpaying. Both industry and congressional Republicans have favored a shift toward providing royalty payments in kind, allowing the government to obtain the best price it can on the open market. For the past two years, appropriations bills have been amended to suspend implementation of the new rule while negotiations continued. In a compromise, the omnibus bill continues the moratorium only until March 15, 2000. MMS quickly announced that it was reproposing the rule and would hold public workshops in January before a final version is published in March. Details on those meetings will be placed in the Federal Register once arrangements have been made.

Mining Provisions
Republicans in Congress had included a provision in the Interior appropriations bill reversing an opinion by the Department of the Interior's Solicitor that limits the size of mill sites associated with mining claims to five acres. Last year, Sen. Slade Gorton (R-WA) successfully included a provision in the FY 1999 omnibus spending bill overturning the solicitor's opinion with respect to the Crown Jewel mine in Washington (see http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/crownjewel.html). This time, the White House forced a compromise by which the restrictions will only apply to mining operations that began after the November 1997 opinion was released.

Another mining-related provision allows the Bureau of Land Management to release revised Sec. 3809 regulations on hardrock mining in early 2000 provided that the new regulations "are not inconsistent with the recommendations contained in the National Research Council report entitled 'Hardrock Mining on Federal Lands'" or existing statutes. (For more on the NRC report, see AGI's September 1999 monthly review at http://www.agiweb.org/gapac/review999.html#six).

Tax Legislation
After dealing with the last appropriations bill, the Senate passed H.R. 1180, the Tax Extenders Bill, which had already passed the House. Although designed primarily to deal with Social Security taxes, the bill includes several tax provisions related to environment and resources. According to the Environment & Energy Daily budget summary, the "tax package extends through 2001 the suspension of net income limitation on percentage depletion from marginal oil and gas wells," a tax credit for wind and bio-mass produced electricity, an extension "of the credit for brownfields remediation expenses through the end of 2001," and several other tax packages, including a five-year extension of the research and experimentation credit that allows companies a 20 percent tax credit on qualified research expenditures.


Sources: AAAS, AGU, Department of the Interior, EESI Weekly, Library of Congress, Minerals Management Service, NASULGC.

Special update prepared by Margaret Baker and David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Posted November 24, 1999


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