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McCollum Opens Appropriations Committee Markup of FY2017 Interior-Environment Bill

June 15, 2016
Press Release

As Ranking Member of the Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, Congresswoman Betty McCollum delivered the following opening statement as the House Appropriations Committee began the markup of the FY2017 Interior-Environment Appropriations bill:

I would like to thank the Chairman and his staff for their open and collaborative approach.

This subcommittee has a challenging portfolio of issues and I commend the Chairman’s efforts to find solutions in another difficult budget year.

Despite those efforts, the majority’s failure to adopt a budget resolution and its piecemeal approach to the subcommittees’ 302(b) allocations made this year’s work even more difficult. This lack of transparency has placed the entire Committee at a disadvantage and it has pushed us further from regular order.

This year, the subcommittee held 14 budget hearings, four of which involved American Indians and Alaska Natives.

The testimony provided by the 209 witnesses clearly articulated the serious need for programs and services under this subcommittee’s jurisdiction.

Unfortunately, the FY 2017 subcommittee allocation is $64 million less than last year’s enacted level. This means the needs of many important programs vital to protecting our nation’s natural and cultural resources will not be met as they far outpace a stagnant allocation.

Within this constrained topline number, difficult choices had to be made and, sadly, the majority cut important programs that protect the American public and conserve our natural resources.

The most significant programmatic cut is to the Environmental Protection Agency, which is slashed by $164 million. This cut will impact the Agency’s ability to protect human health and the health of our environment and to ensure clean air and clean water for our families and future generations.

This year, the critical need for the EPA was unmistakable as our nation watched a tragedy unfold in Flint, Michigan where children were poisoned by lead in their drinking-water. So, I find it difficult to reconcile the cuts recommended in this bill with the public health challenges faced by this country.

Flint is a culmination of years of weakening EPA through budget cuts and over-reliance on state agencies to manage federal environmental laws. All of our communities deserve and expect their government to provide clean water and basic public health protections.

Especially in light of Flint, I must strongly object to the majority’s decision to reduce funding for clean water by $394 million, which is 28% below the FY 2016 enacted level. Clean water and safe drinking water go hand-in-hand; you cannot have one without the other.

Residents of Flint were betrayed by their state government and to this day still do not have safe drinking water available from their tap. The levels provided in this bill for the State Revolving Funds are inadequate to deal with the decaying infrastructure in our nation, no less the emergency in Flint, Michigan.

That is why it is appropriate and imperative for this committee to provide additional funds for Flint, Michigan through an appropriation with an emergency designation.

In addition to the irresponsible cuts to the EPA, I am also troubled by the 30% reduction for Endangered Species Listing. Reducing funding for this program opens the door for litigation and it delays protecting and recovering vulnerable species.

This bill also short changes the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which since its inception has protected conservation and recreation land in every State and supported tens of thousands of State and local projects. Yet, despite its merits, this bill slashes the LWCF program by a third.

Despite this bill's shortcomings in environmental protection and resource conservation, I want to express how proud I am of this subcommittee’s non-partisan approach to addressing issues facing our Native American brothers and sisters. I am pleased that the bill recommends an increase of $343 million for programs critical to Indian country.

However, I would be remiss if I did not point out that even with this increase, funding for Native American programs is still $172 million less than the Administration’s request.

American Indian and Alaska Native populations face substantial hardships, and when compared to the total population, have poorer health, lower earnings, and higher poverty rates. We must continue our efforts to support these communities.

That is why I applaud this bill for maintaining our commitment to provide Native American students with safe schools that are conducive to learning and for fully funding contract support costs so tribes are not penalized for exercising their self-determination rights.

Another bright spots in this bill is the continued support for the National Park Service’s Centennial Initiative. The bill recommends an additional $80 million for the Centennial, which will strengthen the foundation for visitor services and make essential infrastructure investments.

I am pleased an additional $3 million is provided for the Civil Rights Initiative grant program and that funding is included for grants-in-aid to Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

I would also like to praise the Chairman for working with me to resurrect the Save America’s Treasures program. This program funds preservation of nationally significant sites, structures, and artifacts. I am proud we were able to restart this important program and I will work diligently to make sure it is included in the final bill.

Unfortunately, I cannot extend the same enthusiasm to all of programs funded in this bill. In particular, I am disappointed that the Majority has once again given the authorizers a pass and included funding for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program. PILT is an expired mandatory program and it does not belong in discretionary appropriations.

Mandatory spending for PILT ensures that all counties receive 100% of the authorized payment. Unfortunately, as long as we include it in our bill, the authorizers have no incentive to do their job and, as a result, critical programs are shortchanged.

I am also frustrated that the majority has effectively left $1.2 billion on the table by not adopting the common sense reforms championed in Chairman Simpson’s wildfire disaster funding bill. Every member of the Interior subcommittee is a cosponsor of that bill, yet once again the majority has balked, citing committee jurisdiction.

Unfortunately, jurisdictional issues did not hinder the majority from including harmful legislative riders. I must express my concern and disappointment with the 33 partisan riders in this bill.

The number and outrageous nature of the riders included in this bill pander to special interests at the expense of the public good. For example, this bill contains a provision that would reverse the safety improvements developed following the Deepwater Horizon tragedy. Eleven lives were lost in that explosion. So I must express my dismay that this bill puts the profits of big oil companies ahead of worker safety.

The veto-bait provisions that seek to turn back protections for endangered species, restrict control of greenhouse gas emissions, and undermine clean water and clean air protections do not belong in this bill.

I acknowledge and appreciate the efforts that have been made to accommodate Democratic priorities in this bill; however, I cannot support it as drafted.

Despite my current opposition, I intend to continue to work with Chairman Calvert through this year’s appropriations process to produce a responsible bill that both parties can support.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I yield back.