Federal Update: House Passes Interior Bill


Despite the introduction and debate of numerous amendments, the U.S. House has approved the $19.6 billion Interior and related agencies spending bill for FY ’04 with little change. By a vote of 268-152, members adopted H.R. 2691 after rejecting a slate of amendments, such as:

Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) offered an amendment to codify the Clinton-administration Roadless Area Conservation Rule. Debate was intense over the ban, which blankets 58.5 million acres of federal forest land. Bush repealed the rule in Alaska’s two national forests earlier this year and intends to allow governors in the lower 48 states to seek exemptions from the three-year-old ban. The House defeated the amendment. An amendment to maintain the 1976 National Forest Management Act also failed. Rep. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) introduced the amendment to prevent Bush’s 2002 update, which eliminates sound science according to Udall, from taking effect. In opposing the amendment, Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) calling it an effort to protect a broken system, saying the 1976 act gridlocks forest plans, causing reviews to take up to 10 years. Also defeated were attempted amendments to: prevent federal funds from being used to bait bears and bison on federal lands, transfer funding from the National Endowment of the Arts to use for forest thinning projects, and a Norm Dicks amendment to avoid transferring money from the degraded forest land acquisition account for wildfire prevention. (The House’s $29 million request for Forest Service land acquisitions is $15 million below Bush’s request and $104 million below the FY ’03 enacted allotment.) The House also defeated an attempt to reduce all appropriations within the $19.6 billion bill by 1 percent to align with Bush’s proposed budget.

Water amendments were also attempted: One, which was withdrawn, would have prevented funding from being used to alter the flows of the Missouri River until the legal disputes play out in the court system. The House defeated Rep. Earl Blumenauer’s (D-Ore.) amendment to restrict which crops farmers can grow in the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge (an effort to ensure adequate water for fish and wildlife in the refuge by prohibiting water hoarding row crops in summer months). Opponents led by Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.), said it would restrict farmers’ choices by dictating what they could grow. “”This is an anti-farming amendment. If passed, tomorrow it will be all over the country,”” he said.


The Senate has approved a FY 2004 Defense spending bill, S. 1382. Like the House-passed bill, H.R. 2658, the Senate bill satisfies Bush’s environmental restoration request for the Army at $396 million, a $118,000 increase from the FY ’03 level; the Navy program at $256 million, a $795,000 dip from FY ’03; the Air Force at $384 million, a $5.5 million decrease from FY ’03; and Defense-wide projects at $24 million, a $583,000 increase from FY ’03.


Before the Senate Appropriations Committee made quick work of approving the FY ’04 energy and water spending bill, Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) complained that U.S. water projects are being sorely under-funded and pledged to add $125 million in “”emergency”” funds on the Senate floor. Like its counterpart in the House, the Senate mark makes a point of surpassing Bush’s request for the Army Corps of Engineers, proposing to spend $4.43 billion on Corps water infrastructure projects. The Senate level is $233 million over Bush’s request and just under the House mark, which is $4.5 billion. Domenici says that level is far from enough to satisfy the Corps’ backlog of projects, and promised to add $125 million on the Senate floor on top of the $4.43 billion, though he did not say where the funds would be offset. Otherwise, the committee coasted through the energy and water markup, passing a $27.3 billion bill that seeks to counter-balance House cuts to Energy Department nuclear security programs. The Bureau of Reclamation netted $990 million, $67 million above the budget request and $42 million over the House. DOE environmental cleanup activities would get $7.6 billion in the Senate, $87 million less than the request and $213 million over last year.


The House Appropriations VA-HUD Subcommittee recently approved $8.01 billion for EPA, a slight cut from current levels. EPA amendments were being held for the full committee, scheduled to meet July 21. The mark is $375 million above Bush’s $7.63 billion FY ’04 budget request but $74 million below last year’s $8.08 billion. Congress and Bush had approved $8.13 billion for EPA in FY ’03, but that number has since been slightly reduced to balance the overall budget. The VA-HUD bill, last of the 13 funding bills to pass their respective House subcommittees, is not slated to reach the floor until after the August recess. Specifically for EPA, the House GOP mark offers $3.6 billion for the hodgepodge of nearly two dozen air, water and waste grants for states and tribes, up from Bush’s $3.12 billion request but down from $3.86 billion in FY ’03. The mark includes $1.2 billion for the catch-all Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund, a $150 million cut from current levels but a $350 million increase over Bush’s request. The House proposal doesn’t change funding levels for the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund ($850 million level as in FY ’03 and the Bush request).

House reps say the mark follows Bush’s enforcement request (100 full-time employees to enhance compliance monitoring and civil enforcement programs). Democrats and green groups have complained Bush has shifted resources away from everyday environmental policing toward other matters outside EPA jurisdiction. D’s expect to seek amendments in full committee debate to increase full-timers to 150. Among other individual line items are: Superfund, $1.27 billion, Brownfield, $171 million, Science and Technology: $767 million, Environmental Programs and Management: $2.19 billion, Oil Spill Response: $16 million, Leaking Underground Storage Tanks, $73 million AND State and Tribal Assistance Grants: $3.6 billion (up $500 million from Bush’s request but down about $250 million from FY ’03).


A stalemate over authorizing new Army Corps of Engineers projects/policies may be resolved in the House soon, with agreement apparently near over improving the Corps’ economic and ecological performance. The $4 billion Water Resources Development Act (H.R. 2557), passed the Transportation and Infrastructure Water Resources Subcommittee without any of the so-called “”Corps reform”” proposals intended to steer the agency away from the economically/environmentally unsound projects it has been criticized of undertaking. Normally passed by Congress every two years, WRDA died in the House last year because Committee Chair Don Young (R-Alaska) disagreed with proposals by Corps reform advocates. He tried to move WRDA on the House floor under rules that would have forbade those members from offering amendments. House leadership pulled the bill from the floor when it became apparent WRDA would not gain the 2/3 vote required under those rules. This year, committee leaders are okay with some of the proposals as long as they are negotiated and approved by Young prior to the vote. Central to Corps reform are proposals to restore credibility to the scandal-plagued agency, accused in recent years of manipulating studies to justify large, expensive and ecologically destructive water projects.


The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved a $17 billion FY 2004 Agriculture Department spending bill that cuts money from several conservation accounts to meet an overall budgetary spending cap nearly $1 billion below the FY ’03 level. The bill would provide $77.5 billion to USDA for the next fiscal year, including $17 billion in discretionary spending, a drop of $873 from last year’s spending level. The Natural Resources Conservation Service, which runs voluntary programs under which USDA pays farmers to make environmental improvements, would get $973 million in discretionary spending, a drop of $48 million from last year. The Senate Agriculture Committee said the Wetlands Reserve Program, Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program and Farmland Protection Program were among the programs reduced in the bill, although it was unclear by how much. The Grasslands Reserve Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Conservation Reserve Program and Conservation Security Program were left intact at the spending levels required by the 2002 farm law. (Under the farm bill, EQIP gets $1 billion dollars, CRP $2 billion, CSP $53 million and GRP $100 million).


The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has approved boosting the authorization levels of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration by hundreds of millions of dollars over the next two years. The committee added $900 million to $1.2 billion for fiscal years 2004 and 2005. Committee Chair John McCain’s original bill would have provided funding through 2008, but several senators said it would be unwise to authorize funding for more than two years as Congress awaits the findings of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. The last reauthorization for NOAA expired in 1993. The bill as amended would authorize $745 million for the National Marine Fisheries Service in FY ’04 and $818 million in FY ’05, an overall increase of $274 million from McCain’s proposal. It would also authorize $621 million for the National Ocean Service in FY ’04 and $683 million in FY ’05, a $469 million increase. Bush, who requested $738 million for NMFS and $411 million for NOS in FY ’04, does not support the authorization levels.


The House Transportation and Infrastructure Water Resources Subcommittee has approved an authorization of $20 billion in federal loans to help small and poor communities upgrade and repair aging sewer infrastructure that has led to water quality problems in some areas. The Water Quality Financing Act of 2003 (H.R. 1560) would reauthorize the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund, a program under which the federal money is issued by states in the form of low-interest loans to communities needing to repair leaky pipes and treatment plants, and provide $2 billion to the program in 2004, increasing funding levels by $1 billion every year until 2008. The bill would require a state to use a portion of the money to assist disadvantaged communities, and it would authorize grants to towns that meet certain criteria. The bill also would require states to give preference to cities that have water quality problems when issuing grants and loans. The legislation aims to reduce costs by promoting alternative technologies, and it provides technical assistance to small and rural communities on how to upgrade plants, plan for better treatment systems and obtain funding. “”This is not a sexy or glamorous topic, but if we continue to let our wastewater infrastructure deteriorate, we’ll have a situation in this country most people wouldn’t believe,”” said Subcommittee Chairman John Duncan (R-Tenn.). “”This bill authorizes $4 billion per year. We’re spending $4 billion per month in Iraq, a situation I totally disagree with. We should spend at least as much in this country as we spend in others.”” Last year, EPA released a comprehensive analysis predicting the gap between investment needs and current spending for wastewater infrastructure over the next 20 years will amount to $271 billion


A portion of the proposed FY 2004 DOI Appropriations bill dealing with Indian trust fund settlement has been stricken. This legislative rider would have given DOI the unilateral authority to settle the Individual Indian Money account claims. The move to strike Section 137 was spearheaded by House Resources Committee Chair Richard Pombo (R-CA), who called a special hearing of the Resources Committee recently to scrutinize it. “This situation is having an increasingly negative impact on the availability of resources for critical needs such as roads, schools and health care facilities in Indian Country. I hope that with close consultation, this government and tribal governments can reach an agreeable solution together and prevent this from ever happening again,” said Pombo. Trust accounts handled by DOI have been mismanaged for more than a century and record-keeping during this period do not show whether money generated was correctly collected, deposited or disbursed. A class action lawsuit, Cobell v. Norton over trust fund payments has been ongoing for years and is close to completion. The National Congress of American Indians is conducting a meeting in Portland on July 24 to discuss this issue and develop ideas on how consultation should occur and a settlement process developed. Information on this has been distributed to all tribes. Also scheduled in Portland (Sheraton Portland Airport Hotel) are meetings on Native Vote (7/22) and the Tribal Sovereignty Protection Initiative (7/23).


S 578, “Tribal Government Amendments to the Homeland Security Act of 2002,” will be heard by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs at 2 p.m., Wednesday, July 30 (216 Hart Senate Office Building), and will be preceded on July 29 by a Tribal Leaders Forum (8:45 a.m.-4:30 p.m., SG 50, Dirksen Senate Office Building). This bill, sponsored by Sen. Daniel Inouye (and co-sponsored by Senators Campbell, Akaka and Cantwell) is intended to help assure that tribes are included among the entities consulted with by the Secretary of Homeland Security. It is also intended to assure that tribes receive the same treatment as states in coordinating with federal agencies and the military. The legislation should lead to increased federal support to tribes for a variety of services and needs, such as infrastructure protection, emergency response, overall enforcement capabilities, information sharing, etc. Consideration of the bill should serve as an important reminder to the federal government that tribal governments serve as the primary instrument of law enforcement and emergency response for the more than 50 million acres that comprise Indian Country. It should also serve as a reminder of the connection of the tribes to extensive infrastructure (dams, transportation corridors, military installations, etc.) which are critical to the nation’s security.


Farm and ranch witnesses recently testified to a House Rural Enterprises, Agriculture and Technology Subcommittee that ESA is placing undue hardships on farmers, ranchers and landowners, and not doing much to save listed species. Testimony focused on reforming ESA to facilitate alternate conservation measures to critical habitat designations and eliminate what some say are arbitrary decisions made with shaky scientific background. “”In an economy struggling to take off, we should be seeking ways to improve economic growth, not hinder it,”” said Subcommittee Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.). “”We must get the ESA off the backs of farmers and small businesses,”” House Resources Chair Richard Pombo (R-CA) said. He called on ESA reforms to provide incentives for landowners to protect species. “”They took care of that land good enough that they still have the species there.””

Representatives of such groups as the National Cattlemen’s Association told horror stories about experiences with the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service and other agencies when their lands were identified as critical habitat for various protected species. Witnesses from the Northwest and other regions told of being excluded from participating in ESA Section 7 discussions with the federal government on decisions that would affect their land, and called for an amendment to the act that would require the National Academy of Sciences or other third party to concur with FWS listing decisions and biological opinions. Craig Manson, assistant Interior secretary for Fish and Wildlife, said ESA is “”broken,”” and called for reforming how ESA handles critical habitat designations. He said a high number of critical habitat lawsuits have crippled the Fish and Wildlife Service, which has announced it will exhaust its $6 million budget for critical habitat designations by the end of the month.


S 525, which would reauthorize and amend the Non-indigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act of 1990, would authorize an appropriation of over $100 million. It primarily focuses on ballast water control and management and it includes tribal governments in various capacities. The primary sponsor is Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), but it has 18 co-sponsors (including Senators Cantwell, Inouye and Akaka). It has some focus on the Great Lakes, but also includes ocean fronts and other waterways throughout the nation. It creates a task force and council, ballast water certification procedures and increased civil and criminal penalties, and acknowledges the far-reaching impacts of invasive species (plant and animal) on marine, fresh water and wetland environments—laying out an aggressive program for dealing with those problems. The bill last saw action on June 17 when hearings were held by the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Water.

S 937, the “Harmful Algal Bloom and Research Amendments Act,” sponsored by Senator George Voinovich (R-OH) likewise would authorize an appropriation of over $100 million, and tribes are specifically included (task force must work with tribes and tribes and other governments coordinate annual assessments of hypoxia and harmful algal blooms). The bill last saw action on April 29 when it was assigned to the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.