BUDGET UPDATE

The full House Appropriations Committee marked up and approved the FY ‘05 DOI and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill on June 9. The bill, which funds BIA and FWS, has been placed on the House calendar and full House action was expected soon. Within the House BIA, Pacific Northwest Tribes are slated to receive $4.0 million for FFR (likely includes $1.0 million mass marking). Shellfish was in the base, so tribes should see last year’s level. The Unresolved Hunting and Fishing monies were not restored, so hunting funding remains precarious.

Within the House FWS portion of the appropriation committee, $2.1 million is available for Washington State mass marking, but no details have been shared regarding the tribal portion. $2.5 million has been earmarked for the final year of hatchery reform. Senate Appropriations Chairman, Ted Stevens (R-AK) says he’s tired of the lack of progress, and that the Senate will begin to mark its spending bill with or without a budget resolution. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) is still seeking the 50 votes needed to adopt SCR 95/H.Rep.108-498, the FY ‘05 budget resolution conference report. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Don Nickles (R-OK) says that without a final budget deal, the Senate appropriations process will work with the $814 billion discretionary level approved in the FY ‘05 budget resolution. The Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee scheduled its mark, and the Subcommittee on Defense is doing the same.

The House Appropriations subcommittee on Commerce-Justice-State has marked the FY ‘05 funding bill (includes NOAA), increasing the lowly $2.4 billion NOAA budget, slashed under Bush’s request. Coastal management and ocean and atmospheric research programs were particularly hard hit by that request. The budget requested $379 million for operations, research and facilities of the National Ocean Service, a decrease of $126 million from the FY ‘04 enacted level. NMFS requested $623 million, the same amount as in FY ‘04. The Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research requested $350 million, a cut of $43 million from FY ‘04. The House Appropriations Full Committee has reported the Homeland Security and Interior Spending bills. The House Full Committee on Appropriations is also in the process of reporting the Defense and House Energy and Water spending bills.

ANOTHER OMNIBUS BILL???

With the number of actual work days in the 2004 congressional session dwindling, and progress on budget bills lagging, don’t be surprised to see another omnibus bill this year. Without having a budget resolution in place, an omnibus would be necessary to avoid procedural snags posed by the lack of a budget framework. As indicated in the previous article, some senators are abandoning hope for passing a bicameral budget resolution and leaning toward the passage of an omnibus in late July. Rather than trying to pass the traditional 13 individual spending measures, some legislators are saying an omnibus may be the only way to control spending on the Senate floor without a resolution.

The bicameral budget blueprint, which passed the House last month, would set total discretionary spending at $821 billion and would allow budget hawks to bring procedural “points of order” against any Senate floor amendment that seeks to push spending above the committee-allotted formula that covers each of the 13 annual spending bills. Although some centrist Republicans are not convinced to vote for the budget resolution, the Senate will most likely have to move forward with appropriations bills using a $814 billion discretionary spending cap that was set by last year’s budget. If appropriations bills are passed one at a time under that scenario, Senators seeking to add money to the measures would need only 50 votes to prevail. Once the cumulative effect of spending increases threatens to exceed the $814 billion cap, points of order would require 60 votes to overcome. Such circumstances could jeopardize funding for any number of federal programs, depending on the order in which the 13 annual appropriations bills come to the floor.

One of the few things being agreed to on this issue right now is that it’s not a very good way to run a government. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), the ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Committee, has referred to omnibus appropriations bills as “the Frankenstein monster of the legislative process.”

Rep. David Obey (D-WI) blames Bush’s tax cuts for the shortages that will be seen throughout the FY ‘05 spending bills. “”Appropriations is the place where reality hits,” Obey declared as he voiced his frustration over Bush’s “”phony”” initiatives and news releases which made promises in funding that will never come to pass. Among other cuts, the USFWS is funded at $1.3 billion, $45 million below FY ‘04 and $62 million below the request. However, BIA is at $2.3 billion, $34 million above FY ‘04 and $81 million above the request.

COASTAL MANAGEMENT AND RESEARCH

Funding for coastal management and ocean research would be cut substantially under HR 4546, the FY ‘05 spending bill for NOAA, which has cleared the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and State. The bill provides $3.2 billion for NOAA, $543 million below the current year and $215 million below Bush’s budget request. The funds are part of a nearly $40 billion bill funding the three cabinet departments. Details of the bill will not be available until the full House Appropriations Committee considers it. The markup was June 23. The FY ‘05 budget request would allocate $379 million for operations, research and facilities of the National Ocean Service, a decrease of $126 million from the FY ‘04 enacted level. NMFS would receive $623 million, the same amount as FY ‘04. The Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research requests $350 million, a cut of $43 million from FY ‘04. Democratic members of the House Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans say that budget would decimate important programs, e.g., coastal pollution control and ocean monitoring programs.

MORE OF THE SAME: BUSH INTENDS TO CUT SERVICES FOR FY ‘06

A leaked White House internal OMB memo recently indicated that President Bush is directing his cabinet agencies to develop budgets which dramatically cut funding for FY 2006. Such cuts would apparently affect agency programs across the board, although details of the cuts apparently won’t be revealed until after the November 2004 presidential election. Senator Patty Murray characterized the leaked information as “disturbing news about the true costs of the President’s failed policies.”

News reports seen to date have indicated that the cut would affect homeland security by $1 billion, education by $1.5 billion, veterans services by $910 million, the National Institutes of Health by $600 million, and Head Start by $177 million. Cuts would also likely be made to such critical agencies as the Department of Interior and EPA (see below). “These proposed cuts will hurt the American people’s ability to create opportunity and address pressing needs,” said Murray. “We’re not just talking about programs here. We’re talking about people’s lives.” Murray, who has served on the Senate Budget Committee for 11 years, has repeatedly raised warning flags about how the Bush Administration’s budget priorities hurt Washington families. The OMB Circular, which was leaked to the Washington Post, instructed government agencies to assume the spending levels mapped out in an earlier OMB printout. The OMB printout included budget cuts for nearly all agencies in charge of domestic programs. Although these numbers are said to be tentative, they will be used in the initial crafting of the FY ‘06 President’s Budget. A related report from Congressman John Spratt (D-S.C.) has said Bush will call for a $161 million reduction for EPA and a $230 million reduction for Interior (as compared to his FY ’05 request).

DICKS PUSHES FOR $$$ FOR HOOD CANAL

Rep. Norm Dicks is pushing to secure $2 million in next year’s defense budget for extensive water monitoring and computer modeling to deal with the low-oxygen crisis in Hood Canal. The money has been approved by the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, of which Dicks is a member, and it will now move to the full House Appropriations Committee and then on to the Senate. “We’re looking for some answers, because this is truly a crisis,” Dicks said. “If we have a hot summer it could be a real disaster for these creatures in Hood Canal.”
A little more than a year ago, Dicks met with a committee of representatives from 17 government and community organizations. Experts were trying to understand why dissolved oxygen in the canal had plunged to deadly levels. The group showed Dicks a plan to gain solid answers, but it would require a three-year, $3 million program. Dicks told the group he would go to work. The proposed $2 million would go to the Applied Physics Laboratory, a UW program that works closely with the Navy. Dicks said he would seek another $1 million next year and encourage the state legislature to provide additional funding for related projects.

INPUT PROVIDED ON OCEANS REPORT

Tribes have commended the report on oceans recently published by the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, calling it the first comprehensive governmental review of the nation’s ocean policy in 35 years. But they also took issue with certain elements of the report, particularly the omission of the tribes. In a June 1 letter submitted by NWIFC, tribes stated, “It is a historically significant feat and it is absolutely essential to prioritize meeting the needs of the oceans to the highest possible level. Nothing is more important.” However, the letter also pointed out the omission problem, and stated, “Are we to assume from this that there is no intent to involve us as managers or invest in our programs if your recommendations are implemented? If that were to occur, it would be tragic because we have been the governments that have consistently vied for better ocean-related practices. We have been engaged in efforts to restore and protect the entire eco-system, through good management, good monitoring, good science and good education efforts for many years.”

Other concerns listed in the letter include the need to acknowledge and utilize Traditional Knowledge, retain the Regional Fisheries Management Councils, expand Council roles to include environmental responsibilities, provide direct tribal access to funding and emphasize that nothing in the report over-rides treaties. The report, like the non-governmental PEW Oceans Report issued earlier this year, laid much on the use of Marine Protected Areas in its recommendations. Regarding MPA’s, the NWIFC letter suggested following, and strengthening, the recommendations voiced by the Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Initiative Five-Year Report submitted by an evaluation panel chaired by Bill Ruckelshaus. Among other things, that report stated, “Tribes are legally restricted to the geographic boundaries of their U&A fishing grounds and the establishment of MPA’s (especially no-take zones) limits their ability to exercise treaty-reserved fishing rights. Tribes cannot relocate to another U&A area if their available area is reduced by pollution, delineation of shipping lanes, establishment of MPA’s, or other limitations. Even though an MPA cannot preclude or preempt tribal harvest, establishment of an MPA can create difficulties between tribes and other resource managers and the public. The public simply does not understand how fishing can occur in an MPA, even though treaty rights take precedence and conservation objectives are incorporated into harvest plans.” Ruckelshaus, member of the Ocean Commission, has indicated he will work to convey tribal concerns to the full Commission.

“ENVIRONMENTALLY DANGEROUS” HYDRO BILL CONSIDERED

The Hydropower Reform Coalition has issued an advisory on HR 4513, the NEPA Exemption Bill, sponsored by Rep. Richard Pombo, (R-CA), chairman of the House Resources Committee. Pombo is aggressively pushing the bill. According to the coalition, the bill is a grave threat to river protection from hydropower and other energy projects. Since 1969, NEPA has served as the nation’s fundamental environmental statute. “In a dramatically cynical and totally counterproductive proposal, Pombo has introduced this bill, which would exempt elements of the energy industry from complying with some of NEPA’s core functions, under the guise of promoting renewable energy,”” says the advisory. It adds that river conservation interests should be very concerned about the potential impacts on rivers and riverfront communities affected by this proposal because it includes hydropower as renewable. The coalition says it’s a blanket exemption for the energy industry, and an unwarranted broad exemption from NEPA.

UPDATE ON NATIVE AMERICAN FISH AND WILDLIFE BILL/OTHER SCIA ISSUES

S 2301, intended to support tribal natural resource management, Indian rights to hunt, fish and gather, and improved opportunities in fish marketing and related education programs, was expected to be considered by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on June 23. Hope remains alive for reporting the bill to the full Senate, and there is word of some support for moving the bill in the House. NWIFC comments on the bill are available on request, and coverage of it will continue.

SCIA has also held executive session on issuing subpoenas for tribal lobbying matters. And the committee has adopted the following bills: S.1715, Department of the Interior Tribal Self Governance Amendments of 2003; S.2172, the Tribal Contracts Support Cost Technical Amendments of 2004; and S.2436, the Native American Programs Act of 2003. SCIA also recently heard S. 2382, a bill to establish grant programs for the development of telecommunications capacities in Indian country. Otherwise known as the Native American Connectivity Act, the bill was introduced by Senator Inouye, and co-sponsored by Senator Campbell. Sen. Inouye expressed the dire need for special projects and grants to facilitate the development of strong telecommunications infrastructure in Indian Country. He is trying to get the word out on this issue which not only addresses the need for telephones, but also encompasses the need to access the internet and wireless communication. Also included on SCIA’s list is SJR 37, a resolution “to acknowledge a long history of official depredations and ill-conceived policies by the US government regarding Indian tribes, and offer an apology to all Native Peoples on behalf of the United States.” This resolution is sponsored by Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas and co-sponsored by Senators Inouye, Akaka and Campbell.

LAUTENBACHER TELLS CONGRESS OF NOAA’s SALMON LISTING/HATCHERY PLANS

Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr., Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, recently wrote to members of Congress about NOAA’s upcoming proposals to renew 25 of 26 listings of Northwest salmon populations under ESA, setting aside the listing of Oregon Coast Coho because NOAA failed to include close-related hatchery fish in the listing decision. The letter said that since the same flaw was present in almost all of the other listing decisions, NOAA voluntarily agreed to reconsider all of our earlier listing decisions and to adjust policy for considering hatchery fish in making those decisions—and the letter said that NOAA will be asking the public to comment on both. Lautenbacher said NOAA’s decisions are driven by science, which suggests benefits, risks and uncertainties regarding salmon hatcheries. “Simply put, some well-managed conservation hatcheries are fostering recovery of species, some hatcheries are having little or no effect, and some hatcheries potentially hinder recovery.” At President Bush’s direction, he said, recovery of salmon is the major focus for NOAA in the Northwest. The letter expressed gratitude to Congress for authorizing more than $100 million of NOAA’s budget, and hundreds of millions more from other federal agencies to the cause of salmon recovery this year alone. It said hundreds of miles of fish habitat have been improved, fish passage enhanced, and fish stocks rebuilt, helping to re-establish sustainable natural salmon populations. Combined with favorable ocean conditions, Lutenbacher said, this hard work is producing dramatic increases in nearly all of the salmon runs. He said much work remains to be done to expand the habitat to support future generations of naturally spawning populations.