Summary of House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior Hearing: FY 2002 Department of Interior Budget Request (4-25-01)

The Bottom Line
On April 25th, The House Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations held a hearing with Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton regarding the President's FY2002 budget request for the department. Norton was upbeat about the Interior request, despite significant cuts from last year's enacted budget. The request emphasizes partnerships between other federal agencies and the states to promote the department's goals. Norton highlighted the many new grant programs that would give states more freedom to manage their public lands. Both Republican and Democratic members raised concerns about the proposed cuts to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) budget. Norton contended that the cuts to the USGS budget reflect the fact that some USGS programs do not further Department of the Interior (DOI) goals, and a review of the agency was being undertaken. She suggested that the USGS could partner with other agencies and the private sector to complete its mission.

Hearing Summary
Department of the Interior Secretary Gale Norton testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior regarding the fiscal year 2002 budget request for the department. She stated, "This budget supports our efforts to conserve and manage the great wild places and unspoiled landscapes of this country, that are the common heritage of all Americans." According to Norton, this budget exemplifies the concepts of being a "compassionate conservative and a passionate conservationist." She said, "It's a budget that's compassionate in the way it protects our environment and conservative in how it spends taxpayers' money and gives local people more control over the lands they know and the lands they love." Her testimony outlined the whole Interior budget, highlighting revitalization of the state portion of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, commitment to reducing the National Park Service maintenance backlog, funding for the Natural Resource Challenge, resolving problems that are faced on Indian lands, reform of both offshore and onshore mineral and energy programs, forming partnerships for fire management, and ecosystem and species preservation. She recognized that elements of the request are controversial, but defended the budget provisions saying that it provided "expanded opportunities to work with our constituencies, involving them to a greater degree with expanded consultation, communication, and collaboration."

The committee members wanted clarification of many of the provisions of the budget request. Many had concerns about specific programs in their states, while others had more philosophical questions about the departmental goals put forth by the budget request. Ranking Member Norman Dicks (D-WA) immediately expressed disappointment with the requested funding levels for the USGS. He asked how the department could justify cutting important programs within the USGS, fire programs, and parkland management while significantly increasing the funding for state grants that wouldn't necessarily supplement these programs. He also was concerned that states would not be prepared to spend grant money properly and in a timely manner. Norton explained as she did several more times during the hearing that the administration felt the states had a better idea how their land should be managed and what the conservation needs are within the state. The adminstration would rather fund localized conservation projects through state grants than congressional earmarks. Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) agreed in principle with the goal of the state grant programs but thought that a program should be put in place that ensures that the states use the money correctly.

Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN), Moran, and Rep. Ralph Regula (R-OH) were all openly critical of the proposed budget cuts to the USGS. Wamp stated that the technology and science budgets of the USGS needed to be maintained. Norton explained that the cuts reflect the fact that the USGS fully supports many programs that are used by other agencies or the public and these partners should support some of the USGS efforts. She specifically mentioned the National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program as one such program that doesn't serve DOI goals directly. Moran requested that Norton delineate the manner in which USGS programs that would be drastically cut will be taken up in other parts of the budget. Norton admitted that the USGS structure was still being analyzed within DOI and more information would be forthcoming. Regula expressed frustration that he had been part of a group of legislators that had to fight for the USGS budget just a few years ago. The group was finally confidant that the agency was appropriately consolidated and goal oriented, only to have to start all over again. He explained the critical role that the USGS plays as the only scientific body within DOI and how the agency's programs support actions in other parts of government.

Rep. George Nethercutt (R-WA) questioned Norton about the Administration's plans to promote oil and gas exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Norton said that the energy plan to be presented by the Energy Task Force headed by Vice President Dick Cheney will present a proposal to assess the environmental feasibility of exploration in ANWR, but it will be up to Congress to decide if it occurs. She said that area 1002 of ANWR has always been in a special category because of its high oil and gas potential and with today's technology the environmental impact of drilling in the area would be small. She assured the committee that the administration is aware of the necessity of balancing environmental concerns with meeting the nation's energy supply needs.

Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and Rep. Dicks wanted to know the management plans that DOI has for the national monuments designated by President Clinton in the final months of his administration. Norton said that DOI has just begun looking at the new monument designations and has requested input from the stake holders within the states that the monuments reside to determine management needs. In the future, DOI may request Congress to make boundary modifications and acceptable use changes in some of the new monuments, depending on the findings of the investigations. This budget does not include any management budgets for the new monuments. Hinchey stated that national monuments belong to the nation, not just those in the state where the monument is. He does not think it is appropriate for DOI to only solicit input from those who live near the monument.

The issues touched on in this hearing will likely be discussed in great detail in many hearings as the budget process moves along. This hearing provided clarification of the President's priorities and allowed the committee members make known some of the objections they have to the presidential agenda. The budget process is always one of lengthy debate and compromise.

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

Contributed by AGI/AAPG Government Affairs Intern Spring 2001 Mary H. Patterson

Posted April 30, 2001

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