Washington, DC (June 12, 2008)- House lawmakers kicked off the appropriations markup season yesterday by approving a $27.9 billion spending bill for the Interior Department, U.S. EPA, and Forest Service, more than $2 billion over President Bush’s request.
The bill would reverse proposed White House spending cuts for fiscal 2009, providing significant boosts in funding for national parks, fire suppression and wildlife refuges. It also carries Democratic language to address the flawed late-1990s deepwater oil and gas leases that could cost the federal government more than $14 billion.
The Interior Appropriations Subcommittee approved the bill by voice vote; a full committee markup is expected next week.
“I do not believe it is an understatement to say that members on both sides of the aisle were appalled by many of his specific proposals and the impacts they would have had on the public,” said subcommittee Chairman Norm Dicks (D-Wash.).
The bill includes $2.6 billion for the National Park Service, including a $158 million increase in funding for operational budgets at the parks, but does not include any funding for matching grants for the Centennial Challenge.
The Fish and Wildlife Service would get $1.4 billion, a $74 million increase over last year’s enacted budget for the agency and $138 million more than what the president requested.
The full details of the spending bill will not be available until the full Appropriations Committee takes it up next week, but observers said they are cautiously optimistic about the additional funds.
The spending bill provides almost half a billion dollars over the president’s proposal for the Forest Service, which subcommittee members declared as hopelessly lopsided toward wildfire suppression, but the bill does come with some caveats. The bill restores almost $400 million in cuts proposed by the administration, providing an increase of $473 million for agency programs, including $70 million for the legacy road program that decommissions unnecessary roads in national forests.
Forest Service fire suppression efforts would get a $148 million increase– to just under $1 billion– under the president’s plan. The suppression figure is based on a 10-year average of fire suppression costs, but Dicks and others on the panel have slammed other aspects of the Forest Service proposal, claiming it puts too much emphasis on suppression and not enough on preventive measures such as fuels reduction.
Overall, the subcommittee’s bill provides $2.97 billion for the wildland fire accounts of Interior and the Forest Service. The bill also includes language that would prohibit the borrowing of funds from other agency priorities and project to fund wildfire suppression. “This bill continues to provide more money for fires, but it tries to stop the irrational borrowing of funds from critical projects,” Dicks said.
Under the provision, no borrowing will be allowed unless the president submits a formal budget request to Congress to replace the funds. The request must be signed by the president before funds can be allocated.
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U.S. Department of the Interior