Udall Opening Statement At Appropriations Hearing With Secretary Bernhardt To Review Interior Department’s Fiscal Year 2020 Budget Request

Udall header

Udall Opening Statement At Appropriations Hearing With Secretary Bernhardt To Review Interior Department’s Fiscal Year 2020 Budget Request

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, delivered the following opening statement at an Appropriations Committee hearing with Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt to review the Department of Interior’s (DOI) Fiscal Year 2020 budget request. Below are Udall’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

Secretary Bernhardt, thank you for appearing before the subcommittee this morning, in your first hearing since you were confirmed as Secretary of the Interior.

Although this is a budget hearing, I am not going to spend much time going over your budget proposal. 

We say this so often that it’s almost a mantra at this point: the administration’s proposal for the Interior Department is disastrous and it’s dead on arrival.

We simply are not going to defund the Land and Water Conservation Fund or reduce the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program or cut programs that fulfill trust and treaty obligations to Native Americans.

Instead, we will get to work on a bipartisan budget agreement that will prevent sequestration and meet our needs as a nation.

We could also spend this entire hearing probing your various conflicts of interest. It’s clear you are making decisions that benefit former clients instead of the American people. But the Inspector General has opened an investigation, and we will be interested in reviewing those findings. 

So I will instead use my limited time talking about policy.

Let me start with climate change.

Mr. Secretary, you said at a hearing last week you are quote “not losing sleep” over scientific reports that carbon dioxide is at the highest levels ever recorded in human history.

This is deeply troubling.

Let me tell you: along with many Americans, I am losing sleep over climate change and over this administration’s stubborn refusal to address its threat.

What we see with our own eyes every day – extreme weather events, droughts, heat waves  – is clear. 

We’re already seeing that our national parks and public lands are some of the most vulnerable.

Our forests in New Mexico and across the Southwest are experiencing more catastrophic wildfires. Drought in the Colorado River looks like it is here to stay, at a time when tens of millions of people rely on that increasingly stressed source of water.

As my colleague, Chairman Murkowski, well knows, Alaska Natives are literally losing their communities to increasing ocean levels and facing the decline of traditional food sources like walrus because of decreased sea ice.

And this data point exemplifies the crisis: Glacier National Park in Montana is unlikely to have any actual glaciers by 2030.

Wildlife habitats are changing and more species than ever are threatened with extinction. A United Nations panel just identified climate change as a major cause of our current biodiversity crisis — which threatens one million species of plants and animals worldwide.

Climate change is the most pressing issue of our time.  It is an existential threat. 

Secretary Bernhardt, federal law – including the Federal Lands Policy Management Act, the National Park Service Organic Act, and the Wilderness Act – require the Department to manage Federal lands and waters for the benefit of future generations. It’s impossible to meet that mandate if you disregard climate change. 

I was troubled you attempted to lay the Department’s lack of action at Congress’s feet during recent testimony before a House Committee. This isn’t about “shalls,” as you put it. Blaming Congress is a dodge. 

This is about how you choose to exercise the broad discretion Congress vested in Interior. Past administrations chose to take on climate change, to harness the agency’s vast authority to tackle our generation’s defining issue.

But instead this administration is actively working to dismantle every tool to address the threat — including gutting the BLM methane waste rule and rescinding policies that address climate change planning and mitigation.

This administration’s focus on “energy dominance” has wiped out all climate change efforts.

There are also plenty of other areas where I see the devastating effects of your policies.

For instance, on the five-year anniversary of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in southern New Mexico, I’m concerned about Interior’s reduction of national monuments, even those with broad support in the community.

I’m troubled by efforts to roll back species protections whether it’s gutting sage grouse management plans or weakening Endangered Species Act regulations.

And reports the Department is actively working to politicize science—including burying a study showing the devastating effects of the pesticide chlorpyrifos on 70 percent of the species listed under the Endangered Species Act.

I am concerned that the Department is making funding decisions in Aamodt that threaten an Indian water rights settlement that took 51 years to resolve.  After months of negotiations, the Department is now withholding appropriated dollars. The parties and the project are shovel-ready, but Interior is stalling.

And I’m concerned by actions that disregard the importance of natural and cultural resource values if they get in the way of development. We see this in the Department’s efforts to expand oil and gas development in the region surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico. The Department keeps pressing forward even though Native American Tribes and Congress have objected to the effect that this development will have on such a sacred landscape.

I could go on. But I’m eager to ask questions, and hear what you have to say.

You have had a hand in many of these decisions, Secretary Bernhardt.  Decisions I view as deeply damaging.  So I appreciate the chance to have a frank discussion on these policies.