Appropriations Committee Passes Murkowski Interior Spending Bill Reflecting Alaskan Concerns
Chairman’s Bill Advances Through Key Vote, Heads to the Senate Floor
Senator Lisa Murkowski, Chairman of the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommitee, today cast her vote in support of the 2016 Interior appropriations bill – which sets an agenda more in accord with Alaska’s priorities – and was passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee. The legislation now heads to the Senate floor for a final vote.
The bill, the first of its kind in six years, covers a broad range of issues and initiatives of critical importance to Alaska including substantial funding for wildfire protections, blocking the EPA’s controversial Waters of the United States rule (WOTUS), facilitating the building of the life-saving King Cove to Cold Bay road and fully funding contract support costs.
“The Appropriations Committee is just one of the tools that Congress has to direct priorities in federal spending, and I believe this year’s Interior budget strikes a better balance and sets a better agenda for states like Alaska,” said Murkowski.
(Click image for Senator’s summary of the Interior bill.)
Alaska-focused provisions of the FY2016 Interior Appropriations bill include:
Fully funds wildland firefighting needs to ensure the safety Alaskans and their resources
- Provides 100% of funding requested for wildfire preparedness and suppression, to ensure resources necessary to combat wildfires are available.
- Makes $1.05 billion in emergency funding available in the event regular fire suppression funds are exhausted.
- Provides a mechanism to make disaster funding available in the future and prevents the practice of “fire borrowing,” when agencies “borrow” from other programs to fund firefighting activities. Fire borrowing makes it extremely difficult for agencies to complete other management activities because funds are held back.
Protecting opportunities for development in Alaska by reining in federal overreach
- Defunds the EPA’s controversial Waters of the United States rule that would expand EPA’s regulatory authority across the state.
- Provides Alaska flexibility related to the President’s arguably unlawful Clean Power Plan by allowing Alaska to determine whether to comply with the rule.
- Prohibits the Administration from forcing projects that require a federal permit, such as a highway construction project, to account for climate change impacts in their NEPA analysis. The Administration’s efforts to require this are outside the scope of NEPA.
- Takes steps to rein in Administration efforts to unilaterally designate lands as off limits to productive use. It prohibits the Department of the Interior from designating de facto wilderness by prohibiting funding for the “wildlands” program and urges the Administration to get state and local support for any designation of a monument in that state.
Honoring our trust responsibilities to Alaska Natives and Native Americans
BUREAU OF INDIAN AFFAIRS
- Provides important increases to make Native lands safer while addressing education and infrastructure needs.
- Provides an additional $92 million over the enacted level with important increases to programs that help combat domestic violence, substance abuse, and other public safety and justice initiatives. This includes $10 million in Tribal Court funding for P.L. 280 states. This was a key recommendation of the Indian Law & Order Commission Report to help try and make Native America safer.
INDIAN HEALTH SERVICE
- Provides full contract support costs for BIA and IHS and creates a separate appropriations account so that other Service funds cannot be taken to pay for the legal obligation to pay full CSC’s. This will prevent the “robbing Peter to pay Paul” cycle that has occurred at the IHS over the last two years.
- Provides $40 million for Indian Health Service, Facilities Maintenance and Improvement and Sanitation Facility Construction to address critical infrastructure needs in villages and on reservations nationwide.
- Provides $20 million for Facilities construction to start on the next facility on the Indian Health Service list.
- Provides full funding for staffing packages for new facilities.
- Provides $2 million for Village Built Clinics.
Keeping pace on commitments made under ANCSA
- Funds the Alaska land conveyance program at $22 million to keep momentum toward completion of land conveyances.
- Requires completion of an inventory of contaminated Alaska Native lands in need of remediation and directs the BLM to coordinate with all responsible federal agencies to get the lands cleaned up as soon as possible.
- Instructs the BLM to work with the State of Alaska to efficiently rectify erroneous land conveyances made to the state.
Working with the Fish and Wildlife Service on Prioritizing important Alaska efforts
- Facilitates the building of a one-lane, non-commercial, life-saving road from King Cove to Cold Bay.
- Prohibits the Fish and Wildlife Service from using funds to conduct a caribou hunt on Kagalaska Island in the State of Alaska.
- Restores the National Wildlife Refuge fund to provide compensation to local governments for non-taxable Fish and Wildlife Service lands.
- Prohibits costly and impractical efforts to remove cattle from Chirikof Island.
Facilitates energy development in Alaska
- Provides a $19 million increase to onshore oil and gas programs, which will help increase capacity for development within the NPR-A and on other BLM lands in Alaska.
- Compels the BLM to find a path forward on oil production in the NPR-A by solving the metering issues at Greater Moose’s Tooth-1.
- Rejects new onshore fees that would have discouraged investments in oil and gas development in Alaska.
- Prevents the BLM from requiring regulations duplicative to those in place in the State of Alaska on hydraulic fracturing, which could slow down the permitting process.
- Continues special onshore pay authority for certain highly skilled positions so that BLM can hire experienced workers with the skills necessary to efficiently process permits, Exploration Plans, and inspections.
- Provides necessary funds to support offshore conventional and renewable energy development.
- Provides funds for Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to work on the next 5 year leasing plan.
- Continues special offshore pay authority for certain highly skilled positions so that BOEEM and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSSE) can hire experienced workers with the skills necessary to efficiently process permits, Exploration Plans, and inspections.
- Rejected Administration proposal to charge additional fees for offshore inspections at a time when oil prices are low and market conditions are difficult for attracting investment.
Facilitates responsible mining activities on public lands
- Prevents the EPA from placing duplicative and costly bonding requirements on the mining industry. BLM, the Forest Service and the State already have similar requirements in place.
- Placer mining is a particularly important economic activity in Alaska, but burdensome regulations from federal agencies are now threatening the livelihoods of hundreds who work in this field. The bill provides some regulatory relief by instructing BLM to develop a definition of “re-vegetation” that takes into account the unique challenges in Alaska.
- Compels BLM to work with miners to evaluate reclamation activities and make reclamation determinations in an effort to support the livelihoods of family placer miners and the continuance of the historic placer mining practices in Alaska.
- Increases funding for the Forest Service and BLM minerals programs to ensure that the agencies have the resources to move the permitting process forward.
Focuses on economic sustainability of Alaska’s timber industry
- Increases funding for Forest Inventory Analysis program to conduct inventories in interior Alaska for the first time.
- Acknowledges the Tongass Advisory Committee recommendations for a transition to young growth, but requires that before the Forest Service makes a decision to amend the existing plan to include a transition framework, it carry out a comprehensive inventory of young growth—no transition should take place without knowing whether there is sufficient economic young growth to support a sustainable timber industry.
- Compels the Forest Service to make good on their promise to offer timber sales in the Tongass.
Funding for mapping needs that supports resource development and improves public safety
- Includes direction to move on the Denali naming proposal.
- Provides an additional $3.2 million for Energy and Mineral resources. This bill restores proposed cuts to geologic mapping initiatives and includes an additional $1 million for these activities to continue so that unmapped areas of the country, such as Alaska, may be mapped at a useable scale.
- Provides an additional $1.32 million for 3-D Alaska mapping initiative.
- Provides an additional $1 million for continued work for the Volcano Hazards Program and directs USGS to conduct a spending plan on the adoption of seismometers for the Pacific NW, Alaska, and California.
Funds important conservation priorities and enhances access for Sportsmen
- Provides new funding to the National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service for recreational access while maintaining recreational access funding at the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.
- Increasing access to our public lands is important and it is expected the agencies will prioritize projects that significantly enhance access to exiting public lands that have inadequate access for hunting, fishing, and other recreational activities.
- Provides $292 million for land acquisition through the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Within the $292 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, there are important increases:
- The National Park Service State side program receives $55 million, an increase of $6.8 million over the enacted level, which is the highest level this program has received since 2006.
- The Forest Legacy program receives $59.8 million, an increase of $6.8 million over the enacted level. This is the highest level of funding for Forest Legacy since 2010 and is a fitting way to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the program.
- The bill also increases funding to the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) to conserve migratory bird habitat across the country.
- The bill provides additional funding for the State Wildlife Grants Program to improve habitat for potentially endangered species to help protect species from the need for ESA listings.
- Directs more recreation dollars to Region 10 to enhance visitor services and recreation opportunities in Alaska’s National Forests.
National Park Service
- Provides funding for the Centennial Initiative focused on deferred maintenance to make visits to our National Parks safer and more enjoyable:
- Added new account and funds for recreational access for sportsmen.
- $30 million for cyclical and rehabilitation maintenance in the agency’s operating account.
- $54.6 million for Park Service in the Construction account for maintenance projects.
Gets the EPA working for Alaska
- Funds a grant program to allow for wood stove change out in areas of particulate matter 2.5 non-attainment areas like Fairbanks where wood stoves are a major cause of the non-attainment. Funds may also be used to support the conversion of residential boilers to achieve attainment.
- Ensures that the EPA continues operating the back haul program in its traditional manner to remove solid waste and garbage from communities in a responsible fashion in rural Alaska.
- The bill includes additional funding for the Alaska Native Villages water program, which assists Alaska communities with improving drinking water and wastewater systems including making them more energy efficient and sustainable.
- With the United States assuming the Chair of the Artic Council for the next two years, Senator Murkowski believes the U.S. is in a unique position to meet many policy objectives in the Arctic, including: meeting security needs, responsibly managing resources, supporting indigenous communities, promoting scientific research, strengthening international cooperation and providing economic opportunities in the region.