Federal Update: Senate Approves $390 Billion Measure

An Update On Federal Legislation/Activities Affecting The Treaty Indian Tribes Served by NWIFC, for The Month of January, 2003


The Senate approved a massive $390 billion measure January 23 financing most federal agencies, blessing the long-delayed last chunk of this year’s budget that stalled last fall in an election-season standoff with President Bush over spending. The bill’s passage ended the first prolonged battle this year in the new Senate. The winners were the chamber’s majority republicans, who battled, and sometimes used budget sleight of hand, to keep the price tag within limits Bush demanded. Passage set the stage for what could be prolonged negotiations with the House before a final measure can be sent to Bush for his signature.

Bush and republicans said the bill reflects diminished resources caused by revived deficits and the need to focus on fighting terrorism and restoring the economy. But democrats said the wide-ranging bill shortchanges everything from hiring food inspectors to helping low-income school district. The measure is a collection of 11 bills financing every agency except the Pentagon for the federal budget year that started Oct. 1 and is now nearly one-third over. Last year, Bush demanded lower spending than democrats and some republicans wanted, and House GOP leaders chose to avoid a campaign-season defeat for the president by shelving work on the legislation. The debate saw democrats once again try and fail to boost spending for several programs, proposals that even in defeat would draw political distinctions between them and the GOP.


Clearly, the tendencies to cut back on natural resource and environmental funding by Congress have major implications on the Northwest. Most notably, the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund (PCSRF) mark was $78.65 million, a program funded at $110 million last year! Also, the Pacific Salmon Treaty mark is reported to be just $20 million, split evenly between the north and south.

The PCSRF provides essential revenue for coastal states and for the tribes. The listing of salmon under ESA caught the Pacific Northwest by surprise. More than ever the region was forced to realize that how important salmon is to it. People finally began to realize that the salmon and the habitat that sustains them affect everyone. Responding to these concerns resulted in a new approach in salmon recovery planning which brought people closer to their natural world and to new levels of understanding about their long-term needs. This is not new to the tribes, and they have always worked to protect the natural resources that sustain them. But failure to adequately fund salmon management undermines the federal trust responsibility, government-to-government relations and the terms of the U.S.-Canada Treaty.


The Senate considered hundreds of amendments to the $390 billion FY ’03 omnibus spending bill on its way to passing the massive omnibus bill. A number of environment and energy riders were attached as leaders rushed to complete the bill, ranging from a new ban on drilling in the Great Lakes and an extension of Bush’s ability to draw from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, to language on offshore California oil lease development and several wildfire amendments. At the same time, the Senate turned back an attempt by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) to resuscitate the Superfund cleanup trust fund with an injection of $100 million as well as two amendments meant to kill funding for Army Corps of Engineers water projects opposed by environmentalists. All three amendments were tabled, with the Republican majority standing firmly behind Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens’ (R-Alaska) opposition to “controversial” amendments that might hurt the larger bill in a pending House-Senate conference.

The Senate voted 53-45 to table the superfund amendment from Sen. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) that would have increased Superfund cleanups by to $1.37 billion, to pay for cleanups in eight additional communities. Early last year, Bush made it clear in his FY ’03 EPA budget request that he would not seek or support reauthorization of the corporate taxes that feed the program’s trust fund. Instead, the White House suggested paying for some $700 million of its $1.27 billion Superfund request out of the general treasury — marking the beginning of a plan to shift the cost of cleaning up so-called “orphan sites” — those for which EPA either cannot identify the polluters or the companies at fault no longer exist — from corporations to general taxpayers. That move, coupled with EPA’s moves to scale back the number of site cleanups it plans to complete over the next few years, served to anger Democrats and a handful of moderate Republicans who want to maintain a vigorous cleanup program paid for by polluters. Among the amendments were one by Sen. Barbara Boxer’s (D-Calif.) regarding California offshore oil leases (expressing a sense of the Senate that the Interior Department should not spend any funds to approve development plans or related permits for the 36 undeveloped oil leases off the coast of California while Interior and oil companies are discussing possible retirement of the leases.) “The state of California has the right to decide whether or not to allow drilling off our beautiful coastline,” Boxer said. Another was an amendment from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) that would speed the implementation of a Commerce Department groundfish capacity reduction program. It requires the secretary of Commerce to implement within 90 days a program that sets out how fishing permit holders can submit bids and clarifies how the bidding process works. “The goal is to get the right number of fishers on the water at the right time taking the right number of fish,” a Wyden aide said.

The Senate bill has a tough road before it given the across-the-board cuts inserted on the Senate floor to account for billions of dollars in increases to drought aide, education and other domestic priorities. Just where those cuts will be directed within the 11 held-over FY ’03 bills was uncertain at press time, though programs within the Interior, energy and water, VA-HUD and Agriculture spending bills will likely be targeted equally before all is said and done. Stevens admits he’s less than confident about the prospects for a smooth conference, saying quick movement there depends on whether House appropriators accept Senate allocations and riders. “If they don’t like the way it’s loaded down, they might not take it up,” Stevens told reporters this week. Stevens said he doesn’t expect the conference to complete its work until the first week of February, at the earliest.


The FY ’03 spending process is still incomplete, but that will not stop the first round of debate over the next budget cycle with Bush’s State of the Union speech, House and Senate budget committee hearings and new Congressional Budget Office 10-year projections. Over the next two weeks, the Bush administration will also roll out its next budget plan. White House officials are expecting another tight spending year given dwindling surplus projections. A 4 percent increase in discretionary spending is expected within the administration’s FY ’04 budget request to Congress. The roughly $30 billion increase, over the projected $752 billion level endorsed by the White House for FY ’03, touches on homeland security, defense and the rest of the domestic spending agenda. The Bush budget will be debated in Congress at the same time that lawmakers scope a White House-endorsed 10-year, $674 billion tax cut proposal aimed at stimulating the economy. There is a lot of opposition to this by democrats.

CBO is about to release its latest 10-year fiscal projections. Last year, CBO projected a 10-year federal surplus of $1.6 trillion, $4 trillion less than 2001 figures, about 60 percent of which resulted from tax cuts in 2000 and additional discretionary spending, the rest by changes in the U.S. economy and technical revisions. In August, CBO projections lowered the surplus even more, to just above $1 trillion over the next 10 years. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has scheduled hearings for early February to consider Bush’s spending requests for the Interior and Energy departments and the Forest Service. Agency directors from other environment and energy offices, including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers, will soon be called to Capitol Hill for hearings as well.

The end to the FY ’03 appropriations process is in sight with a House-Senate conference expected very soon on the $390 billion omnibus bill. Meantime, House appropriators are recommending the leadership adopt a stopgap spending measure lasting until Feb. 7. Floor consideration could be soon.


Bush administration says it will consider removing Clean Water Act protections against pollution and development from up to one-fifth of the nation’s streams, ponds, lakes, mudflats and wetlands. While the question is being decided, the administration said, federal regulators should act as if that policy already is in effect. Only by getting clearance from headquarters can the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Environmental Protection Agency try to protect the approximately 20 million acres that appear to be affected, administration officials said.

The action was based on a 2001 Supreme Court decision that said federal agencies don’t have authority to feguard wetlands that are not connected to navigable water bodies such as lakes and bays. In contrast to the Clinton administration, which interpreted that opinion very narrowly, the Bush administration signaled its willingness to consider a much broader approach.


Defense officials say they want to strike a “common sense” balance between environmental stewardship and wartime readiness. For example, environmental regulations prohibit military maneuvers on some ranges during certain mating seasons and dictate which California beaches the Marines can storm in practice, they said.

“While we are arguably one of the best environmental stewards in the government today…there is a first and foremost obligation that the secretary of defense has, and that is to properly prepare our troops for combat,” said Raymond F. DuBois Jr., deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment.

The Pentagon plans to ask Congress next month for relief from environmental regulations that protect endangered species and critical habitats on millions of acres of military training ranges across the country, saying those controls impede crucial exercises and combat readiness.


Within hours of moving into the White House, the Bush Administration put a hold on numerous environmental regulations that had been in the making for years. At least half a dozen were suspended on Inauguration Day including reducing allowable arsenic levels in drinking water, implementing hardrock mining environmental and economic standards, phasing out snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park, conserving roadless areas in National Forests, and closing the loophole to protect wetlands from commercial development. These actions were warranted according to Administration officials because they wanted to ensure that the best possible science was used to support new regulations. Yet time and time again the Administration has put politics and corporate interests above the “best science.” Over the past two years, the Administration has ignored, manipulated, challenged, suppressed and dictated scientific analysis in order to implement an agenda harmful to the environment and to roll back Clinton-era protections.

Since the Interior Department’s inception more than 150 years ago, it has come to manage more than 500 million acres of public land including national parks, wildlife refuges and lands held in trust for the tribes. As stewards of the natural resources owned by the American taxpayers, Interior Department officials must be held accountable for promises and policy decisions. At her Senate confirmation hearings in January 2001, Gale Norton said: “I am absolutely committed to the idea that decision making should be based on the best science, on the best analysis of environmental issues that we can find and, as Secretary of the Interior, would anticipate. If I am confirmed, I will be sure that our decisions are really made in a fully informed way with full public participation.”

The House Committee on Resources Democratic Staff examined the record of Interior Department Secretary Gale Norton and administrative actions to selectively choose, manipulate and politicize science. This report details 10 examples across the country documenting the Department’s Weird Science approach to managing America’s lands, through its application of science for political and industry gains.


Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, has been named to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee for the 108th Congress. Murkowski replaces the seat vacated by her father Frank Murkowski, who was elected governor of Alaska. In a statement, she said she looked forward to addressing the economic development, infrastructure and health care needs of Alaska Natives. Also joining the committee is Sen. Gordon Smith, Republican of Oregon. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Republican of Colorado, will chair the panel while Sen. Daniel Inouye, Democrat of Hawaii, will serve as vice-chairman.


The Bush administration has introduced a website that will allow Internet users to submit electronically comments on all proposed federal regulations. The site is at www.regulation.gov.. Once entered, comments will be transmitted to the agency involved in the rulemaking for processing. The site is the first step toward the development of an electronic government-wide docket, an initiative led by the U.S. EPA and other agencies.

Developers of the web site say it will allow people outside of Washington to participate in the rulemaking process although some worry that interest groups will take advantage of the site, flooding agencies with their comments.


Tex G. Hall, President of the National Congress of American Indians, will deliver the first “State of American Indian Nations” address this week. The event will take place on Friday, Jan. 31, from 12:30-1:30 p.m., at the National Press Club (529 14th Street, N.W.) in Washington, D.C. The address is planned not only as a response to President Bush’s State of the Union address, which will take place on January 28, but also as a forum for relaying to the President and the American public the general state of America’s Indian nations. Themes will include: economic development; trust reform; the protection of American Indian tribal sovereignty; homeland security; and the many other issues currently facing Indian nations.

“This is the first time in known history that American Indian nations will come together as a unified body to assess how far we have come, and the challenges we still face today,” said Hall, who also is Chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation in North Dakota. For more information about NCAI, visit www.ncai.org.