Senate Passes Udall’s Bipartisan Interior Appropriations Bill

VIDEO: Udall spoke on the Senate floor today to defend the Land and Water Conservation Fund

VIDEO: Udall spoke on the Senate floor last week in favor of the Interior Appropriations bill

WASHINGTON- Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, hailed the Senate passage of the Fiscal Year 2020 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill. The bill includes the largest proposed budget for the EPA in a decade and provides strong funding for New Mexico’s public lands, protections for Chaco Canyon, programs for Indian Country, and gains for the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities.

“This bipartisan bill is the product of months of hard work and reaching across the aisle. The outcome of providing Americans with better access to outdoor recreation while protecting our air and water is one we can all celebrate. By making key investments to protect our public lands, New Mexico’s outdoor economy can continue to thrive. And I am proud of the continued commitment to funding key programs for Native and rural communities,” said Udall, ranking member of the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Subcommittee. “I am glad that the final bill rejects the devastating cuts proposed by the Trump administration, and instead provides major funding for wildfire suppression, the highest funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund in 15 years, and funding for arts and humanities programs that are key to local economies. And like last year’s bill, this bill contains no new poison pill riders.”

“The funding included in this bill will reach every corner of New Mexico, our economy, and way of life,” Udall continued. “This bipartisan bill is a success for the entire country – meeting Congress’s obligations to conserve our public lands and cultural institutions, to safeguard our environment for future generations, and to fulfill our trust and treaty responsibilities to Native communities.”

For two years in a row, Udall and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the chairman of the subcommittee, have been able to move a bipartisan Interior funding bill to the Senate floor.

New Mexico highlights of the Fiscal Year 2020 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill include:

Protections for Chaco Canyon, and investments in New Mexico public lands: The bill includes report language to reinforce a 10-mile radius protecting Chaco Canyon from oil and gas leasing. The legal limits are paired with funding for information and research on the sacred Tribal ground. The bill also includes funding for conservation in local communities in New Mexico and protection for Valles Caldera.

“This bill reflects the long tradition we have in my state of working across the aisle to support conservation priorities,” Udall said. “It includes a number of important accomplishments for the state, including language to protect the sacred landscape of Chaco Canyon, along with funding to support Valles Caldera National Preserve.”

“Chaco Canyon and the surrounding area have been under near constant threat of new oil and gas development – without consideration for the concerns of the public and Tribes, public health, the environment, and our history and culture. This provision will protect Chaco’s sacred and fragile landscape from further development, without affecting existing operations, including those of Indian Tribes and allottees within the zone,” said Udall. “This bill also includes $1 million for Interior and New Mexico’s Pueblos to jointly conduct an ethnographic survey of the greater Chacoan region, a survey that that will explore the vast cultural resources that we know exist outside of the Park and in the broader Chacoan region.  Between this Senate appropriations bill, the House appropriations bill that also includes a moratorium, and the administration’s assurances about its own self-imposed leasing halt during a review, we have made great strides towards permanently protecting this national jewel.”

Valles Caldera: The bill includes additional land management funds for Valles Caldera and directs the National Park Service to allow the park to retain those funds going forward, so they become part of the park’s annual budget and provide budgetary certainty.

BLM Departmental Reorganization: The bill provides no new funding for BLM reorganization. Udall has questioned whether the BLM’s plan to move its headquarters is a deliberate attempt to weaken the agency, and is questioning the costs and benefits of the move

“I am also pleased that the bill contains no new funding requested by the Administration for the Interior Department reorganization, including the efforts to dismantle the Bureau of Land Management,” Udall said. “This bill sends a strong message that the Administration needs to push pause and work with members on both sides of the aisle. It’s vitally important that we now have both chambers on record on this important issue, and I hope the Administration hears us loud and clear.”

Funding for PILT: The bill fully funds payments to counties through the PILT program, which are estimated at a total of $500 million.

“This bill also provides vital resources to our counties by fully funding the Payments in Lieu of Taxes program — a program that supports over $40 million per year in local government services in New Mexico,” Udall said.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF): The bill provides the highest funding for LWCF in 15 years, $465 million, $30 million more than fiscal year 2019 for Federal land acquisition and State conservation grants provided through the LWCF. The President’s budget proposed a negative total for LWCF, in the amount of -$27 million, due to rescissions from previously appropriated funding.  LWCF is critical for improving recreational access to our federal lands, protecting iconic landscapes, delivering grants to states and local governments to create and protect urban parks and open spaces, and providing farmers and ranchers with easements to allow them to continue to steward their private lands in the face of development pressures.

“The funds in this bill allow this body to make solid increases to support the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” Udall said. “I know many hope we can do even better on LWCF funding — and so do I. While I am pleased about the increase in this bill above the enacted level, I will be working to improve LWCF’s funding when we conference with the House. But our efforts in the short term should not take away from the goal we have set on a bipartisan basis to provide permanent, mandatory, full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. That remains a top priority for me — and I think we can and should accomplish that in this Congress.”

PFAS: The bill also provides $25 million in new funding for environmental cleanup programs and related scientific research to help address contamination caused by PFAS chemicals and other contaminants of emerging concern.

Wildland Firefighting: The bill provides $3.644 billion for fire suppression, of which $2.25 billion is provided through the wildfire budget cap adjustment authorized in the Fiscal Year 2018 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which Udall helped secure.  This additional funding gives the Forest Service and Interior Department an assured amount of funding to be used when a fire season exceeds the projection and all regular appropriated funds are spent.  This total is $1.221 billion above fiscal year 2019.  Prior to this reform, the agencies were forced to borrow from their non-fire accounts when this occurred, putting a hold on other activities and straining resources.

“We provide $2.25 billion dollars in new firefighting funds using the wildfire cap adjustment — which means that these funds are finally, for the first time, provided without requiring reductions to other important programs,” Udall said. “It also means that the Forest Service will not be forced to raid non-fire programs to pay for firefighting needs without knowing whether those funds will be repaid.”

Gold King Mine: Udall secured $4 million for the EPA to continue monitoring water quality in areas affected by the Gold King Mine spill, and included language directing the EPA to continue to work in consultation with affected states and Tribes on a long-term water quality monitoring program for the states and Tribes affected following the Gold King Mine Spill into the Animas River. In addition, Udall expects the EPA to process all state, Tribal, and local requests for reimbursements for costs incurred in an expeditious manner.

Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund: The bill provides $10 million for grants to federally recognized Indian Tribes for reclamation of abandoned mine lands and other related activities.

National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities: The bill provides $157 million each to the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, an increase of $2 million more for each endowment than the fiscal year 2019. The increase was provided after the president once again proposed abolishing these programs, which support arts and cultural programs as well as thousands of jobs in New Mexico and across the country.

Smithsonian Latino Center:  The bill increases funding for the Smithsonian Latino Center by $1.7 million above fiscal year 2019, for a total of $4.3 million, to expand Smithsonian programming and collections related to the history, culture and art of American Latinos.

Carlsbad: The bill continues funding provided for cave and karst research at the National Cave and Karst Research Institute in Carlsbad, New Mexico.

Wild & Scenic River Flow Study: The committee recognizes that Congress has authorized flow studies for Wild and Scenic rivers, which transect BLM lands which exhibit outstanding scenic, geologic, recreation, fish habitat, wildlife, culture, water quality, and riparian values. The committee notes it is the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and acknowledges the Bureau’s responsibility under the Act to enhance and protect those values and directs the Bureau to carry out those flow studies.

Land Grants, Acequias and Community Ditches: The bill urges the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture to recognize the traditional use of State-recognized community land grants, acequias, and community ditches in New Mexico and across the American Southwest during the land use planning process.

U.S.-Mexico Border Water Infrastructure Program: For New Mexico, The bill increases funding for the U.S.-Mexico Border water infrastructure program to $25 million, an increase of $10 million over fiscal year 2019, to significantly expand support for clean water projects to protect human health and the environment.

Indian Health Service’s Alcohol and Substance Abuse program: The bill includes $2 million, for the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Program is part of an integrated behavioral health approach to collaboratively reduce the incidence of alcoholism and other drug dependencies in American Indian and Alaska Native communities. This includes funding for grants and contracts with public or private detox centers that provide alcohol or drug treatment, including Na’Nizhoozhi Center in Gallup, New Mexico.

Indian Arts and Crafts Act Enforcement: The bill provides $1 million in additional funding for enforcement of federal laws prohibiting the trafficking of counterfeit Native American art in New Mexico and across the country.

Tribal law enforcement:  The bill provides $8 million in new funding for tribal law enforcement priorities, including funding to address the crisis of missing, murdered and trafficked Native women, and calls for the Bureau of Indian Affairs to produce a comprehensive needs assessment of public safety infrastructure in Indian Country.