Cabinet officials due on the Hill to defend spending plan

Source: E&E News Staff • Posted: Monday, June 5, 2017

Top Trump administration officials are due on Capitol Hill this week to defend the White House’s fiscal 2018 budget request, which calls for deep across-the-board cuts.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s planned appearance before the House Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee is so far the most high-profile on energy and environment issues.

The White House is recommending $11.7 billion for the department, $600 million less than the $12.3 billion Congress gave Interior in the omnibus spending bill this year.

Comparing those figures amounts to about a 5 percent cut. But comparing the fiscal 2018 request with Interior’s net discretionary budget authority of $13.2 billion in the fiscal 2017 continuing resolution from earlier this year, it amounts to an 11 percent decrease.

Zinke will likely face pushback from Democrats and Republicans on the administration’s proposed cuts to popular programs, including the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes system, which provides revenue to communities with non-taxable federal lands (E&E Daily, May 26).

The administration also wants to end federal revenue-sharing programs with several states and drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge starting in 2022. Lawmakers will likely seize on both issues.

Forest Service

Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell is due to appear before the Senate Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, headed by Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski.

President Trump’s budget envisions spending $5.2 billion on the agency, which would amount to roughly a $1 billion drop, affecting efforts to fight fires and manage pests.

Last month, top House appropriators said they were considering taking drastic measures related to wildfires as a way of pressing for a long-term solution (E&E Daily, May 26).

Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will appear before the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee.

The biggest topic of debate will likely be the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, which the Trump administration is looking to jump-start.

The NRC recovers most of its budget in licensing fees, requesting just $138 million from Congress. But the Trump plan would take $30 million from the Nuclear Waste Fund to support Yucca.

The strongest voices against the project will not be at this week’s hearing, as neither senator from Nevada sits on Senate Appropriations.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who does sit on the Energy and Water Subcommittee holding the hearing, has been firmly in favor of dumping nuclear waste at Yucca.

National Science Foundation

The House Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee will examine an 11 percent proposed cut to the National Science Foundation that could hit a range of climate and energy programs.

Overall, NSF’s funding would fall to $6.7 billion. The amount would cover roughly 8,000 new research grants, compared with almost 9,000 during fiscal 2016.

The budget would slash funding by more than 40 percent for the Ocean Observatories Initiative, a network of sea sensors intended to advance research on issues like ocean acidification.

NSF’s geosciences directorate would be cut more than 10 percent, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research would see a decline of about 15 percent.

Both the geosciences branch and NCAR are critical to work on climate change, said Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“This is just astonishingly shortsighted economically,” he said. Other budget reductions would affect engineering, polar, math, computing and behavioral science programs.

At a briefing last month, NSF Director Frances Córdova said NSF remained committed to its mission but decided to “reset” some investments closer to levels that would have been seen a decade ago. Córdova is scheduled to appear before the panel.

Some programs would see a funding increase, including the National Ecological Observatory Network, a planned continental-scale observational network to monitor everything from land-use changes to invasive species. It was a focus of multiple House hearings after reports surfaced of misused taxpayer funds (E&E Daily, Feb. 5, 2016).

Commerce and Labor

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is set to appear before the Senate Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee, where lawmakers may ask about fishery and climate research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

During a hearing last month, Ross defended spending cuts, which would curtail work at Regional Climate Centers, but vowed to address the fish trade deficit (E&E Daily, May 26).

When it comes to the Labor Department, Secretary Alexander Acosta will appear before panels in both the House and Senate to defend the spending plan.

The Trump administration has yet to put forward a nominee to lead the Mine Safety and Health Administration, but the White House’s fiscal 2018 request did outline a slight uptick in funding for the agency.

MSHA would receive $375.2 million, compared with the $373.8 million Congress gave the agency in the fiscal 2017 omnibus spending bill (E&E Daily, May 24).

The Obama administration, in its final budget blueprint, asked for $397 million, but the GOP-led House Appropriations panel said decreased spending “reflects the declining need for various MSHA activities because of decreased mining across the country.”

Trump, however, has long promised a resurgence for the industry driven by regulatory cuts that both coal and hardrock mining companies support.

Acosta’s department has already delayed new examination requirements at non-coal mines. It has also moved to settle lawsuits over the Obama-era safety crackdown (Greenwire, May 23).

Concerning the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the budget would provide $543.2 million, compared with $552.8 million in the omnibus.

Separately, Senate appropriators will hold a hearing on the Army budget, which could involve questions about Defense Department energy programs.

Dems want more hearings

This year’s appropriations process has been particularly irregular. Lawmakers spent months crafting fiscal 2017 spending bills before turning their attention to the next fiscal year. And Trump was late in releasing his full budget proposal.

Amid uncertainty about whether all relevant committees will call administration officials to justify their spending plans, House Energy and Commerce Democrats called on the majority to schedule such hearings.

“Holding hearings concerning the President’s proposed budget affords this Committee the opportunity to better understand the proposed changes to the budget, the needs of these agencies and the potential impacts on the American public and the country as a whole,” they wrote.

Schedule: The House Labor budget hearing is Wednesday, June 7, at 10 a.m. in 2358-C Rayburn.

Witness: Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta.

Schedule: The House National Science Foundation budget hearing is Wednesday, June 7, at 10 a.m. in 2359 Rayburn.

Witness: NSF Director Frances Córdova.

Schedule: The Senate Forest Service budget hearing is Wednesday, June 7, at 9:30 a.m. in 124 Dirksen.

Witness: Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.

Schedule: The Senate Army budget hearing is Wednesday, June 7, at 10:30 a.m. in 192 Dirksen.

Witnesses: Acting Army Secretary Robert Speer and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley.

Schedule: The Senate Nuclear Regulatory Commission budget hearing is Wednesday, June 7, at 2:30 p.m. in 138 Dirksen.

Witnesses: Commissioners Kristine Svinicki and Stephen Burns.

Schedule: The House Interior budget hearing is Thursday, June 8, at 9:30 a.m. in 2007 Rayburn.

Witness: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Schedule: The Senate Commerce budget hearing is Thursday, June 8, at 10 a.m. in 192 Dirksen.

Witness: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

Schedule: The Senate Labor budget hearing is Thursday, June 8, at 10 a.m. in 138 Dirksen.

Witness: Acosta.

Reporters Manuel Quiñones, Dylan Brown, Sam Mintz, Kellie Lunney and Christa Marshall contributed.