Democratic News

 
“This morning we are reviewing the President’s proposed budget for the Department of the Interior.  I’d like to welcome Secretary Kempthorne to the committee, and look forward to hearing his statement in just a few minutes.
 
“I’d like to take a minute to make a few observations about the Administration’s proposed budget.  At the outset, a fundamental problem with this budget is that providing adequate funding for the Department of the Interior is not a priority for this Administration. 
 
“For the 2009 fiscal year, the President is requesting discretionary spending of $10.7 billion for the Department of the Interior.  By comparison, the Congress appropriated $10.66 billion to the Department eight years ago.  So, funding has been flat.  When adjusted to current dollars, this reflects a reduction of almost 18 percent in the Department’s total budget over the two Bush Administrations.  In contrast, the Department of Commerce’s budget over the same period has increased over 28 percent.
 
“Given the lack of commitment to the Department’s programs and mission, it’s no wonder that many of its key programs and agencies that this Committee has taken an interest in are proposed to be underfunded.
 
“One issue I raise almost every year is the Land and Water Conservation Fund.  As everyone here knows, the Land and Water Conservation Fund is credited with $900 million each year from Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas leasing revenues.  The fund is to be used for Federal land acquisition projects and a state grant program.  Last year I complained that the Administration was proposing only $59 million for the Federal LWCF spending, and nothing for the state program.   The new budget is even worse – this year’s budget proposes only $51 million for the Federal land LWCF program, and proposes no funding for the state program. 
 
“If approved, this would be the lowest level of spending for land and water programs in the past 40 years.
 
“I’m also disappointed that the Administration continues to propose funding cuts for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program below last year’s appropriated level.  This year’s budget proposes a $34 million reduction in the PILT program.  This has become an annual routine – the Administration proposing to reduce PILT funding and the Congress restoring that money.  It would be helpful if the Administration had more agreement on the value of that program.
 
“While I have a number of concerns with the proposed budget, I do want to express my support for the significant increase in funding for National Park Service operations.  For too long, park operations have failed to keep pace with increasing needs, but the proposed budget is a positive step in addressing those needs.  Last year the Committee began consideration of the Administration’s Centennial Challenge initiative, and while we still have significant issues to overcome, primarily the need to identify an appropriate spending offset, I look forward to working with the Secretary on this issue over the coming year.
 
“There are many additional issues contained in the budget that I believe warrant the committee’s attention.  I have long advocated for increased funding for the oil and gas inspection and enforcement program at BLM.  Given the surge in oil and gas activities on Federal lands, this continues to be essential.  I am glad that the budget reflects funding for the Administration to conduct leasing activities in the newly-opened areas of the Gulf of Mexico.  I am also glad to see funding in the budget for the Outer Continental Shelf alternative energy program at Minerals Management Service authorized in the Energy Policy Act of 2005.  The Administration continues to advocate for repeal of mandatory deepwater and deep gas royalty relief, which I agree is not necessary in this price climate.
 
“I’m also concerned about the Administration’s so-called net receipts proposal, which will hit Western states hard.  Under this initiative the Administration would permanently amend the law to deduct 2 percent of royalty revenues from the states’ share of royalty revenues to be used for administrative costs.  In my state, New Mexico, we would lose an estimated $16 million in revenues in fiscal year 2009 if this proposal is enacted.  In addition, I am concerned about the substantial cut and reduction in personnel in the geology program at the U.S. Geological Survey.  I think having adequate minerals information and research is extremely important to our nation.
 
“Although the Bureau of Indian Affairs is not within this Committee’s jurisdiction, BIA issues are very important in New Mexico.  I am disappointed to see that the President proposes to cut the BIA budget by $100 million.  Over half of these cuts directly target Indian education, from the complete elimination of the Johnson O’Malley grant program, cuts to post-secondary education scholarships, and substantial reductions for Indian school construction and repair.  The President also proposes to cut road maintenance funding in half, the elimination of the tribal housing improvement program, and reductions for tribal courts and detention center improvements.  Overall, the President’s budget moves us in the wrong direction to meet the substantial needs in Indian Country, and I will be working with the Appropriations Committee to reverse these reductions. 
 
“Finally, I would like to address the Department’s budget related to water programs.  The President is recommending that Federal water programs, including those at EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Agriculture and the Interior Department, be cut to a level 26 percent lower than they were in 2001.  At the same time, the President’s budget increases total discretionary spending by 23 percent above 2001 levels – that is for the Government generally and does not include the Iraq and Afghanistan war costs.  Clearly, water resources are not a priority.
 
“The Bureau of Reclamation’s budget is proposed to be cut by $189 million (17 percent) and the U.S. Geological Survey would see an $18 million (8 percent) reduction.  The budget does include one positive item – a “Water for America” initiative that would bolster some of the nation’s water science programs.  However, the modest increase for this initiative is far outweighed by the magnitude of proposed cuts for other water-related programs, which undermine water recycling efforts, rural water projects and progress in the area of water-related technology development. 
 
“Overall, the budget for water resources is a major step backwards and exacerbates the problem of unfunded mandates.  Various Federal laws we have enacted such as the Safe Drinking Water, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts, all continue to impose significant and increasing obligations on state and local water managers.  Rather than providing an equitable level of support to meet these obligations, this budget minimizes Federal assistance – effectively telling state and local communities that it’s their problem.  I do not believe that Congress will go along with those proposals.
 
“I’d like to explore some of these issues in more detail after the Secretary’s statement.  However, before we hear from the Secretary, I would like to turn to Sen. Domenici for his opening statement.”
 
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