Interior-EPA bill will see funding boost

Source: Geof Koss and George Cahlink, E&E News reporters • Posted: Thursday, March 1, 2018

Agencies funded under the Interior-Environment appropriations bill will see increased spending levels in fiscal 2019 under budget caps guiding the construction of the omnibus spending bill, key senators said yesterday.

Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, the top Democrat on the Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, declined to discuss that panel’s 302(b) allocation setting its spending limit for the year but acknowledged it was “definitely more than last year.”

In fiscal 2017, that subcommittee received roughly $32 billion for the agencies under its purview, which include U.S. EPA and the Interior Department.

Subcommittee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) acknowledged the fiscal 2018 allocation represented an increase over the current year but declined to discuss it further.

“I think within the Interior account we’re going to try to do right by all the priorities that we have,” she told reporters yesterday. “And from my perspective I’m glad that we’re just getting to this.”

House and Senate appropriators have been waiting months for the allocations, which were informally distributed to subcommittee leaders last week but still await formal approval.

Appropriators are generally reluctant to make details of their spending levels public before panel votes, but Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a senior appropriator, said he expected nearly all the fiscal 2018 bills to receive increases above their current levels as a result of the recent budget deal.

He said the exception could be the legislative branch bill — which funds congressional operations — because lawmakers might not want to be seen as raising their own budgets. Congress has until March 23 to prevent a government shutdown.

While Murkowski said she had received her final allocation, she said it was unclear how an extra $10 billion for infrastructure that was agreed to in principle for fiscal 2018 would fit within that allocation (E&E Daily, Feb. 9).

Some of those funds are intended to be used on wastewater and park upgrades, she noted, with another $10 billion intended to be spent for the same purposes in fiscal 2019.

“Obviously we want to respect the directive of the deal, so that’s what we’re working for right now,” Murkowski said.

Riders in play

Environmentalists, meanwhile, continue to mobilize against the inclusion of policy riders that they say would roll back a variety of environmental protections.

“Republican leaders’ insistence on the inappropriate inclusion of anti-environmental or other ideological policy riders will only heighten the risk of yet another continuing resolution or government shutdown,” said Alex Taurel, the deputy legislative director for the League of Conservation Voters.

Green groups are betting on Senate Democrats getting many of the riders stripped because they would still have the ability to filibuster the bill.

Defenders of Wildlife has listed 86 riders it’s watching in fiscal 2018 spending bills, with the bulk of those proposed in the House and Senate versions of the Interior-EPA bill.

Environmentalists are most concerned about several forest riders proposed by Murkowski, including one related to a management plan for Alaska’s Tongass National Forest and another rolling back roadless rule protections. They say the Alaska appropriator’s clout could get the language included.

Other riders that the groups are closely eyeing are GOP provisions to exempt the recent repeal of the Clean Water Rule from the Administrative Procedure Act. The possible loosening of endangered species protections for the sage grouse, gray wolves and prairie chickens are a concern, too.

The Clean Budget Coalition, a collection of liberal and progressive groups that include several environmental organizations and labor unions, is also coming out against what it sees as a collection of “dirty” riders.

While Democrats and like-minded advocates have been beating the drum against the riders, Murkowski predicted those fights would be easier to sort out in the current political environment.

“I think it makes it easier for us to be working on the priorities of the majority as well as the administration when there’s greater alignment like there is now,” she said.