FY2006 Department of the Interior Appropriations (8-15-05)
Geoscience-related agencies covered by the Interior and Related Agencies appropriations include the U.S. Geological Survey, Department of Energy oil and gas research programs, Bureau of Land Management, Minerals Management Service, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution, and U.S. Forest Service. For more information about the geoscience value of these agencies, click here.
For analysis of hearings held by Congress on Department of Interior appropriations, click here.
Created by an act of Congress in 1879, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has evolved over the years, matching its talent and knowledge to the progress of science and technology. According to their website, the USGS serves the Nation as an independent fact-finding agency that collects, monitors, analyzes, and provides scientific understanding about natural resource conditions, issues, and problems. The value of the USGS to the Nation rests on its ability to carry out studies on a national scale and to sustain long-term monitoring and assessment of natural resources. Because it has no regulatory or management mandate, the USGS provides impartial science that serves the needs of our changing world. The diversity of scientific expertise enables the USGS to carry out large-scale, multi-disciplinary investigations that build the base of knowledge about the Earth. In turn, decision makers at all levels of government--and citizens in all walks of life--have the information tools they need to address pressing societal issues.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is responsible for managing 262 million acres of land--about one-eighth of the land in the United States--and about 300 million additional acres of subsurface mineral resources. The Bureau is also responsible for wildfire management and suppression on 388 million acres. Practices such as revegetation, protective fencing, and water development are designed to conserve, enhance, and develop public land, soil, and watershed resources. Keeping public lands protected from fire on all Department of the Interior managed lands in Alaska, and suppressing wildfires on the public lands in Alaska and the western States is a high priority for BLM since they are dominated by extensive grasslands, forests, high mountains, arctic tundra, and deserts. The BLM manages a wide variety of resources and uses, including energy and minerals; timber; forage; wild horse and burro populations; fish and wildlife habitat; wilderness areas; archaeological, paleontological, and historical sites; and other natural heritage values. The Bureau also has an active program of soil and watershed management on 175 million acres in the lower 48 States and 86 million acres in Alaska.
The Minerals Management Service (MMS) is the federal agency that manages the nation's natural gas, oil and other mineral resources on the outer continental shelf (OCS). The agency collects, accounts for and disburses more than $5 billion per year in revenues from federal offshore mineral leases and from onshore mineral leases on federal and Indian lands. For FY 2005, the agency expects to collect and distribute about $9.5 billion from active Federal and Indian leases. There are two major programs within MMS, Offshore Minerals Management and Minerals Revenue Management.
Established in 1916, the National
Park Service (NPS) has stewardship responsibilities for the protection
and preservation of the national park system. The system, consisting
of 388 separate and distinct units, is recognized globally as a leader
in park management and resource preservation. The national park system
represents much of the finest the Nation has to offer in terms of
scenery, historical and archeological relics, and cultural heritage.
Through its varied sites, the National Park Service attempts to explain
America's history, interpret its culture, preserve examples of its
natural ecosystems, and provide recreational and educational opportunities
for U.S. citizens and visitors from all over the world, according
to the NPS website.
The Smithsonian Institution is unique in the Federal establishment. Established by the Congress in 1846 to carry out the trust included in James Smithson's will, it has been engaged for over 150 years in the "increase and diffusion of knowledge among men" in accordance with the donor's instructions. With the expenditure of both private and Federal funds over the years, it has grown into one of the world's great scientific, cultural, and intellectual organizations. It operates magnificent museums, outstanding art galleries, and important research centers. Its collections are among the best in the world, attracting approximately 25,000,000 visitors in 2002 to its museums, galleries, and zoological park, according to the Smithsonian webiste. As custodian of the National Collections, the Smithsonian is responsible for more than 140 million art objects, natural history specimens, and artifacts. These collections are displayed for the enjoyment and education of visitors and are available for research by the staff of the Institution and by hundreds of visiting students, scientists, and historians each year. Other significant study efforts draw their data and results directly from terrestrial, marine, and astrophysical observations at various Smithsonian installations.
Congress established the Forest Service within the Department of Agriculture in 1905 to provide quality water and timber for the Nations benefit. Their website indicates that over the years, the public expanded the list of what they want from national forests and grasslands. Congress responded by directing the Forest Service to manage national forests for additional multiple uses and benefits and for the sustained yield of renewable resources such as water, forage, wildlife, wood, and recreation. Multiple use means managing resources under the best combination of uses to benefit the American people while ensuring the productivity of the land and protecting the quality of the environment. National forests encompass 191 million acres (77.3 million hectares) of land, which is an area equivalent to the size of Texas. The Forest Service is also the largest forestry research organization in the world, and provides technical and financial assistance to state and private forestry agencies. Gifford Pinchot, the first Chief of the Forest Service, summed up the purpose of the Forest Service"to provide the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people in the long run."
President Bush proposed a Fiscal Year (FY) 2006 budget of $10.8 billion for the Department of the Interior. Among the agency's priorities is supporting cooperative conservation, accelerating Indian trust reform, implementing the Healthy Forests Initiative, addressing the National Park Service's maintenance backlog and addresssing chronic water supply issues in the West.
Funding for the Minerals Management Service (MMS) is up just over 4% for a total requested level of $290 million. The Outer Continental Shelf Resource Evaluation program is down slightly to $28.7 million.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has requested $1.7 billion, which is nearly equal to last year's allocation. The request for BLM energy and mineral resources management also remains essentially flat from FY 2005, including a small increase of $225,000 for mineral assessments and slight reductions for both oil and gas and coal management funding.
The National Park Service (NPS) is slated for an decrease of just under 3%, for a total request of $2.2 billion. Resource stewardship geologic resources funding within NPS will stay nearly the same at $2.6 million. The Cave and Karst Research Institute funding would remain flat at $333,000.
Total funding for the U.S. Forest Service would decrease by 4.1% from last year's funding level, for a total of $4.06 billion. The Minerals and Geology Management program requested $60 million, a 7.1% increase from last year's funding level.
The Smithsonian would essentially be flat-funded at $615 million in FY06.
U.S. Geological Survey
The Administration requested $51.3 million for Earthquake Hazards in FY06, a 9.3% increase over last year's enacted level. Increased volcanic unrest in several U.S. volcanoes prompted the Administration to request additional funding to expand monitoring at the volcanoes most threatening to American lives and property. In all, a 5% increase was requested for Volcano Hazards, bringing the total up to $21.8 million. This increase will complete modernization of the Mount St. Helens monitoring network and improve the monitoring capability at other Cascade volcanoes, as well as expand monitoring in the Northern Mariana Islands. Landslide hazards would also receive a 3.2% increase to 3.1 million under the administration's proposal.
Within the increases mentioned above, a total of $5.4 million will help the USGS install and maintain additional seismic monitoring stations to serve the dual purposes of supporting development of a global tsunami warning system and enhancing earthquake monitoring and warnings. The FY06 budget also includes increases for seismic monitoring and maintains funding for the Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS), which provides accurate and timely information about earthquakes and their effects on buildings and structures using modern monitoring methods and technologies. The program has never come close to the funding levels called for in the last reauthorization of the National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program (NEHRP). That legislation, signed into law in November 2000, authorized $170 million over five years.
The Administration has requested $8.1 million as part of the 2005 emergency supplemental funding request for the USGS to begin procuring and installing additional seismic monitoring stations and to enhance the existing seismic monitoring network for tsunami detection.
National Mapping Program
Also included in proposed funding for the mapping programs is a $250,000 increase for a science impact program designed to improve and expand the use of USGS science information both within and outside the Department of the Interior. The program is designed to help decision makers better understand what USGS science is telling them and how to apply it.
On May 19, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a $26.2 billion
Interior and Environment Appropriations bill by a vote of 329 to 89.
The House bill gives the Department of the Interior a total budget
of $9.8 billion, a $16.6 million increase over the Administration's
budget request. Aside from major debates over whether the House should
restore the proposed 13% reduction in funds for payments in lieu of
taxes (PILT), which local governments collect to replace federal land
taxes, the Interior department enjoyed stable support from lawmakers
as the bill made it's way through the House. During floor debates,
an amendment to restore PILT funding was rejected by the House 109
to 311. An attempt by John Peterson, (R-PA) to lift the moratorium
on natural gas production in the Outer Continental Shelf was also
defeated by a vote of 262 to 157. Restrictions to drill off the nation's
coasts must be restored each year through the interior appropriations
U.S. Geological Survey
The House Appropriations bill includes $974.6 million for the U.S. Geological Survey, an increase of $41.1 million above the President's request and $38.1 million (roughly 4%) above the fiscal year 2005 enacted level.
"The Committee strongly disagrees with the proposed reduction in the Survey's mineral resources program. Minerals and mineral products are important to the U.S. economy, with processed minerals adding billions of dollars to the economy. Mineral commodities are essential to both national security and infrastructure development. Mineral resources research and assessments are a core responsibility of the Survey. The Committee does not agree that objective data on mineral commodities can be generated in the private sector."
Aside from mineral resources, the geologic landscape and coastal assessments account received a $1.4 million increase to fund a new global dust study ($250,000) and a research program on the Florida shelf ($1.3 million). Funding levels for landslide, volcano and earthquake hazards remained unchanged from the President's request, hovering at about $82 million, a $6 million increase over FY 2005 levels.
However, the House did instruct the USGS to evaluate how activities within the Water Resource Division might compete with private sector environmental consultants. No specific projects were tagged as potential problems; the committee report simply stated: "The Committee is concerned with reports that suggest that the Water Resource Division (WRD) of the Survey is providing or seeking to provide a variety of commercial services to Federal and non-Federal entities in direct competition with the private sector. The Committee strongly discourages WRD from providing commercially available services to Federal and non-Federal entities through its cooperative water program unless these services are performed by a private sector firm under contract with the Survey or the entity with which the Survey has entered into a cooperative agreement. The Committee encourages the Survey to focus its efforts on carrying out its important mission of serving as a national database for hydrologic data, theory, and research. The Survey should submit a report to the House Committee on Appropriations by December 31, 2005, regarding its past, present and future efforts to avoid competing with the private sector."
National Mapping Program
Bureau of Land Management
Funding for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the House bill adds $5 million to the President's request, which includes an additional $2 million for BLM's oil and gas program, raising BLM's overall allocation for energy and minerals assessments to nearly $109 million. This figure does not include funding for Alaska minerals assessments, which will be funded at $2.2 million, $1.6 million below FY 2005 levels.
The extra $2 million for BLM oil and gas programs would be directed towards further investigations into U.S. domestic oil shale development. Calling oil shales "an important domestic energy resource," the committee attached to the bill instructions requiring BLM to submit a report on the steps necessary to proceed with development.
Minerals Management Service
The House bill includes nearly $150 million for Outer Continental Shelf leasing, regulations, and resource assessments, an increase of $1.2 million from the Administration's request and $1.3 million more than the FY 2005 enacted level. Within this increase is an additional $200,000 for resource evaluation. Overall, MMS appropriations would see a slight $7.7 million reduction from the President's request, which comes from the exclusion of an executive request of $9.8 million for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
National Park Service
Several changes were made to National Parks Service appropriations in the House Committee, including an additional $30 million to boost National Parks' baseline budgets, and partial restoration of proposed cuts to historic preservation funding. These increases were offset by major reductions, including a $45 million cut in land acquisition and state assistance funding, and a $16 million cut in park construction activities. Resource stewardship programs, including the $2.6 million dedicated to geologic resources, remained unchanged from the budget proposal.
The House Appropriations Committee held funds essentially flat for the Smithsonian, with one increase of $300,000 for the Tropical Research Institute's work in microorganisms in tropical soil.
U.S. Forest Service
The House restored funds for the Forest Service by roughly $182 million over the President's request, and an increase of $10 million over the FY 2005 enacted level. In addition to restoring major cuts made to capital improvement and maintenance funding, the increase also involves several small increases in Forest service land and resource management activities.
Minerals and Geology Managment would be funded at $85.9 million,
a substantial $12 million increase above the president's requesta
and a $30 million increase from FY 2005 levels. According to the House
Appropriations Committee, most of this large increase is due to the
transfer of environmental compliance and restoration activities from
the vegetation and watershed management program. Of the additional
funds, $7.8 million goes toward the administration of mineral operations,
$1 million for processing mineral applications, and $3.2 million for
the management of geologic resources and hazards. The commmittee report
language states that "the budget request includes large reductions
which are ill-advised for the administration of mineral operations
and for the geological services programs."
Bill Considered within the Interior and Environment Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee: Chaired by Representative Taylor (R-NC) other members include Representatives Wamp(R-TN), Peterson (R-PA), Sherwood (R-PA), Istook (R-OK), Aderholt (R-AL), Doolittle (R-CA), Simpson (R-ID), Dicks (D-WA), Moran (D-VA), Hinchey (D-NY), Olver (D-MA) and Mollohan (D-WV).
On June 29, 2005 the Senate approved the $26.26 billion spending
bill for the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection
Agency, and related agencies, which include the Smithsonian Institution
and the Forest Service. After extensive debate on pesticide testing
and the construction of logging roads in the Tongass National Forest,
the Senate passed the bill 94-0. In total, the Senate bill represents
a $98 million increase over the spending bill passed by the House
on May 19th.
U.S. Geological Survey
The Senate Appropriations Committee recommended a total of $963 million for the USGS, $29.5 million above the Administration's request and $11.5 million below the amount proposed in the House bill. The overall allocation would be a 3% increase over the FY2005 enacted funding, not including emergency supplemental funds that were added earlier this year to improve tsunami and earthquake hazard mitigation activities.
On the proposed cuts to the Mineral Resources Program, the committee stated:
Although the committee provided no additional funds for coastal and
marine geology, they recommended that the USGS continue "its
significant research and investment in the southern Louisiana area
in support of both State and Federal agency coastal restoration planning
National Mapping Program
Bureau of Land Management
The Senate bill includes $109.8 million for BLM Minerals Management programs, which is a $3 million increase from the President's request and roughly $1 million more than the amount proposed by the House. Similar to the increase proposed by the House, the extra $3 million would go towards BLM's oil and gas management program. Of the additional funds, $250,000 would be provided for the Utah Oil and Gas Leasing Internet Pilot program. The remaining $750,000 would fund a new Oil Shale Leasing Program and help expedite the processing of "applications for permits to drill" (APDs)
In addition to the $109 million, the Senate bill includes another $3 million for the Alaska Minerals Program, which comes in roughly $1 million below the FY 2005 enacted level, but represents an increase of $703,000 above the President's request.
Minerals Management Service
Within the $149 million for Outer Continental Shelf Lands, the Senate Committee recommended an increase of $900,000 above the budget request for the resource evaluation program in the outer continental shelf. This increase would be directed to the Center for Marine Resources and Environmental Technology for "exploration and sustainable development of seabed minerals including gas hydrates." The committee recommends $78.5 million for royalty management and $47.5 million for general administration, leading to a total of $275 million that would be offset by $122.7 million in collections for a total budget for royalty and offshore minerals management of $152.5 million
Like the House bill, the Senate bill denies the administration's request of $9.8 million to cover costs associated with filling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Instead, the bill provides permanent authority for the Royalty-In-Kind program, allowing the MMS to regulate their own operational costs.
National Park Service
The committee increased the overall budget for the National Park Service to $1.75 billion, a slight $14 million increase from the President's request, and $6 million below the level proposed in the House bill. For Resource Stewardship, the Senate committee proposed $355 million overall, including increases from the budget request of $225,000 for the International Center for Science and Learning at Mammoth Cave National Park and $500,000 for vanishing treasures. For natural resources inventory and monitoring activities, including inventory and monitoring within the agency's geology division, $1 million was cut and re-allocated for the agency's air tour management account.
The Senate committee replicated only some of the funding changes made in the House Appropriations bill. These include an additional $20 million to increase the Park Service's base budget, and $3 million to partially restore the cuts proposed for restoration of historic buildings. The Senate bill would also restore the $30 million in cuts to the Land Water Conservation Fund stateside grants, which the Administration proposed to terminate. The $86 million proposed under the Senate bill for land acquisition and state assistance would be $60 million below the FY 2005 level, but $31 million above the president's request and $76 million above the House recommendation.
The Senate bill meets the President's requested 7% increase for Smithsonian salaries and expenses, but falls $246,000 below the House bill appropriation (The House had added $300,000 for the Tropical Research Institute's work in microorganisms in tropical soil). Overall, the Senate committee recommended $624 million, which gives an extra $9 million to fund facilities maintenance, compared to the Administration and House proposals.
U.S. Forest Service
Under the Senate bill, the U.S. Forest Service would receive a total of $4.122 billion, which restores over half of the cuts proposed by the administration, but remains $100 million below the amount proposed in the House bill. Minerals and Geology Management programs, however, would see a slight increase under the Senate bill, to $73.8 million.
The United States Senate will be considering funding for the Department of Interior in the Interior Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Chaired by Senator Burns (R-MT), other members include Senators Stevens (R-AK), Cochran (R-MS), Domenici (R-NM), Bennett (R-UT), Gregg (R-NH), Brownback (R-KS), Dorgan (D-ND), Byrd (D-WV), Leahy (D-VT), Reid (D-NV), Feinstein (D-CA) and Mikulski (D-MD).
The Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill became law on August 2, 2005 (Public Law 109-54). The conference report, (108-188), which cleared both houses on August 26th, includes increases over the President's proposed budget for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and several compromises between earlier versions of the bill passed in the House and Senate. The final bill also includes $1.5 billion in funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs to compensate for an FY 2005 funding shortfall within last year's omnibus appropriations bill. Due in part to an urgency to pass this Veterans Affairs spending, the Interior and Environment bill was only one of two appropriations bills that made it to the President before the month-long summer break. The act was overwhelmingly approved 410-10 in the House and 99-1 in the Senate, with Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) casting the single dissenting vote.
Overall, the Interior Department will receive $9.88 billion, including cuts to federal land acquisition programs and modest increases for the USGS, the National Park Service, and Fish and Wildlife Service. There were significant increases for wildfire suppression, wildfire preparedness and hazardous fuel reduction as the Administration and Congress continue to support accelerated efforts to mitigate disastrous fires and ensure a cycle of contained fires to promote biodiversity, healthy forests and supplies for the timber industry.
The following dollar amounts appropriated for each program (and those listed in the table above) do not include an additional 0.476% rescission that will be imposed across the board to relieve part of the federal deficit.
U.S. Geological Survey
The bill sets fiscal year (FY) 2006 spending for the USGS at $976 million, $40.6 million, or 4.3%, more than the $936.3 million allocated for FY2005. In contrast, President Bush had requested only $933.6 million, with significant cuts to mineral and water programs. The final figure tops both the House ($974.6 million) and the Senate ($963.1 million) recommendations.
Compared to the House recommendation for geologic programs, which was a more generous $239.3 million, the final bill did not include $600,000 that the House had proposed for Florida continental shelf research, $400,000 for Puget Sound studies, and $1.1 million for Alaska Mineral Assessments. The final bill also does not include the Senate's extra $2 million to restore the minerals information data collection program and $1 million for the Alaska Volcano Observatory. The bill does, however, include the Senate's $500,000 gas hydrate research program in Alaska.
Funding for the Water Resource Research Institutes was maintained at $6.5 million, despite the President's proposal to end the program. However, the Survey was cautioned about competing with private industry and asked to submit an evaluation by the end of the year. The conference report language reads, "The managers are concerned by continuing reports that suggest the Survey's water resources program is providing or seeking to provide a variety of commercial services to Federal and non-Federal entities in direct competition with the private sector. The managers have previously encouraged the Survey to use the services of the private sector in the conduct of its activities wherever feasible, cost effective, and consistent with the quality standards and principles pertaining to the effective performance of governmental functions. The managers expect that the Survey should strive to implement such a policy to the best of its ability in the performance of its work."
Bureau of Land Management
The committee chose to adopt the Senate figure of $1.79 billion for BLM, which is about $30 million above the budget request and $56 million above FY 2005 appropriations. Within BLM's wildland fire management program, hazardous fuels received an increase of $9.8 million above the FY 2005 enacted level. This increase in wildfire management is part of a $33 million increase in hazardous fuel reduction efforts shared by the Forest Service, according to a Senate Appropriations Committee press release. Compared to the President's request, the final budget includes an additional $10 million for Land and Resource Management, $10 million for Wildfire Management, and a restoration of $5 million for the agency's construction account.
Energy and Minerals Management received an additional $1 million over the House recommendation of $108.8 million for oil and gas management. The total $109.8 million is nearly $3.2 million over FY 2005 levels.
Minerals Management Service
The conferees agreed to fund the Minerals Management Service at a level less than all three recommended figures. The final bill appropriates $263 million, which is $14 million below FY 2005 and $27 million less than the budget request.
The final bill includes the Senate recommendation of $26.9 million for Outer Continental Shelf Resource Evaluation. This appropriation restores, to FY 2005 levels, the $900,000 cut proposed by the President, which funds the Center for Marine Resources at the University of Mississippi.
National Park Service
The National Park Service will receive $2.3 billion. This is $50 million above the President's request and $66 million below the previous year funding. The stateside grant program, which assists state and local government in open space conservation, will be kept running with $30 million as recommended by the Senate. The House and the Bush administration had tried to cut funding entirely for this program.
The final bill also provides $354 million, slightly above the House recommendation and roughly $700,000 below the Senate recommendation. The final amount includes a reduction of $1,000,000 for inventory and monitoring, consistent with the Senate bill. The conference agreement did not specify how this reduction would be applied distributed among the Park Service's various stewardship divisions, one of which oversees geologic resources in the Parks.
The Smithsonian Institute will receive $624.1 million, surpassing the budget request and the previous year appropriation by $19 million.
U.S. Forest Service
The U.S. Forest Service will receive $4.265 billion. This is $198
million above the budget request, but remains $507 million below FY05
funding. The Forest Service hazardous fuels reduction program, like
the BLM equivalent, received an increase of $30 million above current
levels. The final bill also adopted the substantial, $30 million increase
to Forest Service Minerals and Geology Management proposed by the
House. While much of this increase accounts for the transfer of environmental
compliance and restoration activities from vegetation and watershed
management, the final bill also includes an additional $7.8 million
for mineral operations, $1 million for processing mineral applications,
and $3.2 million for the management of geologic resources and hazards.
Members of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee discussed with Interior Secretary Gale Norton a wide variety of issues regarding the Department of Interior's (DOI) plans for Fiscal Year (FY) 2006, including the proposed 56% cut to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Minerals Resources Program, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, restoration of Abandoned Mine Land, use of National Park Service funding, and several regional restoration issues.
Before addressing the budget, Secretary Norton began her opening statement describing the agency's predicament after a recent ruling in Cobell v. Norton, a major Indian Trust Fund law suit. A U.S. district court judge recently ordered DOI to build an accurate accounting record of all trust fund transactions since 1887, which would cost the department an estimated $10-12 billion, roughly five times the budget of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Subcommittee Chairman Charles Taylor (R-NC) and ranking member Norm Dicks (D-WA) said they may consider adding a rider to this year's supplemental spending bill to delay the order for the second year in a row.
The Administration's budget proposes a $28 million cut for the USGS Earth Science and Biological Research in the Mineral Resources Program. Rep. James Moran (D-VA) sharply criticized the plan, suggesting it would cause substantial job losses within the department. Secretary Norton explained the aim of the cut would be to focus USGS operations on "government needs and core goals," adding that minerals research on privately-owned land represents duplicative activities with the private sector. Upon being pressed by Moran, Norton confirmed the cut would terminate roughly 220 jobs.
The budget assumes revenues from bonus bids on the first ANWR lease sale could reach $2.4 billion in 2007, if approved by Congress. Questioning whether the assumption of such revenues was justified, Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) invoked a recent New York Times article (Feb. 21) that reported a lack of major interest among oil companies to seek drilling permits. Norton responded that the department expects interest to increase after the USGS completes seismic work that must be done before the bidding process. She also stated that moves to open ANWR are primarily in the interest of national security, not the oil business.
For onshore and offshore resources already open to oil and gas drilling, the Bureau of Land Management would receive a 7% increase in its energy and minerals program to $117.6 million to "accelerate the processing time for applications-for-permits-to-drill." Rep. Peterson (R-PA) questioned whether splitting Oil and Gas leasing into two separate processes would accelerate the production of natural gas and save funds, since the resource is easier and less costly to drill compared to oil.
Another Interior funding concern to surface this year is the expiration
of the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Reclamation Fund, which will stop
collecting fees for abandoned mine clean-up in June. Rep. Don Sherwood
(R-PA) declared a reauthorization of the AML program under the 1977
Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act is needed, and asked whether
the department has a plan to continue fee collection. The administration
supports reauthorization, Norton said, and would have some power to
collect fees, but "prefers congressional action before June."
As it stands, the budget would provide $147.5 million in AML grants
for high-priority sites, plus an additional $58 million to repay fees
collected from States and Tribes that have already completed mine
The Department of the Interior (DOI) requests a total of $10.8 billion for FY 2006, 1% down from Fiscal Year (FY) 2005. At the hearing, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton outlined DOI's budget priorities, including increases for energy programs, oil and gas permitting, cooperative conservation programs, seismic monitoring to support the tsunami mitigation program, and Nation Park recreation.
Before launching into the budget discussion, however, Norton read a statement explaining a recent ruling by the judge in the Cobell v. Norton Indian Trust Fund lawsuit, which could force the department to spend $10-12 billion to build an accurate accounting record of all trust fund transactions since 1887. Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM) was sympathetic to the challenge facing the department, and suggested the department turn to emergency funding.
During the hearing, Committee Members, many of whom represented western states, discussed several specific regional issues with Secretary Norton, including cuts to the Rio Grand Project, drought crisis in the Klamath River Basin, border security in National Parks, and Indian Water Rights Settlements. Much of the criticism voiced in the hearing, however, focused on decisions to cut funding in two major programs that help states manage and benefit from public lands.
The FY 2006 budget proposes a 13% reduction in funds for payments in lieu of taxes (PILT), which local governments collect to replace federal land taxes and to supplement other receipts shared by federal and state governments. Senators Dominici, Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Ken Salazar (D-CO), Larry Craig (R-ID), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) asked Norton to justify the reduction, concerned that the payments would not keep up with the cost of doing business. Gale responded that counties should see new revenues from other programs, such as increases to support recreation opportunities.
There was also bipartisan dismay over the termination of state grants
under the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a 50-50 cost-share
program to help states manage conservation efforts on public lands.
Norton stated that the budget includes a total of $380 million for
cost-sharing conservation programs. But Chairman Dominici noted that
out of the $172 million dollars saved by DOI's total budget reductions,
75% of these savings ($90 million) would come from terminating the
LWCF state grants. Senator Salazar said that the proposal betrayed
important partnerships between the federal government, states, businesses,
and environmentalists. Gale Norton and Assistant Secretary Lynn Scarlett
tried to explain that the LWCF would not be as effective as other
programs, and that, during its analysis, the Office of Management
and Budget failed to identify "clear goals" and "demonstrable
benefits" of the LWCF. Several senators, including Richard Burr
(R-NC), disagreed and demanded to review OMB's report. Senator Mary
Landrieu (D-LA) declared, "I have come across fewer programs
that are more widely and deeply supported than the state side of the
Land and Water Conservation Fund."
Sources: Department of Interior budget documents; USGS budget documents; National Park Service budget documents; U.S. Forest Service budget documents; White House Office of Management and Budget; CQ Budget Tracker; Library of Congress Congressional Record website; hearing testimony.
Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contributed by Emily Lehr Wallace and Katie Ackerly, AGI Government Affairs Program, Anne Smart, AGI/AIPG 2005 Summer Intern.
Last Update August 15, 2005