E&E News: Senate aims for first 'clean' Interior-EPA bill in decade

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby wants to keep the annual funding bill for the Interior Department and EPA "clean" as it works its way across the Senate floor this week.

"It's an open process, we want to keep it as clean as we can, we have been working toward that end. It's early on, but we hope to continue that," the Alabama Republican told reporters yesterday.

There were some signals that the Senate might be on track to pass its version for the first time since fiscal 2009 as early as this week. No significant amendments have yet been filed, and Democrats allowed the bill to be called up without forcing procedural votes.

The real test will be in the coming days as the legislation is debated and any senator can offer an amendment.

"There are a lot of things I wish we could have included in this measure, but we have stood down if you will," Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), head of the Senate Interior-EPA Appropriations Subcommittee, said last night.

She said the bill eschews the controversial environmental and endangered species policy riders added by the House last week. She added that the only policies it does mandate are those called for in past spending bills.

Murkowski said she's so focused on moving the bill this week that she won't have time to meet with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who is making the rounds in the Senate. A moderate, Murkowski is seen as a crucial swing vote in securing his nomination.

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), the ranking member on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior-EPA, described the measure as a "compromise" with strong bipartisan support.

Udall said he would prefer more than level funding for EPA but gave up on that bid with hopes of moving the bill for the first time in a decade through the Senate.

"We have accomplished something that has not been done in 10 years," said Udall, referring to the bipartisan measure hitting the floor.

The Interior-EPA bill is part of a minibus package with three other fiscal 2019 spending bills that fund Transportation-Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, and Financial Services-General Government.

Both the House and Senate have been moving packages of appropriations bills this summer in hopes of increasing the prospects those bills could garner broad backing and become law before the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.

In other years, the Interior-EPA bill has often been negotiated in year-end spending conferences and attached to catchall omnibuses without being debated on the Senate floor.

The Senate bill would maintain current EPA spending of $8.1 billion while matching the House's cut of $200 million for Interior to $13.1 billion. All told, the Senate's $35.9 billion proposal is about $600 million higher than the House version.

Meanwhile, the first "minibus" package of fiscal 2019 spending bills that contains energy and water spending is being held up in a Senate and House conference.

It's been delayed by a fight over whether new veterans funding should require an increase in discretionary spending caps or whether those dollars can be found by cutting other domestic programs.

Shelby said he believes there has been "progress" in those talks but did not offer specifics, saying, "You can always move some money around." He also would not commit to raising the spending caps, a move staunchly opposed by the White House, which has pressed to keep spending in check.

By:  George Cahlink
Source: E&E News