Senate Energy (D): Bingaman on Interior Department Budget

March 2, 2006
03:54 PM
Hearing on FY 2007 Budget Request for the
U.S. Department of the Interior
March 2, 2006
Opening Statement
Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM)

    "Good morning and welcome, Secretary Norton.  I would like to take a few minutes to highlight a few of my observations and concerns on the Administration’s budget proposal, both with respect to new legislative initiatives and the funding levels proposed for key departmental programs.

    "During the hearing on the Forest Service’s budget earlier this week there was a lot of discussion, and considerable opposition, to the Administration’s proposal to sell over $800 million worth of National Forest lands.  Likewise, the Department of the Interior’s budget assumes almost $200 million will be raised over the next five years from the sale of Bureau of Land Management lands, which the Administration proposes to use for deficit reduction and BLM operational funding needs.   I have strong concerns with both of these land sale proposals.
    "I supported the provision that Senator Domenici authored as part of the Valles Caldera legislation which permitted the BLM and other Federal land management agencies to keep all of the money used from the sale of surplus lands to acquire important inholdings within Federally-designated areas.  As I understand the budget proposal, the Administration now wants to redirect 70 percent of the net sale proceeds from land sales to the Treasury.  
    "Selling public land for deficit reduction or agency operational funding needs is, my view, an extremely short-sighted policy.  Not only do I think it is unwise to sell permanent assets to fund operational needs, in this case it appears that OMB has set specific revenue targets of $180 million over the next five years and $350 million over the next decade, without regard to which lands actually are suitable for sale.

    "I am disappointed that this budget continues this Administration’s tradition of slashing funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.  Although $900 million is credited into the fund each year, this budget proposes to spend only $91 million for Federal land acquisition and nothing for State open space and recreational grants.  Although the Department once again is trying to fund other programs out of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, its request for authorized funding represents only 17 percent of the full authorization.  I believe there is still strong bipartisan support for both the Federal and State Land and Water Conservation Fund programs and I hope this funding can be significantly increased.

    "As has been the case in its previous budget proposals, the Administration is again proposing to cut funding for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or PILT program.  The proposed cut this year is almost $35 million, and the recommended funding of $198 million is far below the authorized level of about $350 million.  I hope that additional funding will be included in the Interior Appropriations bill, but it’s too bad the Administration is not trying to help.  While I support reauthorization of the County Payments bill, I’m not sure I understand why the Administration is seeking full funding for that program while it continues to short change PILT.

    "Finally, I’d like to discuss water issues and assess what role the federal government should play in helping our country meet its future water needs.  The President’s budget for all federal water resource programs raises significant concerns from my perspective.  Beyond its obvious role in sustaining life, a stable and reliable water supply is one of the core foundations for the economic activity that sustains our communities.  
    "With issues related to population growth, environmental needs, protection of agricultural communities, and ongoing drought, the challenges with respect to water resources in the 21st Century is endless.  From my perspective, the Federal government needs to be partnering with States and local communities in helping them to (1) address infrastructure needs; (2) identify new sources of water and the sustainability of existing supplies; (3) develop new technologies to increase the available water supply; (4) resolve environmental issues; (5) implement water conservation projects; and (6) quantify federal water rights claims to promote effective water management.  
    "Unfortunately, the President’s budget misses the mark in all these areas and does not reflect the importance of water in this country.  Nor does it help deal with the challenges already facing many regions.
    "While I know the FY 2007 budget is tight, there are still a lot of choices to be made, and the decision to go after water programs seems to be out of step with the needs I hear from my constituents and others across the country.
    "I look forward to discussing these issues in greater detail after we hear from Secretary Norton.  Thank you."