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FY11 DOI Appropriations

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FY 2011 Department of the Interior Appropriations (1/13/11)

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Geoscience-related agencies within the Department of Interior include the U.S. Geological Survey, Bureau of Land Management, Minerals Management Service, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution, and U.S. Forest Service. For more background information on the Department of Interior and the agencies within, visit the AGI Federal Agencies policy page.

For analysis of hearings held by Congress on Department of the Interior appropriations, click here.

Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 Department of Interior Appropriations Process

Account

FY10 Enacted
($million)

House Action
($million)*

Senate Action
($million)*

U.S. Geological Survey (total)

1,111.7
1,133.4
     

Geologic Programs

249
254
     

-- Earthquake Hazards

57
56.9
     

-- Volcano Hazards

24.4
25.2
     

-- Landslide Hazards

3.4
3.3
     

-- Global Seismographic Network

5.8
5.4
     

-- Geomagnetism

2.1
2.1
     

-- National Cooperative Geologic Mapping

28.2
28.3
     

-- Coastal and Marine Geology

46.2
49.3
     

-- Mineral Resource Assessments

53.8
52.5
     

-- Energy Resource Assessments

28.2
30.8
     

-- Data Preservation

1.0
1.0
     

Water Resources Programs

232.3
228.8
     

Biological Resources Programs

204.9
201.3
     
Geographic Programs
145.6
153.4
     

Enterprise Information

46
41.5
     
Global Climate Change
58.2
72.1
     

Facilities

106.4
104.9
     

Science Support

69.2
77.4
     

Bureau of Land Management (total)

1,134
1,142
     

Energy and Minerals Management

89.7
75.8
     

Minerals Management Service (direct approps)

182
190
     

National Park Service (total for park system)

2,744
2,729
     

NPS Resource Stewardship

343.6
349.8
     

Smithsonian Institution (total)

761
798
     

U.S. Forest Service (total)

5,320
5,380
     

Minerals and Geology Management

87
87
     
*Neither House nor Senate appropriations bills concerning the Interior Department were passed in the 111th Congress, and a continuing resolution has kept budgets at FY 2010 levels through March 2011.

 Continuing Resolution Holds 2011 Budget at 2010 Levels

Congress passed the Continuing Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2011 (H.R. 3082) and the President signed the measure into law on December 21, 2010. The measure keeps the federal government operating at 2010 funding levels until March 4, 2011. Discretionary spending would be about $1.16 billion more than 2010 levels, with most of the increase for the Veterans Benefits Administration and the National Nuclear Security Administration (related to the implementation of the ratified START Treaty). The Department of the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (formerly the Minerals Management Service) will receive an additional $23 million for increased oil rig inspections in the Gulf of Mexico, but the increase is offset by a rescission of unobligated balances. Federal civilian employee salaries will be frozen for two years under the continuing resolution.

The 112th Congress will need to consider the FY 2011 budget as soon as the new session begins on January 5 and will need to balance their considerations with appropriations for FY 2012. Incoming Speaker of the House John Boehner has suggested that discretionary spending for FY2011 be cut by about $100 billion to FY 2008 levels, however, many legislators have publicly stated that such cuts are unlikely to gain passage.

The Senate had initiated FY 2011 omnibus appropriations with a target of $1.108 trillion for total spending as proposed by the McCain-McCaskill cap amendment. This level was $29 billion below the President's FY 2011 budget request. Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies would have received about $58 billion ($6.4 billion less than FY 2010), Energy and Water Development would have received $34.5 billion ($1.05 billion less than FY 2010) and Interior, Environment and Related Agencies would have reeceived $32.2 billion (equal to FY 2010). The omnibus negotiations template may serve as a blueprint for any potential omnibus for FY 2011 appropriations in the 112th Congress. A full year continuing resolution for FY 2011 is also a strong possibility.

President's Request

Interior Focuses Constrained Budget on Global Change
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar presented the President’s requested budget for the Interior Department for fiscal year 2011 on February 1, 2010. The total budget for Interior would be slimmed down to $12.2 billion, a reduction of 0.3 percent (-$38.7 million). Even with the belt tightening, the Interior will increase investments in climate change programs throughout the department as it remains a priority of the Administration.

“The President is making tough choices in difficult economic times, cutting costs and holding the line on spending by ending ineffective programs and supporting cost-efficient initiatives,” Salazar said in announcing the Department’s proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, 2010. “Through our collective effort in protecting America’s natural resources and cultural heritage, we support 1.3 million jobs and generate over $370 billion in economic activity each year. Interior plays a key role in responsibly developing America’s new energy frontier, tackling the impacts of climate change, preserving America’s treasured landscapes and empowering Tribal nations.”

Key initiatives highlighted in Secretary Salazar’s budget release include: $73 million for a New Energy Frontier strategy to invest in renewable energy programs and oil and gas development on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf; $171.3 million for a Climate Change Adaptation program; $73 million for WaterSMART (Sustain and Manage America’s Resources for Tomorrow); $45.5 million for Engaging America’s Youth in Natural Resources; $177 million for Treasured Landscapes and $2.6 billion for Empowering Tribal Nations.

The Interior Department is proposing $82 million in efficiencies and $668 million in reductions, terminations and discontinuations, while fixed costs of $109 million will be absorbed by programs – all of these efforts to help reign in the overall budget. The Department estimates revenues of about $14 billion for FY 2011, including $11.6 billion from the sale of mineral, oil and gas resources.

USGS Says Meeting Tomorrow’s Challenges Starts with Science
Marcia McNutt, the new Director of the U.S. Geological Survey provided an overview of the survey’s budget after the Secretary’s presentation. McNutt stated “Science is the cornerstone for sound decision making. Today’s complex, interrelated natural resource issues – such as climate change, energy conservation and development, and water quality and availability – demand that policy makers and managers start with timely, unbiased science.”

The proposed budget for the USGS would total about $1.1 billion, an increase of $21.6 million compared to FY 2010. Major increases highlighted by the survey include +$3 million for the New Energy Frontier; +$11 million for Climate Change Adaptation; +$9 million for WaterSMART; +$3.6 million for Treasured Landscapes (Chesapeake Bay); +$4 million for Increasing Resilience to Natural Hazards; +$13.4 million for Landsat Data Continuity and +$4 million for Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning.

Please see the AGI budget tables above for more details about specific programs related to the geosciences within Interior and related departments.

For more details about the FY 2011 budget for the Department of the Interior, please see http://www.doi.gov/budget/.

For more details about the FY 2011 budget for the USGS please see http://www.usgs.gov/budget/2011/2011index.asp.

For more details about the FY 2011 budget for the USFS please see http://www.fs.fed.us/aboutus/budget/.

For more details about the FY 2011 budget for the Smithsonian please see http://www.si.edu/about/policies/.

House Action

 

The House of Representatives considers funding for the EPA within the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. Chaired by Representative Moran (D-VA), other members include Representatives Dicks (D-WA), Mollohan (D-WV), Chandler (D-KY), Hinchey (D-NY), McCollum (D-MN), Olver (D-MA), Obey (D-WI) (ex officio), Simpson (R-ID), Calvert (R-CA), LaTourette (R-OH), Cole (R-OK), and Lewis (R-CA) (ex officio).

Senate Action

 

The Senate considers funding for the DOI in the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Chaired by Senator Feinstein (D-CA), other members include Senators Byrd (D-WV) (ex officio), Leahy (D-VT), Dorgan (D-ND), Mikulski (D-MD), Kohl (D-WI), Johnson (D-SD, Reed (D-RI), Nelson (D-NE), Tester (D-MT), Ranking Member Alexander (R-TN), Cochran (R-MS) (ex officio), Bennett (R-UT), Gregg (R-NH), Murkowski (R-AK), and Collins (R-ME).

Conference Action

 

Appropriations Hearings

  • March, 25, 2010: House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources Oversight Hearing on “The President's Fiscal Year 2011 budget requests for the Minerals Management Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, the United States Geological Survey (excluding the water resources program), and the USDA Forest Service.”
  • March 18, 2010: House Appropriations Committee Interior and Environment Subcommittee Hearing on the DOI FY 2011 Budget Overview
  • March 10, 2010: House Appropriations Committee Interior and Environment Subcommittee Hearing on Science for America's Lands, Water and Biota; US Geological Survey FY2011 Budget Request
  • March 3, 2010: Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources of the FY 2011 Department of the Interior Budget

House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources Oversight Hearing on “The President's Fiscal Year 2011 budget requests for the Minerals Management Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, the United States Geological Survey (excluding the water resources program), and the USDA Forest Service.”
March 25, 2010

Witnesses
Ms. S. Elizabeth Birnbaum
Director, Minerals Management Service
Mr. Robert Abbey
Director, Bureau of Land Management
Dr. Marcia McNutt
Director, United States Geological Survey
Mr. Joseph G. Pizarchik
Director, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement
Mr. Hank Kashdan
Associate Chief, United States Forest Service

Members Present
Jim Costa, Chairman (D-CA)
Doug Lamborn, Ranking Member (R-CO)
Rush D. Holt (D-NJ)
Martin Heinrich (D-NM)
John P. Sarbanes (D-MD)
Nick. J. Rahall II (D-WV) (ex officio)
Louie Gohmert (R-TX)
John Fleming (R-LA)
Jason Chaffetz (R-UT)
Cynthia M. Lummis (R-WY)
Doc Hastings, (R-WA) (ex officio)
Rob Bishop (R-UT)
Bill Cassidy (R-LA)
Bill Shuster (R-PA)

This subcommittee hearing was popular amongst the representatives; even members of the full committee were present to question the panelists on the fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget for natural resource agencies. Represented at the hearing were the Mineral Management Service (MMS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) and the United Sates Department of Agriculture Forest Service. There was concern amongst the representatives over the “Obama Moratorium,” abandoning a Bush Administration 5 year plan which would have opened up restricted areas of the outer continental shelf (OCS) for development. Republicans argued this further delays offshore oil and gas development, and directs new fees and taxes at the oil and gas industry. Several representatives also expressed disdain over increased regulatory policies for coal development and related mining activities. Amid all the skepticism, the USGS was commended for its disaster mitigation work.

Chairman Jim Costa (D-CA) applauded the DOI for using “all the energy tools in the energy toolbox” including fossil energy resources as well as renewable. He saw the FY2011 budget as a tremendous opportunity for U.S. job development. Costa argued the Obama Administration is not turning its back on fossil energy development, citing a historical disparity between funding for renewable and fossil energy development. The decline in oil and gas revenues was an artifact of the economy, not the government.

Ranking Member Doug Lamborn (R-CO) disagreed with Costa, suggesting America’s Resources were “trapped” either by policy or outright opposition, and the FY2011 budget exacerbates this. The new fees and taxes imposed on the oil and gas industry, he argued, would only destroy jobs. Lamborn said federal land leases were “withdrawn or cancelled by bureaucratic whim.”

Representative Doc Hastings (R-WA) presented a letter to DOI Secretary Ken Salazar, signed by 88 House Republicans, demanding the administration abandon the “Obama Moratorium” in favor of the Bush Administration’s proposed 5 year plan for the 2010-2015 lease schedules. The letter suggests the Obama Moratorium is contrary to popular opinion, will cut jobs, increase dependence on foreign energy sources, cancel current lease sales, and prevent new ones.

Elizabeth Birnbaum, MMS director, discussed that MMS will facilitate increasing reliance on a mixture of energy acquisition capabilities in the U.S., especially considering carbon’s role in climate change. She said the FY2011 budget for MMS represented a balanced energy program, and she highlighted four limited leases issued by MMS for OCS renewable energy testing and a $3.5 million increase for renewable OCS energy development. She stated $4.4 million was in place to ensure conventional resources were environmentally sound, and phasing out the Royalty in Kind (RIK) program would allow collection of royalty in-value profits. Birnbaum explained the proposed $4/acre fee on non-producing oil and gas leases could generate over $760 million for the U.S. economy and encourage swift lease development.

Robert Abbey, BLM director, said the proposed BLM budget is an $8 million increase over the FY2010 levels, and BLM leases are estimated to generate $4.5 billion in revenues mostly from energy development. He highlighted recent efforts in renewable energy resources, and stated the BLM was processing 22 plans for geothermal exploration. There is a proposed $13.7 million reduction in oil and gas management costs from completion of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act studies and inspection activities. The proposed $4/acre fees for non-producing lands are expected to generate $34 million in profits for the BLM. Abbey also explained the BLM is seeking to increase the royalty rate for onshore oil and gas development.

Dr. Marcia McNutt, USGS director, emphasized how fortunate the U.S. is to have an integrated natural science program like the USGS, highlighting how USGS efforts in earthquake hazard reduction that were adopted in Chile were largely responsible for the Chile’s earthquake resiliency as opposed to Haiti’s. McNutt said the USGS FY2011 budget reflected the administration’s stance toward increasing renewable energy, adapting to climate change and efficiently managing water resources, while maintaining USGS mission priorities such as natural hazards, geographical remote sensing, and coastal and marine spatial panning. $3 million was requested for environmental assessment of large scale renewable energy development, $11 million was requested for climate change research, and $9 million was requested for WaterSMART programs.

A proposed $153.4 million was for remote sensing efforts. Basic geology activities at the USGS are slated to receive a total of $253.8 million, including $1.8 million of Earthquake Hazards Program, $1.5 million to the Volcano Hazards Program, and $250 million to the Mineral Resources Program. $500 million is proposed for the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program. $4 million was also proposed for coastal and marine development.

Joseph G. Pizarchik, OSM director, stated that although there is an increased emphasis on renewable energy resources in the U.S., coal would still need to play a significant role in U.S. energy independence and the economy. Pizarchik argued the OSM budget was fiscally responsible, and highlighted a $16.7 million decrease over FY2010 due in part to the termination of the Abandoned Mine Reclamation fund. OSM will be discontinuing Abandoned Mine Reclamation fund payments to states and tribes in FY2011 which had completed mine reclamation.

Hank Kashdan, associate chief of the Forest Service (FS), felt the FY2011 budget for the FS created jobs for rural communities. The FS will be involved when mineral resources come from National Forest lands, and $30.2 million was proposed to ensure such regulatory measures are maintained. The FS Minerals and Geology Management Program budget requested $87.4 million, a $126,000 increase over FY2011 for operations inspection, watershed health monitoring and assessment of geologic hazards and risks.

The most contentious point was the recent administration-imposed lease-sale moratorium for oil and gas development on federally controlled OCS lands. Costa asked Birnbaum about the request made in the letter presented by Hastings. Birnbaum said, “[MMS] simply cannot do what the letter requests” because of issues raised in court over the environmental assessments presented in the last five year plan. Lease-sales could not commence until a viable “plan B” was in place otherwise the government would face litigation.

Lamborn vehemently disagreed, and demanded a guarantee that moratorium affected lands would be leased. Birnbaum could not guarantee this in the absence of a 5-year plan, but she could say that a new 5-year plan would be in place before the current plan expired. Lamborn, still pushing the point, suggested that information regarding the comment period had been misleading to the public, and the results contradicted a 2:1 ratio favoring OCS development. Birnbaum countered that the 5-year plan comment period had been completely transparent and the hundreds of thousands comments received had been taken into account. She continued that the email containing the 2:1 estimate had been sent erroneously and the figure was calculated before the data had been completely received.

John Fleming (R-LA) expressed his concern that the bureaucratic process was working to add red tape to extraction processes, like hydraulic fracturing. Abbey argued red tape resulted from litigation rather than objective bureaucracy, citing that in 1998 only 1 percent of leases were in litigation versus 49 percent in 2009. He implored that lease-sale environmental impact analyses (EIA) stand up to scrutiny.

Rush Holt (D-NJ), after being commended on receiving the American Association of State Geologists 2010 Pick and Gavel award (which he proudly displays in his office), asked what research was needed to continue developing the Marcellus Shale. McNutt said the Marcellus Shale appeared heterogeneous in its properties and gas distribution requiring further investigation to identify which sections would produce.

Cynthia M. Lummis (R-WY) felt U.S. job creation was being undermined by policies. She questioned the fees imposed on non-producing leases, arguing Abbey’s statement had just identified that litigation was the main delay in site development. Abbey disagreed, stating that only 12 million of the 42 million leased acres were under production.

Costa asked about the status of the RIK phasing out. Birnbaum responded that all RIK payments had been stopped except for existing contracts, but all existing contracts would expire this year. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) felt the FY2011 budget was “bubbling for geothermal” but attacked the oil and gas industry, and inquired about this special treatment. Birnbaum responded that “the oil and gas [was] simply a mature industry” and technology employed for such projects was mature, so revenue from that industry could support the younger projects.

Bill Shuster (R-PA) implored that the government and DOI allow federal lands be used for oil and gas development, citing it as a great economic opportunity for Pennsylvania, especially since the administration was hostile to the coal industry. Full Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Nick. J. Rahall II (D-WV) argued to Shuster that coal has always been under attack from environmental groups and media blitzes, and such treatment was not administration-specific. Rahall inquired about current contouring regulations for mountain top mining reclamation processes. Pizarchik responded that current contouring standards were being internally developed, but assured Rahall that they would eventually seek state input.

Martin Heinrich (D-NM) expressed that states which had previously had uranium mining were still grappling with uranium in the water supply. The abandoned mine payments for coal mine reclamation were used to help cope with the expensive uranium mine reclamation processes. Pizarchik responded that, the FY2011 budget reflected tough decisions. He agreed the cessation of payments for coal mine reclamation was unfortunate, but necessary. Pizarchik also reminded Heinrich that additional reclamation legislation in 2008 had specified that coal reclamation funds could not be used for reclamation projects other than coal.

Costa asked about the success of the USGS multi-hazard project. McNutt responded that successful simulations had been carried out in California, and the simulations had reached cabinet-level government officials. She looked forward to applying simulations to Oregon, Washington and Alaska.

A link to the letter sent by House Republicans to Secretary Salazar can be found here.

An archived webcast of the hearings and panelist testimony can be accessed here.

-MNM

House Appropriations Committee Interior and Environment Subcommittee Hearing on the DOI FY 2011 Budget Overview
March 18, 2010

Witness
The Honorable Ken Salazar
Secretary, Department of the Interior

Committee Members Present
Jim Moran, Chair (D-VA)
Mike Simpson, Ranking Member (R-ID)
Ken Calvert (R-CA)
Tom Cole (R-OK)
Steven LaTourette (R-OH)
Ben Chandler (D-KY)
Maurice Hinchey (D-NY)
Norm Dicks (D-WA)

House Appropriations Interior and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Jim Moran (D-VA) was pleased with the Department of the Interior (DOI) fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget request. Though it is basically the same as the FY 2010 request, he says at least it is an improvement from the recent trend of decreasing budgets for DOI. He applauded the changes Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has made to the Minerals Management Service (MMS) Royalty-In-Kind program, and encouraged him to continue decreasing fraud and waste in his bureaus.

Ranking Member Mike Simpson (R-ID) called it an “ambitious agenda” that he does not completely agree with, but is generally supportive of. He was skeptical DOI could absorb the proposed $109 million in fixed costs as one of their cost saving measures in order to increase the budget in other areas. He thought the increased focus on land and water conservation showed a higher priority towards obtaining new land than managing what the government currently owns. He also did not like that that administration is assigning “winners and losers” in the energy portfolio. He agrees with the “moon shot” mentality for renewable energy as long as it is pursued along with an assortment of proven technologies.

In an era focused on jobs, Secretary Salazar made sure to point out the 1.4 million jobs and the approximately $367 million in economic activity generated by DOI. Salazar described DOI as the “custodians of America’s natural resources,” and responsible for “forging the future of this country’s natural resources.” He cautioned that the challenges today are much different than during President Teddy Roosevelt’s conservationist era. In order to succeed, Salazar said DOI needs to work locally, with states, and with private land owners. In addition, he wants to engage the youth of the nation and double the number of youth involved in the DOI programs. He said this is not the budget he would have presented in different economic times, but these are the best cuts he could make.

Chairman Moran was interested in the status of oil and gas leasing, both on and offshore. Salazar called the DOI commitment to oil and gas “robust”, citing 2009 as having the highest number of offshore leases in recent years that led to significant production. As DOI moves forward with oil and gas leases, they will review the lease areas more carefully than in previous years. Though this may be slower initially, Salazar thinks this will lead to less costly and time-consuming litigation in the long-run.

Moran, Simpson, and Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) were all curious about offshore drilling, and the announcement of the DOI 5-year Strategic Plan. Salazar promised the announcement on the outer continental shelf (OCS) would be soon. It was in litigation because the Bush Administration did not do proper environmental evaluations on the OCS when they released their 5-year plan. Salazar is referring to the old plan while working on the new Obama Administration plan. He cautioned Simpson, who had cited a March 17 Washington Post article showing the tide had turned on offshore drilling, that the OCS data is 30 years old. With data that old, any projects moving forward on the OCS will take a lot of time and environmental analysis. Offshore drilling is “not a panacea of budgetary woes,” warned Salazar.

Hinchey was also concerned about the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, asking for DOI to mandate a full disclosure of the chemicals involved on public lands. Salazar said the proprietary nature of the chemicals each company uses makes it hard for a full disclosure, but thought some level disclosure should be possible. He did not think he had the authority to make a mandate, but would look into it. Representative Tom Cole (R-OK) asked about the health implications of hydraulic fracturing, saying he did not know of any studies indicated it put the public at risk. Salazar warned that no knowledge of a risk does not automatically mean the practice is safe. Salazar said hydraulic fracturing will play a key role in natural gas development, but it needs to gain the public acceptance. He indicated the secrecy is negatively affecting public trust and acceptance, so the discussions of hydraulic fracturing are aimed at instilling public confidence.

Ben Chandler (D-KY) and Ranking Member Simpson wondered about DOI’s strategic plan for addressing climate change. Simpson was quick to add that he is not concerned that we are studying climate change, or even that money is being put into it, he just wanted to make sure there is coordination to avoid wasting money on duplicate efforts. Salazar assured them this is a key goal in DOI and in the Obama Administration. Salazar is contributing to the White House forums on climate change aimed at coordinating efforts across the federal government, and DOI has a climate change response council to involve all the DOI bureaus to maximize DOI resources. Salazar explained this is a big culture shift from the normal “stovepipe” mode of operations at DOI where each bureau operated highly independently. Simpson made it clear he just wants to know where the money is going, and is working to educate himself.

No webcast of this hearing is available.

-CCD

House Appropriations Committee Interior and Environment Subcommittee Hearing on Science for America's Lands, Water and Biota; US Geological Survey FY2011 Budget Request
March 10, 2010

Witnesses
Dr. Marcia McNutt
Director, U.S. Geological Survey

Members Present
James Moran, Chairman (D-VA)
Michael Simpson, Ranking Member (R-ID)
Norman Dicks (D-WA)
Tom Cole (R-OK)

The subcommittee hearing started with the ceremony naming James Moran (D-VA) the official chairman of the Interior and Environment Subcommittee. After receiving congratulations, and the gavel, Moran explained he greatly enjoyed the work the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). He recognized the importance of programs like WaterSMART, earthquake and volcano monitoring, and LANDSAT programs, but noted the magnitude of the USGS fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget request.

Ranking Member Michael Simpson (R-ID) agreed with Moran that the USGS was an amazing agency, stating it was one of the few government organizations that can “divest from regulatory policy and focus on the science.” He was happy with the cuts that had been made to the budget, but worried about climate change funding. Due to the rapid increase in climate change funding across several government agencies, he was concerned with overlap between the agencies and pressed for feedback quantifying how earlier monies were spent, and estimating their effectiveness. He also had questions about how variations in LANDSAT funding. Aside from these reservations, he generally approve of the proposed budget.

USGS Director started by recapping the massive earthquakes that had recently struck Haiti and Chile. When statistical analyses were applied to the two earthquakes, she noted a person in Chile was 400 times more likely to survive than one in Haiti; all because Chile had implemented hazard mitigation policy pioneered by the USGS. The role of the USGS, she explained, was to “prioritize research that will keep Americans safe, preserve U.S. natural resources, and save U.S. ecosystems.”

It will be the USGS’s role in the Obama Administration to monitor the impacts of renewable energy plants on the surrounding environment, apply climate research data to make usable predictions about which U.S. regions and populations will be most significantly impacted, and establish climate research centers. The USGS will also monitor information about the “health and availability” of national aquifers, noting the last major water availability survey was completed 30 years ago. Lastly she highlighted that through the FY 2011 budget and recovery funds, more work could be done on hazard monitoring and community preparedness.

Moran’s first asked, “Some scientists have been accused of using climate change to get more funding to do work they would have done regardless. What is the role of the USGS in studying climate change, while working with other agencies and institutions that may have similar agendas?” McNutt responded that the Department of the Interior (DOI) takes a top-down approach to its budget, with significant oversight to prevent duplication within other government organizations.

She drew a parallel to the first USGS assessments of earthquake risk. Scientists learned they could not predict the date of an earthquake, however, it was possible to predict high-risk areas based on the geology. This allowed other agencies to develop policies to protect populations based on USGS research. McNutt felt USGS climate change research would serve a similar complementary role, assessing how certain regions responded to past climate variations, and using that to predict which regions would be the most vulnerable to changing weather patterns, environment and resource availability. “We do what we do to prepare,” McNutt said of USGS research.

Simpson, was skeptical of the budget, but reiterated his belief in climate change exclaiming Idaho is already experiencing impacts. His concern for climate change funding stemmed from his experiences following 9/11 when every proposal used the phrase “to combat terrorism”, and it was revealed that some requests were dishonest. It was his fear that the same thing was occurring in the sciences with the phrase “climate change.” He explained to McNutt, despite the distinctions she made between the USGS and other agencies, he felt he had heard overlap in testimony from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service.

McNutt highlighted that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was keen to cut unnecessary items in the FY2011 budget, thus intra-departmental budgets were scrutinized for overlap. McNutt continued, “If the USGS does not address climate change methodically now, in the foreseeable future the USGS will be dragged in by Congress demanding answers we needed to be studying yesterday.” She also clarified that the USGS is to science what the BLM is to management. Moran added that there were reports demonstrating that data from the USGS was used to increase efficiency in other agencies. Simpson stated he wanted to see a vision for coordination at the DOI and other agencies which may be using federal monies to investigate climate change.

Simpson had questions about the USGS stream gauge network, which looks at stream flow levels. McNutt responded that there was some concern surrounding the fragility of the funding. The instability surrounding how much would be appropriated to the USGS each year meant the states were paying more than their share. She desired a way to make the budget “bullet-proof.” Matthew Larsen, USGS Associate Director of Water, commented that increased funding would help maintain the program and increase data production. Larsen noted there are somewhere between 100 and 300 threatened stream gauges at any given time. Tom Cole (R-OK) expressed that he would rather see money at the FY2010 levels or higher go towards the stream gauge network, rather than a new program, because the stream gauge network represents a cooperative national effort.

Cole was very interested in hydraulic fracturing and was concerned about potential water quality issues. McNutt responded that the USGS has not yet received any requests for an environmental assessment, which would determine ground water contamination. She did state that a pilot study was underway, and the data would be made public. Cole also inquired about any overlap in water analyses between the USGS, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Larsen responded that he meets quarterly with these agencies to make sure that programs are not duplicated.

The hearing concluded with Simpson stating the USGS does great work, and is one of the most respected agencies in the nation. He noted it does great science on a very small budget. Moran joked, that science aside, the small budget was all the more reason Simpson liked the USGS.

No webcast is available for this hearing.

-MNM

Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources of the FY 2011 Department of the Interior Budget
March 3, 2010

Witnesses
The Honorable Ken Salazar
Secretary, Department of the Interior

Committee Members Present
Jeff Bingaman, Chairman (D-NM)
Lisa Murkowski, Ranking Member (R-AK)
Ron Wyden (D-OR)
Tim Johnson (D-SD)
Mary Landrieu (D-LA)
Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
Blanche Lincoln (D-AR)
Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
Mark Udall (D-CO)
Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)
John Barrasso (R-WY)
Sam Brownback (R-KS)
Robert Bennett (R-UT)

Secretary Ken Salazar testified in front of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on the proposed Department of the Interior (DOI) fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget. There was bi-partisan concern over the proposed oil and gas changes impacting the oil and gas industry. Salazar introduced a “Treasured Landscapes” program, which was met with mixed reactions. Changes in abandoned mine reclamation funding also raised eyebrows. However, adapting to climate change by implementing low carbon or carbon reducing strategies were embraced.

Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) described the DOI FY 2011 budget as reasonable and thought the conservationist approach to preserving treasured landscapes and U.S. water resources was commendable. He was also happy to see the administration make water resource management a priority. Noting shifting policies in outer continental shelf (OCS) management, Bingaman expressed interest in discussing the changes further. Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) was not as keen on the idea of treasured landscapes, fearing it may be a tool used to block further OCS oil and gas development. Her frustration stemmed from being unable to develop the National Petroleum Reserve of Alaska (NPR-A) since the Alaskan Natural Wildlife Reserve (ANWR) was also off-limits. Murkowski also felt that fees and increases directed at the oil and gas industry further prevented the development of domestic oil and gas reserves.

Salazar began by stating that the budget reflected “tough choices in tough times,” but it was the DOI’s ultimate goal to protect the heritage of the U.S. Through a line-by-line review of the budget, the DOI was able to make $750 million in cuts, while providing 1.3 million jobs and generating about $370 billion for the U.S. economy. He recognized that some of the changes, though controversial, expressed the administration’s desire to cut programs that did not generate cash revenue, like the Royalty in Kind program.

The budget, under the New Energy Frontier initiative, increased funding to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Minerals Management Service (MMS) by $13.1 million, with $4.4 million for the MMS 5-year OCS Leasing Program and $10 million to transition from the Royalty in Kind program. To help promote a low carbon economy, Salazar highlighted $73.3 million set aside for the development of renewable energy through the New Energy Frontiers initiative, which would include $3 million for the BLM, $3.2 million for MMS, and $3 million for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to investigate the environmental impacts of renewable energy development. The BLM’s oil and gas programs were reduced by $13 million.

Next, Salazar outlined the goals for the Climate Change Adaptation Initiative. He hoped, through these initiatives, there would be increased communication of research and monitoring data between governmental and non-governmental entities. The budget proposal for the Climate Change Adaptation Initiative is $171.3 million, an increase of $35.4 million. Of this, $8 million would go to the USGS National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Centers, $1 million for expanding monitoring capabilities at the USGS and $2 million to expand the USGS Carbon Capture and Sequestration projects. The Bureau of Reclamation would also receive $3.5 million in funding for basin studies and scientific support. Salazar also introduced the WaterSMART program, aimed at stretching water supplies and improving water management. $72.9 million would be appropriated for WaterSMART, and through this the USGS would receive $10.9 million for a multi-year, nationwide water availability assessment program.

Salazar finished by highlighting legislative and administrative proposals that should undergo significant changes to improve efficiency savings within the DOI and U.S. government including: terminating mandatory payments to states and tribes for completing reclamation of abandoned mine sites, increasing non-producing oil and gas lease fess by $4 per acre to encourage companies to develop or relinquish these plots, repealing portions of the Energy Policy Act that divert mineral receipts from the Treasury, and prohibiting establishment of cost recovery fees by the BLM. The legislative changes would also discontinue geothermal revenue payments to counties, sending it instead to the state government and the Treasury. Lastly, the extension of incentives and royalty relief for deep gas and deepwater oil and gas reserves would also be repealed. “These changes,” Salazar argued, “will help ensure that Americans receive fair value for federally-owned mineral resources.”

Several senators expressed concern over the proposed changes to OCS policies. Murkowski expressed “absolute anxiety” over the possibility of DOI developing an “aquatic resource of national importance,” citing a leaked email suggesting the MMS had used its power to slow OCS oil and gas development in Alaska. Robert Bennett (R-UT) described an incident in 2007 where the federal government claimed Utah land that was slated for oil and gas development as a National Monument. Bennett reminded Salazar that this incident made him skeptical of programs like Treasured Landscapes.

John Barrasso (R-WY) remained concerned about what he referred to as the “war against American oil and gas” and the “war against western America,” arguing that the proposed regulatory fees would cripple the oil and gas industry. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) also expressed concern that the new regulations would restrict the development of natural gas efforts in Louisiana. She shared that the amount of natural gas stored in the Haynesville Shale was eleven times the natural gas consumption of the United States in the past year.

Salazar responded to these concerns by expressing that, first, there was no ulterior motive in the Treasured Landscapes initiative. He explained that it was a conservationist movement that would be initiated by local and state governments, and greatly resemble the results of the Omnibus Bill passed in 2009. He also asked the senators to keep the current lease-sale schedule in mind, arguing that it was proof of the administration’s desire to develop NPR-A.

Addressing Barrasso’s comments, Salazar said that the delays in development stemmed from a court decision stating previous environmental assessment work was done improperly and needed to be redone. Salazar pointed out that these assessments were all done under the last administration, and 50 percent of those leases were tied up in endless litigation, and doing the proper assessment would avoid such litigation. Salazar responded that previous legislation represented a “50 year broken promise by Democrats and Republicans to the American people,” and felt the fees were consistent with what is appropriate for the usage.

Robert Menedez (D-NJ) was the only senator present who expressed opposition to OCS development for oil and gas, arguing it would have negative impact on tourism because of decreased coastline attractiveness and increased hazard from offshore rigs. He asked Salazar if he had heard about a British Petroleum drill rig in Australia that failed from sub-par infrastructure. Menendez contended that this rig was built poorly by British Petroleum as a way to cut costs. Salazar responded that DOI takes MMS rig assessment reports very seriously, and the U.S. has an incredibly good record of drill rig stability. Landrieu agreed with Salazar, stating that permits would have never been issued to this particular drilling company in America. Menedez also asked about developing OCS for wind generation, to which Salazar responded that the DOI is looking into ways it can develop this industry using pre-existing authority.

Both Bingaman and Mark Udall (D-CO) were concerned about the removal of the mine reclamation payments and expressed their concern. Bingaman said such measures would hit states like New Mexico hard, and Udall stated that states and tribes really depended on this money to complete mine reclamation projects, especially when previously unknown mines were discovered. Salazar seemed to understand their concern, but reminded that the budget reflected tough choices and removal of this program reduced the budget by approximately $64 million.

Written testimony and an archived webcast of the hearing can be accessed here.

-MNM

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 web site; hearing testimony.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at govt@agiweb.org.

Contributed by Linda Rowan and Corina Cerovski-Darriau, AGI Government Affairs Staff; and Maureen Moses, 2010 AGI/AAPG Spring Intern.

Last updated January 13, 2011


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