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Public Statements

Conference Report on H.R. 2361, Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2006

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. HOLT. Mr. Speaker, I rise to express my disappointment with the Interior Appropriations bill that we are considering today. Although I will reluctantly vote for this legislation, I am concerned with the reduction in funding for many important domestic programs.

While I am pleased that this conference bill does not completely eliminate the Land and Water Conservation Fun, (LWCF), as in the House-passed version, I am still disappointed that this program only received $30 million, which is one-third of what it received last year.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund has been instrumental in assisting local and State governments preserve vital open spaces. This program was established in 1965 to address rapid overdevelopment by increasing the number of high quality recreation areas and facilities and by increasing the local involvement in land preservation. To achieve this goal, the fund was separated into two components, one portion of the fund serves as an account from which the Federal government draws from to acquire land and the other portion is distributed to states in a matching grant program.

New Jersey has been active in seeking grants from this program and has received funds from the LWCF that were used to preserve treasures such as the Pinelands National Reserve and the Delaware National Scenic River. In addition, LWCF has provided more that $111 million in state and local grants to build softball fields, rehabilitate playgrounds and to expand state parks.

Urban and highly developed regions, such as the region that I represent, will suffer the most from the elimination of the LWCF state grant program. The LWCF matching-grant program has proven to be a successful way to overcome the high cost of living that makes land acquisition and renewal projects costly in these regions. The steep reduction in funding for this program will leave local leaders without the capital necessary to enhance the quality of life in their communities.

This bill also cuts other domestic programs that benefit all Americans and future generations. This legislation only provides $900 million for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund-a reduction of $200 million from last year. This is vitally important to keeping drinking water clean and safe by supporting wastewater treatment, nonpoint source pollution and watershed and estuary management. Additionally, this bill cuts Federal land acquisition funding by 25 percent and reduces funding for construction projects in our national parks, refuges and forests by 10 percent.

Despite my reservations with cuts to important Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and the Department of Interior, DOI, programs, I am pleased that this bill does the right thing and finally provides the VA the funds it needs to continue the delivery of care to our veterans through the end of the current fiscal year. This month, our Nation marked the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Veterans' Administration, the forerunner of today's Department of Veterans Affairs. Even as we celebrate the VA's many achievements, particularly in the field of medical research, we should use this opportunity to ask if we, as a country, are truly putting our money where our mouth is regarding VA funding. Every day, VA doctors, nurses, technicians and other staff across our country work to try to deliver the best possible health care to our veterans. They face one critical and continuing obstacle-a VA medical system that is chronically, and needlessly, underfunded.

I hope that the Congress will learn from this experience and pass mandatory funding legislation for the VA health care system. It's long past time for Congress to cease its band-aid approach to funding for veteran's health care, and I urge my colleagues to honor the request of the leaders of our Nation's veterans organizations to deal once and for all with this shameful and avoidable situation.

Another positive provision in this bill is the modest increase in funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Although the final funding levels fall slightly short of the amount approved by the House in May, the additional money will allow the NEA and NEH to build programs that use the strength of the arts and our Nation's cultural life to enhance communities in every State and every county around America.

It is clear that increasing funding for the arts and humanities are among the best investments that we as a society can make. They help our children learn. They give the elderly intellectual sustenance. They power economic development in regions that are down and out. They tie our diverse society and country together. I thank the conferees for recognizing the importance of this investment and giving the NEA and NEH the funds they need to advance our Nation's artistic and cultural life.

Even though I strongly oppose cuts to certain programs in this appropriations bill, I will vote in favor of this legislation. I hope in the future we can provide sufficient funding to these programs that enhance our communities, provide the Nation with clean water, and protect our precious natural wonders.


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