House subcommittees have approved appropriations bills that would provide $27.9 billion in discretionary funding. That would top the current level by 4.9 percent increase, or $1.3 billion and Bush’s request by 8.2 percent, or $2.1 billion. The full committee is set to take up the bill on June 18. Programs that benefit tribes would receive the “single largest increase” in the bill, according to Congressman Norm Dicks, chairman of the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies subcommittee. Among other increases, the Dicks bill would allocate $2.4 billion to the BIA, an increase of 5.2 percent. It would also provide: $7.8 billion for EPA, a 5 percent increase over FY 2008; $850 million for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (pays for improvements at sewage treatment plants), a 23.4 percent increase; $2.6 billion for the Forest Service, not including firefighting programs, a 4.3 percent increase; $3 billion for fire accounts at the Forest Service and Interior. House Republicans expressed reservations about moving ahead on this year’s appropriations process before finishing the fiscal 2008 war supplemental. They also used the opportunity to debate the rising costs of gas and oil, saying their votes are all going to be energy-related this year. The panel rejected an amendment to allow exploration between 50 and 200 miles off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and in the Gulf of Mexico. There likely will be more energy amendments at the full committee markup, scheduled for June 18. Outside of the drilling debate, Republicans agreed with Democrats on the need to spend more than Bush has requested. Ranking Member Todd Tiahrt, R-KS, said he was grateful to Dicks for the attention paid to the critical needs of Indian Country.
This past month, the U.S. House voted to cut off Iraq war funding, calling on a strict timeline to end the war and covering a few other issues. Then the bill got to the Senate, where there was a strong vote for blank-check war funding. But, in the end, the Senate stripped out all the readiness restrictions and timelines and voted to continue funding a war without end. There are efforts to get these measures restored. If that doesn’t happen, war funding may again be a major hurdle standing in the way of more adequate funding for discretionary domestic spending. The House will have to take up this bill when representatives get back from Memorial Day recess.
BIA SEARCH GOES ON…..MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE AGENCY
With just eight months left in the Bush administration, the Interior Department continues to search for a new leader of the BIA. But in the meantime, Deputy Secretary P. Lynn Scarlett, the second-in-command at Interior, assigned the duties of the assistant secretary for Indian Affairs to a longtime employee. George Skibine, a member of the Osage Nation of Oklahoma, who took over the post when former BIA head Carl Artman left office. The move means Skibine holds yet another title at the BIA. In addition to his normal job as head of the Office of Indian Gaming Management, he has been acting as the agency’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Economic Development since 2004. For several months during the Bush administration, Skibine even served as acting principal deputy assistant secretary, the second-highest post at the BIA. The never-ending changes — which at one point left the BIA without a leader for more than two years – has continued to disappoint Sen. Byron Dorgan, S-ND, chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. "Mr. Artman was the third assistant secretary under this administration and the third to resign. And for two years during this administration, there was no assistant secretary. Now I wonder how long it will take to get another assistant secretary. I think this is undermining the interests of Indian tribes across this country and I’m very upset about it."
JUDGE GIVES INTERIOR APPROVAL TO GET BACK ONLINE
More than six years after being knocked offline as part of the contentious Indian trust fund lawsuit, the Interior Department has been given approval to reconnect all of its systems to the Internet. Judge Royce Lamberth, who has been removed from the case, ordered the disconnect in December 2001. A court investigator found that billions of dollars in Indian trust funds were at risk to computer hacking. Since then, most of Interior’s agencies, offices and bureaus were given permission to get back online after they demonstrated their systems were secure. But there were some key holdouts — namely the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Office of Special Trustee, the two agencies that deal most with Indian Country. Judge James Robertson, who inherited the case in December 2006, was initially reluctant to order the systems back online. As he considered the Bush administration’s request to reconnect, he was concerned that Interior hadn’t shown that the BIA, OST and the remaining entities were secure. He denied the motion most recently in May of last year. But he now says it was "clear" that a ruling from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals limited judicial oversight of information technology matters. Concluding that it wasn’t his role to "weigh IT security risks" at the department, he now says sworn declarations submitted by government officials indicate Interior has complied with federal law.
FARM BILL PERSPECTIVES
The 2008 Farm Bill conference report has been passed by significant majority. The conference report authorizes nearly $300 billion worth of USDA programs over the next 5 years. After nearly two years of work on the bill, it will likely become law despite an expected veto by Bush. He disagrees with the overall cost of the bill and the methods of crop payments, arguing that too much money is spent on farm subsidies for rich farmers. The conference negotiators lowered the income ceiling at which payments cease, but not to the $200k level Bush wanted. Nevertheless, both chambers strongly supported the bill, and voted accordingly. House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson, D-MN, hopes the bill will become law by the end of the month. Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, R-AR, has blasted both parties in Congress for showing "incredible disregard for the public treasury and for the public interest" by voting for the farm bill. McCain says he would veto the bill if he were president, even though lawmakers have votes to overturn that action. As president, he said, "I will seek an end to all agricultural tariffs, and to all farm subsidies that are not based on clear need. I will veto any bill containing special-interest favors and corporate welfare in any form."
On the other hand, Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs touts Indian provisions in the farm bill. He says Indian Country will benefit from provisions in the farm bill recently passed by the Senate. Dorgan said his committee worked on several of these provisions in H.R.2419. Among others, he says it will help tribes improve and expand their conservation efforts. Tribes have been included as eligible entities or partners and tribal lands are given special status in the Wetlands Reserve Program, the Wetlands Reserve Enhancement and Reserved Rights Pilot Program, the new Conservation Stewardship Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program.
Dorgan also says the bill addresses dietary problems in Indian Country by promoting food assistance programs that purchase traditional and locally-grown foods, such as bison meat (“The Secretary is authorized to purchase bison meat for the distribution program and, where practicable, purchase at least 50 percent of the distributed food from traditional and locally-grown foods produced by Native producers”). The Senate version of the bill expands tribal access and use of national forest lands and products for cultural and burial purposes. It also reauthorizes tribally-controlled c
olleges and universities and expands extension services at these institutions. It helps tribes reduce fractionated farmland for individual tribal farmers, and authorizes the Secretary to make and insure loans to eligible purchasers to purchase unencumbered fractionated, non-trust land.
STATE DOE CHALLENGES FERC
The Washington Department of Ecology has filed a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to protect the state’s role in federal licensing procedures for energy projects. The petition asks the court to clarify federal law regarding a recent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) decision. In December, FERC sidestepped the established licensing procedure by granting a conditioned license to Finavera Renewables, superseding decisions from other federal and state agencies with authority in the federal licensing process. Finavera proposes a wave energy project at Makah Bay off the Washington coast. FERC denied Ecology’s initial appeal of the Finavera conditioned license in March. Ecology argues that federal law does not allow FERC to offer a conditioned license in advance of obtaining input and consideration from the other agencies with a regulatory role in the licensing process. Today’s petition would permit the federal court to determine if FERC’s action is consistent with federal law. Ecology requests the court confirm the existing requirements of federal law by declaring that FERC does not have authority to issue conditioned licenses.
Ecology claims responsibility under the federal Clean Water Act and Coastal Zone Management Act to authorize that project proposals can be undertaken without harming water quality or sensitive shoreline areas. The agency reviews applications and can write conditions into the approvals to ensure any potential impacts are avoided or minimized. Historically, agencies with responsibility for protecting water quality, shorelines, fish and other environmental resources review and decide upon applications before FERC issues a final license. That did not happen in this instance.
S 2191, THE LIEBERMAN-WARNER BILL
Climate Change is now being referred to by many as perhaps the most pressing environmental issue of our time, affecting all regions, nations and tribes in current and future generations. To date, federal legislation related to climate change has failed to address tribal interests and concerns, even though the impact of climate change on tribes is and will likely be more severe than to other governments and people due to their location and their direct dependency on natural resources to sustain their health, culture and economies. The Lieberman-Warner bill, or the National Climate Security Act was placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar on May 20. It appears that it’s too late to expect passage this year. However, there are substantial efforts already being applied by bill sponsors, tribes across the nation and environmental organizations to pass it next year. Essentially, the bill as written requires EPA to establish a greenhouse gas registry, and an emission allowance transfer system for facilities that import petroleum or coal-based transportation fuel or chemicals. It sets emission allowances for 2012-2050, with a declining cap on allowable greenhouse gases.
The U.S. Climate Action Partnership formed last year didn’t take a position on the bill, although nine of its members – including General Electric, Alcoa and four star utility companies – signed a letter to senators backing the legislation. The letter, also signed by big environmental groups, says: "Prompt action on climate change is essential to protect America’s economy, security, quality of life and natural environment." But other members of the coalition known as U.S. Cap, most visibly Duke Energy, a coal-burning utility, are strongly opposed. They point to the fact that it’s going to translate into significant electricity price increases. President Bush remains opposed to any meaningful climate change legislation, of course, and House Democrats have been slow to act. Add to that a backdrop of rising gasoline prices and a sluggish economy, and it’s easy to conclude that things will have to change before the legislation will stand much of a chance. As for corporate support, it is significant that a key purpose of the bill is to put a price on the emissions of greenhouse gases, as a way to speed the transition to a clean-energy economy and slow down global warming.
Tribal set aside provisions that were proposed do constitute a promising work in progress. The two tribal set-aside provisions that Senators Lieberman and Warner had written into S 2191 would provide direct tribal access to resources provided without requiring “treatment-as-a-state” status. The bill would have enhanced the direct relationship of tribes to the federal government on climate change-related issues. These issues played strongly in climate change sessions held at the recent NCAI Mid-year Session in Reno.
Federal Priority Bills List for June, 2008
Bills seeing recent action, along with brief descriptions, dates of action and status Please address thoughts and/or questions to Steve Robinson at email@example.com (360 528-4347).
S.1578.RS Title: A bill to amend the Non-indigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act of 1990 to establish vessel ballast water management requirements, etc. Sponsor: Sen Inouye, Daniel K., D-HA (introduced 6/7/2007) Cosponsors (1) Latest Major Action: 3/3/2008 Placed on Senate Legislative Calendar under General Orders. Calendar No. 589.
S.1620 Title: A bill to provide the Coast Guard and NOAA with additional authorities under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, to strengthen the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, etc. Sponsor: Sen Cantwell, Maria, D-WA (introduced 6/14/2007) Cosponsors (1) Latest Major Action: 6/14/2007 Referred to Senate committee. Status: Read twice and referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
H.R.1769 Title: To amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 to reduce predation on endangered Columbia River salmon, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Rep Baird, Brian, D-WA (introduced 3/29/2007) Cosponsors (5) Latest Major Action: 8/2/2007 House committee/subcommittee actions. Status: Subcommittee Hearings Held.
H.R. 1771 (Baldwin): To assist in the conservation of cranes by supporting and providing, through projects of persons and organizations with expertise in crane conservation, financial resources for the conservation programs of countries the activities of which directly or indirectly affect cranes and the ecosystems of cranes. “Crane Conservation Act of 2007“ Latest Major Action: 5/22/2008 House committee/subcommittee actions. Status: Ordered to be reported (Amended) to the Environment and Public Works Committee.
S.1892.RS A bill to reauthorize the Coast Guard for fiscal year 2008. Sponsor: Sen Cantwell, Maria, D-WA (introduced 7/26/2007) Cosponsors (5) Committees: Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Senate Reports: 110-261 Latest Major Action: 2/5/2008 Placed on Senate Legislative Calendar under General Orders. Calendar No. 568.
S.2284 Title: An original bill to amend the National Flood Insurance Act of 1968, to restore the financial solvency of the flood insurance fund, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Sen Dodd, Christopher J. [CT] (introduced 11/1/2007) Cosponsors (None) Related Bills: H.R.3121
Latest Major Action: 5/13/2008- Returned to Senate Calendar.
H.R.2400 : To direct the Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to establish an integrated Federal ocean and coastal mapping plan for the Great Lakes and coastal state waters, the territorial sea, the exclusive economic zone, and the Continental Shelf of the United States, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Rep Bordallo, Madeleine Z. [GU] (introduced 5/21/2007) Cosponsors (5) Committees: House Natural Resources; House Science and Technology; Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Latest Major Action: 7/24/2007 Referred to Senate committee. Status: Received in the Senate and Read twice and referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
Title: To provide for the ntinuation of agricultural programs through fiscal year 2012 purposes. Sponsor: Rep Peterson, Collin C. [MN-7] Cosponsors: None. Related Bills: H.RES.574, H.RES.1189, H.R.5957, H.R.6124, S.163, S.2302
Latest Major Action: Became Public Law No: 110-234 [GPO: Text, PDF]
House Reports: 110-256 Part 1; Latest Conference Report: 110-627 (in Congressional Record H3409-3700) Note: The House and Senate passed H.R. 2419 over veto, enacting 14 of 15 farm bill titles into law. On 5/22/2008 the House passed H.R. 6124, a new bill containing 15 farm bill titles.
S.2670 Title: A bill to amend the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act to ensure adequate funding for conservation and restoration of wildlife, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Sen Johnson, Tim, D-SD (introduced /27/2008) Cosponsors (1) Latest Major Action: 2/27/2008 Referred to Senate Committee. Status: Read twice and referred to the Committee on Environment
S.2739 (Sen. Bingaman) – Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008.
Title: Related Bills: S.2179, S.2180, S.2483, S.2616 Latest Major Action: 5/1/2008 Presented to President. Makes amendments to various public laws, including the National Trails System Act, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Act of 1998, the Omnibus Parks and Public Lands Management Act of 1996, the Oregon Resource Conservation Act of 1996, the Reclamation and Groundwater Study and Facilities Act, the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the Steel and Aluminum Energy Conservation and Technology Competitiveness Act of 1988, the Immigration and Nationality Act, and the Compacts of Free Association Amendments Act of 2003. Status: This bill became Public Law No: 110-229.
H.R.2830, the Coast Guard Authorization bill. This legislation provides for a study of “regional response vessel and salvage capability for Olympic Peninsula Coast, Washington.” It also contains a provision prohibiting the discharge of ballast water in national marine sanctuaries.
Title: To authorize appropriations for the Coast Guard for fiscal year 2008, to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act and title 18, United States Code, to combat the crime of alien smuggling and related activities, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Rep Oberstar, James L. [MN-8] (introduced 6/22/2007) Cosponsors (2) Related Bills: H.RES.1126, H.R.2399, S.1892
Latest Major Action: 4/28/2008 Received in the Senate. Read twice. Placed on Senate Legislative Calendar.
H.AMDT.969 to H.R.2857 Amendment to add an Energy Conservation Corps, which would seek to address the nation’s energy and transportation infrastructure needs while providing work and service opportunities. Sponsor: Rep Inslee, Jay . D-WA, (introduced 3/6/2008)
Latest Major Action: 3/6/2008 House amendment agreed to. Status
H.R.3891 Title: To amend the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Establishment Act to increase the number of Directors on the Board of Directors of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Sponsor: Rep Brown, Henry E., Jr. [SC-1] (introduced 10/18/2007) Cosponsors (1) Latest Major Action: 5/21/08, Passed Committee on Environment and Public Works.
H.R. 3981 Title: To authorize the Preserve America Program and Save America’s Treasures Program, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Rep Miller, Brad [NC-13] (introduced 10/29/2007) Cosponsors (56) Related Bills: S.2262 Latest Major Action: 4/24/2008 House committee/subcommittee actions. Status: Subcommittee Hearings Held. Among other things, this bill would establishes the Preserve America Program, under which the Secretary of the Interior, in partnership with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, shall provide competitive grants to specified entities to support preservation efforts through heritage tourism, education, and historic preservation planning activities. It sets forth provisions regarding the designation of communities, tribal areas, and neighborhoods as Preserve America Communities.
H.R.5171 (S.240 ) Title: To reauthorize and amend the National Geologic Mapping Act of 1992. Sponsor: Rep Costa, Jim [CA-20] (introduced 1/29/2008) Cosponsors (6) Latest Major Action: 2/15/2008- Placed on Legislative Calendar.
H.R.5451 : To reauthorize the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Rep Bordallo, Madeleine Z. [GU] (introduced 2/14/2008) Cosponsors (14) Committees: House Natural Resources Latest Major Action: 6/4/2008- Passed by Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife & Oceans to Committee on Natural Resources.
H.R.5469 Title: To provide grants for the revitalization of waterfront brownfields. Sponsor: Rep Slaughter, Louise McIntosh [NY-28] (introduced 2/14/2008) Cosponsors (20) Latest Major Action: 2/15/2008 Referred to House subcommittee. Status: Referred to the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.
H.R.5608 Title: Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments Act. Sponsor: Rep Rahall, Nick J., II [WV-3] (introduced 3/13/2008) Cosponsors (1) . Latest Major Action: 4/9/2008- Hearing held by the House Committee on Natural Resources. To establish regular and meaningful consultation and collaboration with tribal officials in the development of Federal policies that have tribal implications, to strengthen the United States government-to-government relationships with Indian tribes, and to reduce the imposition of unfunded mandates upon Indian tribes.
H.R.5618 : To reauthorize and amend the National Sea Grant College Program Act, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Rep Bordallo, Madeleine Z. [GU] (introduced 3/13/2008) Cosponsors (10) Committees: House Natural Resources Latest Major Action: 5/21/08- Heard by Subcommittee on Energy & Environment.
H.R.5741 : To amend the High Seas Driftnet Fishing Moratorium Protection Act and the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to improve the conservation of sharks. Sponsor: Rep Bordallo, Madeleine Z. [GU] (introduced 4/9/2008) Cosponsors (9) Committees: House Natural Resources. Latest Major Action: 6/4/2008- Passed Subcommittee by Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife & Oceans to Committee on Natural Resources.