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Department Of The Interior, Environment, And Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, D.C.

Department Of The Interior, Environment, And Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I wanted to make some comments based on the comments the Senator from New Mexico raised.

He talked about $4,000 a year in terms of imported oil into this country and then he talked about we needed to do offshore exploration, but I note for the Record he voted against an opportunity to expand offshore exploration yesterday. You can't have it both ways. If we are going to get off oil and hydrocarbons, it is going to take us 25 years. But when we have an opportunity to decrease that cost of $4,000 per family and use American oil, we do not have the same consistency as the rhetoric when it comes to the votes. I think the Record needs to show that although the Senator claims that, when he had the opportunity yesterday to vote in a way to expand domestic offshore exploration, he voted against that opportunity.

I wish to take this time to bring up several amendments and make them pending. I thank the chairman of the committee and staff for working with us. We will try to make this as painless as possible and do it in as short a period of time as possible, but I have been down here for the last 4 days, every day, trying to get things done and unable to get them done. So I am going to take adequate time to explain these amendments and also explain a couple of amendments I agreed not to offer but I think it pertinent the American people hear about.

AMENDMENT NO. 2463

First, I ask the pending amendment be set aside and amendment No. 2463 be called up.

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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I will try to do this, to save some time, in the shortest amount of time I can. I also thank the chairman of this committee for working with me.

There are several amendments I did not offer. I want to spend a couple of minutes talking about those because I think the American people need to hear about them.

Less than a block from this building is the Belmont House. It is a foundation. It is a beautiful building. It has $4 million in the bank, the foundation does. There is an earmark in this bill at this time of a $1.8 trillion deficit, of a 16-percent increase in this bill. The Senator, Senator Landrieu from Louisiana, is sending $1 million to that building. They have the money in the bank but we are still going to take $1 million from our grandkids and send it there. I am not offering that amendment in conjunction with having the pleasure of the chairman consider my other amendments. But the American people need to know that kind of thing is going on. It is absolutely not indicated. Who uses that building? We do, for fundraisers. We do for events. We do for social events. In fact, there is a high price paid when you rent it. But what we are going to do, without regard to what our fiscal situation is, is we are going to send another $1 million as though it is a peanut and send it to that building. That is all I will say on it, but to me it is one of the reasons why this Congress, and we in particular as Members of the Senate, lack the respect of the American people.

The other amendment I am not going to offer that was objected to by the chairman of the Resources Committee is for us to know what kind of land we own. We don't know, since 2005, how much land we have or where we own it.

Supposedly the BLM puts out something. Supposedly the Geological Survey puts something out. But there is not a concise list of the land that the Federal Government owns--and it is somewhere in excess of a third of all the land of this country--and it is 650 million acres. In this bill is another $300 million--almost $400 million--to buy more land. At the same time, the National Park Service has a backlog of $11 billion. We do not have one national park that does not have significant factors of erosion and dilapidation that is now putting both the employees and park visitors at risk. Yet we are going to spend $400 million to buy more land, to require more of their services to take care of, rather than to take care of what we have. It does not fit with common sense.

There is no way the American people as a whole would embrace that kind of stupidity. Yet that is in this bill. We are going to buy more land, we are going to take more land off the tax rolls, we are going to hurt the States, we are going to limit the ability of property owners, and we are going to continue--the Park Service, this year, their backlog grew by over $400 million.

We have the Carlsbad Caverns where we had sewage leaking into the cavern. I won't spend the time to go through the hundreds of examples the Park Service has given us, that they cannot maintain the parks because we will not send them the money to do it. We would rather spend it on an earmark or buy more land. The priorities here are amazing.

Let me talk about amendment No. 2511. I will spend a short period on it. That is the competitive bidding amendment. We have carefully crafted that with the concerns of both staff and the chairman and ranking member of this committee. What it says is we are going to use competitive bidding, much like the President campaigned, when we go to buy things that are approved in this bill. We very carefully exempted the sections of the Native Americans where their sovereignty reigns, where we would not step on their sovereignty--although I am not sure we should not require them to competitively bid, but we agreed not to do that.

Here is what we do know. If you take different branches of the Federal Government, about 5 percent of the costs are excessive because we do not have competitive bidding. If you take the Pentagon, it is about $20 billion a year because we do not have competitive bidding. In the Interior it is much smaller. But any penny we can save, in terms of enhancing the value of the American taxpayers' dollars by saying what we buy is going to be competitively bid, we ought to do that. We ought to get the best value we can. We may not always get great value but at least we are going to have a competitive bid and we are at least going to have everybody in that who is qualified to have a shot at some of that business. So it is a ``two-fer.'' It is, No. 1, better value for the American people but also opening up all this to everybody who has a opportunity to offer a service when the Federal Government buys it.

With that, we have an agreement and I appreciate the chairman accepting that amendment.

Amendment No. 2463 is an amendment for the public to see all the reports required by this bill if, in fact, that will not in any way compromise national security. I think we have worked out an agreement on that amendment to where that is going to be accepted. It is about transparency.

We ought to make sure the American people see what we are doing, and if we ask for a report that will not in any way endanger the security of this country that comes back to us, there is no reason the American people should not be able to see that and we make it available to them so they can make a judgment to judge us on what we are doing and whether we are responding properly to problems identified in such reports.

So I am very thankful for the chairman in terms of accepting this amendment. I look forward to her comments on it. We should do the same thing with this amendment as we did with the last one.

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Mr. COBURN. Madam President, I switch now to amendment No. 2523, which is a prohibition on funds being spent in this act that would actually limit the effectiveness of the Homeland Security Department in terms of securing our borders and protecting us.

This amendment basically ensures that the wilderness areas and other public lands are protected from crime and pollution. I know it is not seen that way, but what is happening is a very big and sad story about what is happening in our wilderness areas.

Border violence and trafficking is at an all-time high. Our public lands along the border are being exploited by drug and human smugglers. Wilderness concerns hinder law enforcement efforts. How do we balance properly our concerns for the environment and still secure our borders and still protect our population from both drug smuggling and human trafficking?

Wilderness areas also are being destroyed by these very smugglers because we do not allow the enforcement agencies access to be able to make a difference. We have not acted on it; we have not acted on it in this bill. We have to make sure there is the proper balance between protecting our wilderness areas and protecting our country and our citizens.

We have sought to address in the last couple of years our border security concerns by appropriating a large increase in Federal funds for law enforcement and for significant legislation to construct infrastructure along the southern border.

In the Secure Fence Act of 2006, Congress sought to ensure that the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security was able to take the actions necessary and appropriate to achieve and maintain the operational control over the entire international land and maritime borders of the United States.

The goal of the act was to prevent all unlawful entries into the United States, including entries by terrorists, narcotics, and other contraband, except it has not had the desired impact, and in large part, to the unwelcome increase of illegal human and drug trafficking through public lands, along our southern border. So we have a conflict of desires by agencies to do their jobs.

Amendment No. 2523 would prohibit any funds from within the Interior appropriations bill to be used to prohibit or restrict the activities of Homeland Security on public lands to secure our borders. The effect of this amendment would be to ensure that DHS is able to further secure our borders from terrorists and other national security threats and protect the environment of these lands.

I know there is some concern on the other side with the language, the way we have written it. I am more than willing to work with the chairman of both the Resources Committee, Interior Committee, and the Appropriations Committee to try to put that in a way that properly balances it. I know this is a tough amendment. I do not deny that.

But when you hear the testimony--and I am going to ask that this be printed in the Record. This is former Border Patrol officers and field supervisory Border Patrol agents who testified in Congress last April about what is going on in our wilderness areas.

Do you realize that these people, because we do not have law enforcement in there, they are setting fires in our wilderness areas to distract us to the fire so they can smuggle contraband and humans while we are addressing the fire?

Our wilderness areas are being defiled near McAllen, TX. It relates: When a wilderness area or refuge is established near the border, the criminal element moves in and trashes it because the restrictive wilderness or refuge status accorded to these lands effectively prevents all law enforcement from effectively working the area.

This is Border Patrol:

In other words, refuge or wilderness designation actually serves to put the environment at a greater risk of being seriously damaged and defaced. Law enforcement must have common, unrestricted, free access to all lands near the U.S. border.

He goes on to clarify that it needs to be at least 50 miles. The other thing that was especially telling and which is horrific is the comments about what is going on along Interstate 8 and Interstate 10 in Arizona: numerous reported ``rape trees'' have been identified in and near the current Pajarita Wilderness near the U.S.-Mexican border.

Rape trees mark the location where drug and alien smugglers habitually sexually assault and rape illegal alien females that are being brought into the United States across the Mexican border. These locations are marked by the perpetrators who prominently display and hang--

I will not use the words that he does.

the underwear of their victims on a particular tree. I visited one such reported tree on March 27, 2008, and noticed 30 sets of underwear. These rape-tree trails begin at the Mexican border and travel all of the way through the Pajarita Wilderness.

In southern Arizona we are experiencing increased incidents of wildfires from two primary sources. The first source is illegal aliens who cross into the United States illegally and start fires through carelessness. The second is from illegal aliens engaged in other criminal enterprises who start wildfires intentionally to create a diversion so they can smuggle things into or out of the United States.

You cannot deny the fact that we are having a conflict between the Department of Interior and the Department of Homeland Security in terms of law enforcement along our border. The tragedy is that the very intent of the Department of Interior to protect the environment is actually being made worse by their policy of not allowing law enforcement efforts, i.e., the Border Patrol, into those areas.

So this amendment is intended to do a couple of things. Let me talk about what the claims against this amendment are first, and that I am more than willing to try to work out a sensible agreement. What is driving me nuts is those two Departments have not worked out a sensible agreement themselves, which we ought to have significant oversight hearings on the fact that we are having to do something that they should be taking care of.

The claim is that if this amendment passes it will devastate the environment and give the Department of Homeland Security the mandate to show no regard for the environment. Nothing can be further from the truth. The interpretation of congressional intent that we currently have has led to the destruction of much of our wilderness area because human and drug smugglers have been able to use these lands as major thoroughfares without fear of law enforcement.

Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security will still be obligated to conduct its law enforcement activities in a manner that seeks to minimize or mitigate any negative environmental impact. Do you realize in Arizona they are cutting down 150-year-old cactuses to block the road to inhibit anybody following them? And the fact that we do not have significant law enforcement, i.e., Border Patrol there, these majestic, 100-year-old cactuses, which are protected, are intentionally being destroyed to protect the smugglers.

In the past, when the Secretary of Homeland Security waived 30 environmental and other laws and regulations associated with the construction of tactical infrastructure along the southwest border in compliance with the Federal law, he still required the Department to practice responsible stewardship of natural and cultural resources.

The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol is also committed to do that. I will stop with this: I do want to have printed in the Record a letter from the National Border Patrol Council, which is the AFL-CIO representative of our Border Patrol agents who fully endorse this amendment because they are the people actually on the ground seeing the problem, and we are not allowing them to do their job.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. COBURN. I would next like to talk about amendment No. 2483. This is the amendment that moves the Federal Land Acquisition Fund to backlog.

There is no question my colleagues in this body know of my concern about an ever-expanding, ever-enlarging Federal role in terms of land ownership. In fact, I have had a lot of conflicts with the chairmen, whether it was a Republican chairman or a Democratic chairman, in terms of expanding the amount of property the Federal Government owns.

It is not just about expanding. When we expand it costs more money. It costs our kids more money. But in this bill, we have almost $400 million that is going to be put in to buy more land where we cannot take care of the land that we have today.

What we know is the following: Federal land management agencies across all these different branches of government, as well as within this bill, are responsible for a large and aging number of structures. As we have continued, through the Federal Government, to consume more private land nationwide, Federal agencies have increasingly been unable to maintain the existing land holdings.

All one has to do is talk to any park ranger. Go up to the Statue of Liberty, they have an $800 million backlog. Go to the Washington Mall, well over $1 billion in maintaining some of our most significant structures. If you go to the Grand Canyon National Park, people are continually being limited because we can't maintain the trails and because we don't put the money in to do it. The National Park Service, which receives most of the money to buy more land in this bill, faces an $11 billion backlog.

When I first started talking about the issue, the backlog was $6 billion. In 4 years, we have seen the backlog with the National Park Service almost double. Although I am thankful for the increase in maintenance funds this bill does add to the national parks, it does not come sufficiently close.

What is the priority? Is the priority for the Federal Government to consume more land, restrict more access, limit the freedom of people around that land and on that land, or is it to let Americans own the land and take care of the land the Federal Government already has? It owns a third of the land. How much land is enough for the Federal Government to own? How much is enough, especially when most of the land we own we are not taking care of. We are letting it fall down. The question has to be: What are the priorities?

The committee says the priority is to buy more land. This amendment says the priority is to repair and take care of the land we have. It specifically directs this money to the National Park Service to help with a backlog of falling down structures and the increased risk of safety for both park employees and visitors.

I obviously don't have all the information the committee has, but as the Senator from New Mexico knows, I have been looking at land acquisition and land bills for the last few years. I have not been successful in slowing them down, but I think the American people need to know about this. They need to recognize that our priorities are screwed up and that, in fact, we ought to be about taking care of what we have before we add to it.

I yield the floor.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. COBURN. The chairman makes my point for me. Yes, we might miss an opportunity. But we don't have the courage to put the priorities right. We are going to miss an opportunity while structures fall down at Yellowstone. That is what the choice is. We are going to take large, valuable land segments that are now paying property taxes and, because they are up for sale, we are going to spend that money rather than repair Carlsbad Caverns. That is the choice. The chairman made my argument for me. We are not going to do the sensible thing.

Many of these things will come back. They are not gone forever. What we are saying is, because we don't have any limitation on what we spend or how we spend it, we therefore have no limitation in worrying about whether things fall down. The fact is, now an $11 billion backlog, which grew $400 million last year alone in the Forest Service, documented by the Forest Service--those are not my numbers--we are going to say these are more important now than putting back in proper order things that relate to safety or security in the national parks. I will end with the fact that if we don't do this, what we have done is earned the reputation we are garnering, that we refuse to make tough choices. Life is about tough choices. Maybe we don't get to add to one of these parks right now. But how about taking care of what we have? Why not make that a priority?

It is kind of like when your front porch is falling down and that is the only entrance to your house, you start building a garage rather than fix your front porch or you buy an extra five acres so you can have a big garden. We wouldn't do that. The American people wouldn't do that. We need to respond with some commonsense solutions. Instead, we are adding to the cost as the backlog grows.

I am uncomfortable with the fact that that is how we think here. I know the American people are uncomfortable with that fact. I am disappointed we will not have the support of the committee. I look forward to the vote.

The next amendment I will call up is pending, but I will discuss amendment No. 2482.

Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Will the Senator yield? I know he is a gentleman.

Mr. COBURN. I am happy to.

Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Madam President, when we did the stimulus, we put in the maximum amount that the departments could use for maintenance and rehabilitation. I have the breakdown. It is hard to add it all up quickly, but I can give some idea. Bureau of Land Management deferred maintenance, $35 million; recreation maintenance, 25; trail maintenance, 20; abandoned mine site remediation, $30 million; habitat restoration, 25. It goes on. I recall as we did this, what we were told by our staffs is that was the maximum amount these departments could absorb in the length of time covered by the stimulus. I will leave my colleagues with that.

Mr. COBURN. I would be happy to have a UC on this amendment that would exclude the inholdings, if that would satisfy the chairman.

In fact, the inholdings are a very small amount of the $400 million. A very small amount of the money for land acquisitions is inholdings. I would be happy to accept a second degree that would exclude the inholdings from this.

Mrs. FEINSTEIN. I appreciate that, but I cannot accept that. We believe the Land and Water Conservation Fund is working as it is supposed to. If anything, it has been underfunded. This bill proposes to appropriate $420 million of the $900 million that is authorized. That is less than 50 percent. The Land and Water Conservation Fund, we believe, is extraordinarily important. We would try to get it higher if we could, but we cannot.

Mr. COBURN. I thank the chairman for her comments on that. I am sure it is important. It is important to preserve what we have. You can't go to one national park and talk to the park rangers and talk to the person in charge without hearing them talk about the declining status of their individual parks. We have to start making some choices. We are going to refuse to do that. So next year, instead of it being $11 billion, it is going to be $11.6 billion, and then it is going to grow. What is happening right now is, we are shutting off parts of our parks. We are saying, since it is dangerous or it is in disrepair, we cannot let people experience it.

I will put in the Record hundreds of examples where that is happening right now. We have researched and the parks have told us where they are limiting access because of the lack of maintenance funds and funds for repair of required things in the parks.

With that, I suggest the absence of a quorum.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. COBURN. Madam President, I wish to put my colleagues on notice that we are trying to work out an amendment so it can be acceptable to all parties concerned. It has to do with the heritage areas. If, in fact, you are a landowner in this country or you are a farmer or you are a rancher or you happen to have 20 acres in the country, you ought to be very worried about the implications and the consequences of those who come in and change the zoning laws on heritage areas.

Most people in this country have no idea they are in a heritage area. They have no knowledge that they are in a heritage area. As a matter of fact, the whole State of Tennessee is a heritage area. So what we are attempting to do is to create a mechanism where anybody in the country who is in a heritage area who doesn't want to be in it can be out of it with their property.

We also want to respectfully protect some efforts in North Dakota on one specifically where they would have to opt in. So we are working on an agreement. We will come back and talk about this when this is finished. Hopefully, this is the start of restoring property rights to Americans that have been trampled, in my opinion, by those who are empowered through the heritage area name.

My hope is we are going to make good progress on this with this bill. It is important. If you are a farmer or a rancher, if you are a farm bureau member, if you are a cattleman or if you are a dairy farmer, it is time to make sure this stays--whatever agreement we come to--in this bill as it goes to conference. Because real property rights are at risk. They have been at risk. They have been trampled on. This is a great solution in terms of solving it.

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Mr. COBURN. The fact is, it is common sense. Every American knows you do not build a garage when your front porch is falling down and that is the only way to get into your house. That is what is happening to our parks. I know there is some increased funding for the parks but the fact is they are falling down, whether it is Yellowstone--I don't care where it is, there are significant maintenance problems in the parks. That ought to be a priority before we add 1 more acre to 650 million acres we already own.

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