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McCollum Opening Statement at FY2019 Appropriations Hearing with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke

April 11, 2018
Press Release

Congresswoman Betty McCollum (DFL-Minn.), Ranking Member of the House Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, delivered the following opening remarks at the Subcommittee's hearing with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on April 11, 2018:

Thank you Mr. Chairman. Secretary Zinke, thank you for being with us this morning.

We’re here to discuss President Trump’s second budget but, sadly, it is just as out of touch as the first one. Just two months ago, Congress passed a bipartisan budget agreement to increase non-defense discretionary spending for two years. And, three weeks ago, in another admirable show of bipartisanship, the fiscal year 2018 omnibus was enacted into law.

The omnibus sent a clear message that Congress rejects President Trump’s reckless proposals, which would exploit our natural resources, starve federal agencies of the funding needed to meet their critical missions, and jeopardize the legacy we leave future generations.

To be fair, this budget was released before the omnibus was enacted. However, it does take into account the new budget caps that were agreed to by the Congress and the President.   So the proposed reduction of $2.5 billion for Interior is staggering, and indicates a deliberate disregard for that agreement.

It  will be interesting to hear your justification for why President Trump is doubling down on cuts that Congress broadly rejected last year.  It is disappointing, but not surprising that the worthwhile investments that we made across the bureaus, including the highest funding levels in years to address the maintenance backlogs in our National Parks and on other federal lands, are being undone.

Unfortunately, the President’s disregard for the intent of Congress, or the well-being of the American people seems to extend far beyond just his budget proposal.

President Trump’s first year in office has been remarkably damaging to our environment, public health, and natural resources. Today we will discuss many of those damaging policies.                                                           

The dramatic shrinking of National Monuments through a biased review, the rush to open up drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, and your proposal to advance oil and gas leasing on nearly the entire U.S. Outer Continental Shelf all leave no doubt that the Trump agenda puts the profits of oil and gas companies above the public good.

The national monuments review has proven to be a sham with preconceptions that benefit the fossil fuels industry. Last year you said, “Bears Ears isn’t really about oil and gas.” However, that has turned out to be untrue – and investigative reporting by The New York Times found that gaining access to oil, natural gas, and uranium reserves played a central role in shrinking Bears Ears by nearly 85 percent. Your staff also developed projections on coal deposits to justify reducing the Grand Staircase monument by 47 percent.

These priceless National Monuments are not the only casualty of this reckless Polluter’s First agenda that you and the President are pursuing.  The pristine and diverse ecosystem protected in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is threatened by a relentless and hasty push for drilling. This irresponsible proposal was pushed through in the Republican tax scam as yet another one of the bill’s giveaways to big corporations and billionaires. And even as the tax scam explodes the federal debt by nearly $2 trillion, the revenue claimed from drilling ANWR is totally unsupported by the data.

The reckless push to mine and drill our public lands is also hitting my home state, where sulfide-ore mining poses a critical risk to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Voyageur’s National Park.

This network of pristine lakes and streams is a national treasure, and the federal government is responsible for protecting it. 

But officials at the Interior Department recently abandoned that responsibility to grant a Chilean mining company a “non-discretionary right” to renew two mining leases on the doorstep of our country’s most visited national wilderness.

And I am not even going to get into your flawed rollout of your five year offshore leasing plan and how you have promised to remove areas before the comment period is closed. 

Although the outcry over these policies has been great, the harm done by the Trump Administration extends beyond drilling and mining issues and has impacted the integrity of science, access to our parks, and now threatens to disrupt the entire Interior Department as you propose to create a new organizational model with no foundational analysis.

The Department’s science programs provide data and tools to inform sound decision making to address complex challenges, such as drought, natural hazards, and climate change. Scientific integrity is essential to assure there is no bias or preconceived agenda in any information issued by the Department, and I am particularly concerned that senior leadership at the Department requested that the U.S. Geological Survey violate its policies regarding unpublished USGS data.

Furthermore, The Center for Investigative Reporting found that the National Park Service deleted every mention of climate change from drafts of a long awaited report on sea level rise and storm surge. These findings contradict your March testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in which you stated there was no incident when DOI changed even a comma in a report. You challenged any member to find an altered document, and now we have that proof.

This clear, interference from political leadership is forcing employees to violate their scientific integrity policies– and it must stop.

Additionally I am very disappointed in the way you rolled out your proposal to dramatically increase fees at 17 national parks with little analysis or consideration of public accessibility. Tens of thousands of Americans voiced their opposition through the public comment process and thankfully, so far, you have listened. The national parks are America’s crown jewels and access to them should not be exclusively for the wealthy.

You have stated you want to reorganize the Department for the next 100 years and are proposing to establish 13 new regions.

I have serious concerns that you:

  • Are not able to share any analysis on the effects of this proposal;
  • Have had no formal public input;
  • Have not solicited comments from other agencies; and

You have not conducted meaningful tribal consultation. On this last point, I am particularly concerned because I have been told that tribal leaders feel you presented this plan to them as a completed idea and only asked tribal nations to decide if they wanted to be a part of it or not. Mr. Secretary, that is not true consultation.You need to do better.

A Department that serves the American public, that tells the story of America, should reflect its diversity and should never marginalize minorities. In June, when you reassigned 33 career senior executives, almost half of them were minorities. Specifically, over 40% were women and 30% were Native Americans. This apparent discrimination is just wrong, and I am disturbed by reports that you have said repeatedly that you believe diversity isn’t important in the Interior Department.

Mr. Secretary, your task is to protect, preserve, and use resources wisely for the benefit of the American people today, and for future generations. Right now I don’t feel you are meeting your mission.  For the record, I believe there is a place for responsible resource development on our public lands, but it must be balanced and sustainable.  What I find alarming is that this Administration continues to prioritize “energy dominance” and profits for the fossil fuel industry over the protection of our national treasures, the conservation of our natural habitats, and our responsibilities to the American people.  

This budget is unacceptable. 

Mr. Chairman, I am pledging to work with you to ensure that the Department of the Interior has the necessary funding so that all Americans can continue to enjoy our Nation’s natural and cultural resources and that our actions today protect the planet we leave for future generations. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.