McCollum Opening Statement at Subcommittee Markup of FY2018 Interior-Environment Appropriations Bill
I would like to thank the Chairman and his staff for their collaboration on a very successful FY 2017 Omnibus.
Just two months ago, we were able to come together and pass a bipartisan appropriations bill that stripped out dozens of riders and provided vital funding for the important agencies under this subcommittee’s purview.
So coming off that recent success, I am frustrated to find us back at square one.
The Majority has failed to adopt a budget resolution in time to inform the Appropriations process and, unfortunately, this led to them carrying out a secretive piecemeal approach to the subcommittees’ 302(b) allocations. In fact, it was only this week that the full list of allocations was shared with the Minority. This lack of transparency has placed the entire Committee at a disadvantage and undermined its work.
I am deeply disappointed that the FY 2018 Chairman’s mark for the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies subcommittee cuts funding by $824 million below the FY 2017 enacted level. This level is too low and is a step in the wrong direction. These cuts mean that the needs of many important programs vital to protecting our nation’s natural and cultural resources will not be met.
Once again, the EPA is hardest hit by the cuts recommended in this bill. The Agency is slashed by $528 million. This means that EPA is shouldering a whopping 64 percent of the allocation’s cut.
Last month, during the EPA budget hearing, I was heartened to hear several of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle not only reject the Administration’s reckless budget request – but also acknowledge that EPA has been systematically cut for the past seven years. In fact, since FY 2010, EPA has been reduced by $2.2 billion and has 2,000 fewer staff.
The cuts proposed in this bill would further undermine EPA’s ability to protect human health and the health of our environment. This bill weakens the enforcement that keeps toxins out of the air and water for our families and for our children.
I believe everyone on this committee values clean air and clean water. Our differences are not in this goal, but in what we are willing to invest to achieve it. I urge my Republican colleagues to reconsider and ask themselves why they believe their cuts to the EPA are necessary. We all have a stake in the future and want to make this world habitable for our children and grandchildren.
Surely, Republican control of the White House and both chambers should be enough to influence policy without having to slash funding for the EPA and cripple its ability to function.
Although I cannot agree with the recommended cuts, the bill does continue several important programs.
I am pleased that the Committee rejected the Administration’s proposal to eliminate grant programs within the National Park Service’s Historic Preservation Fund.
This bill includes $10.5 million for the Civil Rights Initiative grant program, $3 million for grants-in-aid to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and $4 million for Save America’s Treasures. This program funds preservation of nationally significant sites, structures, and artifacts.
The bill also continues to reflect this subcommittee’s non-partisan approach to meeting our federal commitments to our Native American brothers and sisters, and it rejects the cruel cuts proposed in the Administration’s budget.
The bill recommends an increase of $106 million for programs critical to Indian country. The Tiwahe Initiative is restored and targeted investments are recommended, including $11 million to hire additional law enforcement agents to assist tribes in combatting drug addiction, and $130 million for the Indian Health Care Improvement Fund to reduce health care disparities across the IHS system.
The bill also continues our commitment to providing Native American students with safe schools that support learning, and it fully funds contract support costs so tribes are not penalized for exercising their self-determination rights.
There are other areas, however, where the work of the majority has fallen short.
The bill recommends $3.4 billion or 11% of the subcommittee’s total allocation for wildland fire, but once again the majority has failed to adopt the common sense reforms championed in Chairman Simpson’s wildfire disaster funding bill.
We cannot afford to sit idly by while the costs of wildland fire eat up funding for the core missions of these Agencies.
The Administration has failed to put forward any proposal to deal with this problem, which is starkly brought to our attention as wildfires burn in southern Utah and in California today. It is imperative we push for a solution.
I must also express my concern and disappointment with the 16 partisan riders in this bill. These provisions seek to turn back protections for endangered species and undermine clean water and clean air protections. They simply do not belong in this bill. They undermine important environmental laws and endanger public health and safety, while benefiting polluters.
In May, 178 Democrats and 131 Republicans voted together on an Omnibus funding bill that ensured that the health of the American people and the well-being of the environment were protected.
I hope that we can achieve that same bipartisan success this year. But, this is not the bill that will get us there. While I cannot support this bill in its current form, I commit to working together with the Chairman and my colleagues through this year’s appropriations process to produce a responsible bill that both parties can support.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I yield back.