Udall Speaks as Bipartisan Interior Appropriations Bill Reaches Senate Floor

VIDEO LINK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fy1ZlX2iDdk&feature=youtu.be

 

WASHINGTON- Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, spoke on the Senate floor in support of his subcommittee’s bipartisan funding bill, 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.

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.

Provisions of the bill that Udall fought for and highlighted today include:

Protections for Chaco Canyon, and investments in New Mexico public lands: Udall detailed the funding and environmental protections the bill brings to New Mexico. Among them is 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.

“One of the reasons I’m particularly proud of moving a bipartisan bill is the importance this bill has for my home state of New Mexico,” Udall said. “This bill reflects the long tradition we have in my state of working across the aisle to support conservation priorities. 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.”

Tom Udall, (D-NM), U.S. Senator

Pushing back against the BLM’s misguided relocation proposal: “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: “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.

LWCF: “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 increases funding for environmental cleanup programs addressing PFAS chemicals.

Wildfire Protection: “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.

Cultural Programs: “This bill boosts funding for cultural agencies,” Udall said. “These funds provide a critical boost to local arts and humanities programs in small towns across the United States, programs that create countless jobs and ensure economic vitality in communities like those in New Mexico.”

The full text of Udall’s remarks is available below.

Mr. President, I rise to speak in support of the fiscal year 2020 Interior Appropriations bill, which is now before the Senate.

 

I want to begin by thanking my Chairman and partner in this endeavor, Senator Murkowski, for working with me to produce a very fine bill that is crafted on a bipartisan basis. It’s extraordinary that this bill is on the floor for the second consecutive year — after many years when we were not able to move the bill by regular order — and much of the credit goes to her leadership and her commitment to working through tough issues in a fair and pragmatic way.

 

One of the reasons I’m particularly proud of moving a bipartisan bill is the importance this bill has for my home state of New Mexico. This bill reflects the long tradition we have in my state of working across the aisle to support conservation priorities. 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, and new resources to clean up P-FAS contamination in New Mexico and across the country.

The bill is also an important reflection of why the work that Chairman Shelby and Vice Chairman Leahy did earlier this year to secure a two-year budget agreement is so important.

 

The Interior bill delivers roughly 2.5 percent more funding than last year, once you factor in the increase we received under the budget agreement and the savings that we picked up from using the first year of the wildfire cap adjustment.    

The funds in this bill allow this body to make solid increases to support the Land and Water Conservation Fund and to protect and manage national parks, wildlife refuges, and other public lands.

 

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.

 

The bill also makes critical investments in Indian Country, providing a four percent increase for the Indian Health Service and a two percent increase for programs funded through the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Indian Education.

 

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. 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.

 

The bill increases funding for the Environmental Protection Agency by two percent in order to support new bipartisan infrastructure priorities, and to make important investments in regional cleanup programs. EPA is still struggling after years of budget cuts. But I am proud that our bill includes the best EPA budget in a decade and completely rejects the billions in cuts proposed by the Trump Administration.

 

It 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. 

 

This bill boosts funding for cultural agencies –including the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities as well as the Kennedy Center, National Gallery of Art, and Smithsonian Institution.  

Specifically, I am very proud that we were able to increase the budgets of N-E-A and N-E-H by $2 million dollars each. These funds provide a critical boost to local arts and humanities programs in small towns across the United States, programs that create countless jobs and ensure economic vitality in communities like those in New Mexico. 

 

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. 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.

 

I appreciate that the bill contains no new poison pill riders for the second year in a row, which is all the more notable given the number of difficult issues that we confront through the EPA and the Federal land management agencies. 

 

I thank Chairman Shelby and Senator Murkowski for their commitment to moving a clean Interior bill.

That said, I do want to note that the bill does continue several provisions that I oppose — including provisions dealing with lead content of ammunition, biomass energy policy, Clean Water Act exemptions, and Clean Air Act exemptions. I also oppose a troubling provision in the bill that weakens protections for the sage grouse. Given the bad faith efforts by this Administration to weaken efforts to protect the sage grouse, it is extremely short-sighted for Congress to continue to block protections under the Endangered Species Act for the species when the Administration has failed to hold up its end of the bargain.

 

These provisions are contrary to the spirit of the “no poison pill” riders agreement. Thankfully, they are not in the underlying House Bill, H.R. 3055. And I expect to have some frank conversations as part of the conference process about the need to remove them … and the need to include a number of other important curbs on this Administration included in that legislation. So I want to be on record that in Conference, I will be fighting to keep the House’s positions on several of these items.

 

I look forward to debating this bill, considering amendments, and ultimately passing it with a bipartisan vote so that we can proceed to a conference with the House.

 

I also want to express my personal thanks to the majority Subcommittee staff — Emy Lesofski, Nonna McCoy, and Lucas Agnew — for working with me and my staff. This is Emy’s first bill serving as clerk of the Subcommittee, and I congratulate her on this milestone as the Senate takes up the bill. Their work is a great credit to Chairman Murkowski and Chairman Shelby.

 

I would also like to thank my staff, Rachael Taylor, Ryan Hunt, Melissa Zimmerman, and Faisal Amin, for all their hard work to accommodate the priorities of Senators on both sides of the aisle. 

 

Mr. President, I yield the floor.