Senate committee approves Interior spending bill

By Emily Ronis

The Senate’s version of the Interior spending bill for FY2019 has passed out of committee and moves onto the Senate floor for a vote. ©mrgarethm

On Thursday last week, the Senate Committee on Appropriations unanimously approved a $32.6 billion Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for fiscal year (FY) 2019 (S. 3073)

Only one amendment was adopted during the markup session, which included a provision that directs the Interior Department and Forest Service to maintain updated five-year deferred maintenance plans. Committee members did not offer any other new amendments to the introduced bill. The legislation also largely rejects many of the spending cuts in the president’s proposed FY2019 budget.

The spending bill will now move out of committee and onto the Senate floor for a vote. The Senate has not voted on a stand-alone Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies spending bill since 2010.

“It is time to return to regular order where we vote appropriations bills out of committee with bipartisan support and take them to the floor,” said Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) in her opening statement. “I look forward to moving the Interior bill through the process in a fashion which allows all members of the Senate to have an opportunity to debate the bill and offer amendments.”

The bill provides the Interior Department with $13 billion in overall spending, equivalent with the proposed spending level in the House appropriations bill. The National Park Service would receive $3.2 billion, an increase of $13.4 million from 2018 spending levels, with the aim of helping the agency address its $11.6 billion maintenance backlog. The Land and Water Conservation Fund would receive $425 million, which is $65 million more than the proposed spending level in the House bill. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would receive $1.6 billion in funding, $19.7 million less than FY2018 spending levels.

The bill would also provide $14 million for the Interior’s proposed reorganization, which Secretary Ryan Zinke says will better align department efforts with ecosystem and watershed boundaries. The Senate Committee’s report provides a stipulation that the funds are not to be obligated until the department provides a report detailing the reorganization plans and expected funding allocations.

The U.S. Forest Service would receive $6.3 billion for overall spending, including $4.3 billion overall to fight wildfires and prevent “fire borrowing,” or instances when the USFS must draw funds from non-fire-related budgets to pay for wildfire expenses.

The House Appropriations Committee recently passed its version of the Interior, EPA, and Related Agencies spending bill, which now moves to the House floor for a vote. The House and Senate will work together to reconcile their versions before passing a final appropriations bill for presidential approval.

Emily Ronis is a Policy Communication Intern at The Wildlife Society. Read more of Emily's articles.

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