The House Appropriations Committee marked up the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for FY2013 today. Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson, who chairs the Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, put forth a bill that responds to our nation's fiscal crisis by cutting $1.2 billion from the current fiscal year's level. The bill shifts the focus away from efforts to grow government and puts it back on proven, core programs.
"The Subcommittee has made very difficult choices in preparing this budget proposal, but at the end of the day, what this Committee is attempting to do is reduce spending, create more certainty in the marketplace, and promote an economic environment conducive to job growth," said Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson. "The bill reins in funding and overzealous regulation at the EPA and reduces overall spending for the third year in a row. We've made some difficult decisions in this bill - decisions that will help reduce our budget deficit while funding many important agencies and programs at sustainable and appropriate levels."
The Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for FY2013 funds agencies under the bill at $28 billion, a $1.7 billion cut from the President's budget request. The EPA will see an additional $1.4 billion in cuts from the current level, which constitutes a cut of 17%. The bill includes $3.2 billion for wildfire fighting and prevention programs, a $6 million increase over the current year. Among its many provisions:
The bill fully funds wildfire suppression at the 10-year average;
The bill also funds the FLAME Wildfire Suppression Reserve Account as requested;
The bill includes a one-year authorization extension for the mandatory Payment-in-lieu-of-Taxes (PILT) program. This program provides funds for rural local governments to help offset losses in property taxes due to nontaxable federal lands within their areas. The authorization for PILT is set to expire on September 30, 2012. Without Congressional action, many rural communities will be left with huge budget shortfalls that could impact public safety, education, and other local government responsibilities;
The bill provides $2.2 billion in funding for the Operation of the National Park System, which is $20.6 million below the budget request, but will ensure that every NPS unit will remain operational next year;
National Park Construction is funded at the requested level of $131 million and includes no new construction starts;
The bill includes $967 million for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), a $101 million cut below last year's level. The majority of the reductions are in climate change, ecosystems, and administrative accounts, while programs dealing with energy and minerals, mapping, and water are prioritized;
Office of Surface Mining (OSM) is funded at $150 million in the bill, the same as last year's level. The bill will maintain state grants at $69 million, and discourages the Administration from imposing new fees on the industry. The legislation also prohibits funding from being used to administer or implement the overly burdensome and potentially damaging "stream buffer rule;"
The bill also ensures that land management agencies like the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Park Service have adequate funding for achieving land management goals, including ensuring that our national parks remain operational and fully staffed.
The bill also shifts funding away from unproven programs and government growth and focuses it on agencies' core missions and programs that have demonstrated value to taxpayers. The legislation also includes provisions to rein in various problematic, costly, and potentially job-killing regulatory actions by the Administration, including provisions related to the "stream buffer rule," changes to the definition of "navigable waters" under the Clean Air Act, and "silviculture" regulations.
During the Full Committee's consideration of the bill, Simpson offered an amendment which removed language related to the National Forest Service's management of conflicts between bighorn sheep and domestic sheep. Simpson said he instead plans to convene meetings of the interested parties and work toward a less controversial and more collaborative solution that does not pose a threat to bighorn sheep or put ranching families out of business.
"I got involved in this issue because I care deeply for our ranchers and for the tribes and sportsmen who work so hard on bighorn sheep conservation. I got involved to find a reasonable solution and tried to work with ranchers, hunters, and land management agencies to solve this problem. Fighting over this problem serves no purpose and does not benefit hunting or ranching. As a result, I am pulling this provision. However, I am only doing this to have all interested parties come to the table and work with me on a solution. Too often, one side or the other is satisfied with the status quo. In this case it is not acceptable--and losing part of our heritage, whether it be bighorn sheep in Idaho or ranchers in Idaho--is not an option. I intend to hold a round table soon to discuss this problem and potential solutions," said Simpson.
The Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for FY2013 passed committee and it may be considered on the House floor in the coming weeks.