CONFERENCE REPORT ON H.R. 2361, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, ENVIRONMENT, AND RELATED AGENCIES APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2006 -- (House of Representatives - July 28, 2005)
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Mr. SALAZAR. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to express my strong support for the conference report on H.R. 2361, the Interior Appropriations bill. This important piece of legislation provides $1.5 billion to remedy the shortfall in veterans' health care for this year. Earlier this month, I stood here urging this body to step up to the plate when it comes to veterans. Our veterans must be our number one priority. By passing this measure, we take the first step in fulfilling our obligation to the men and women who have served our country with honor and dignity.
Passage of this bill is a necessity--I will never turn my back to our Nation's veterans. However, I do want to take this opportunity to discuss my concerns with the larger measure and its failure to address the land and water conservation and management needs of our nation. The Land and Water Conservation Fund has been a valuable program for my district. This has been a fund to assist communities in helping preserve open space to protect and conserve unique landscapes. The cut in funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund is a cut in land conservation for Colorado.
For those who know, the 3rd Congressional District is comprised of rural communities containing millions of acres of public lands. These public lands are managed by the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and the Fish and Wildlife Service. These agencies and public lands provide many benefits for the local communities in my district. I am disappointed with the decrease in funding to these agencies in this year's Interior Appropriations Conference Report. These agencies have to maintain a difficult balance of managing our nation's public lands with budget constraints. By cutting funding to these agencies it makes it very difficult for them to maintain their current management practices and leaves our nation's public lands in jeopardy.
With that being said, this report does have some positive aspects. The funding of $5.6 billion for Indian programs is beneficial for school and hospital construction, education grants, human services programs, and law enforcement needs. These programs are essential for the Native American reservations within my district.
More often than not, in the West, the Federal Government is not just your neighbor, it is the entire neighborhood. Since most of my district cannot raise taxes, Payment in Lieu of Funding is vital. These counties with public lands within their boundaries need this funding for schools, roads, and other infrastructure needs. This program has never been fully funded, yet my counties are dependent upon this program. I hope to see this program fully funded next year.
I also want to see continued funding for the National Fire Plan and the forest health initiatives. These programs need to see increased funding due to the continued drought periods in the West and the current pine beetle epidemic. If the beetle infestations are not addressed, we will continue to see our forests decimated. These insects will continue to cause fire hazards in our nation's forests if we do not get them under control.
I urge Congress next year to fully fund these agency budgets. This is critical to the Western States and our existence.
Finally, Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank Representatives OBEY and DICKS for their assistance in securing $100,000 for Montrose's City Hall Renovation Project. The City Hall building of Montrose was built in 1926 and has been well preserved throughout the years. However, as the City and County continues to grow, so too must the building in order to accommodate the needs of the people. Preserving and expanding the City Hall building in Montrose will allow us to keep a part of history alive for future generations of Colorado. Mr. Speaker once again I urge my colleagues to vote in favor of this legislation. We need to sure up our VA budget so we can continue to provide critical health care services to our nation's veterans. In the future we need to restore the Land and Water Conservation funding and fully fund our agencies budgets.
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