House passes Interior, Agriculture spending bills

By Laura Bies

Under a recently passed House appropriations bill, Department of the Interior funding will increase $828.3 million more than FY 2019 levels. ©Steve Hillebrand/USFWS

Last week, the House passed the appropriations bill authorizing funding for the Department of the Interior, the U.S. Forest Service and the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as the appropriations bill for the Department of Agriculture for Fiscal Year 2020 as a larger package of several spending bills. The $383.3 billion bill (H.R. 3055), which consolidates five separate appropriations bills, contains funding for several government agencies.

Rather than voting separately on each of the 12 bills that will fund the federal government in 2020, House leadership divided the bills into three packages, or “minibuses,” that combine several appropriations bills. The first spending package, funding the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Defense and State, as well as other foreign operations and energy and water projects passed the House on June 19.

The House approved the second, H.R. 3055, containing funding for the departments of Commerce, Justice, Agriculture, Interior, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development; the Environmental Protection Agency and other scientific agencies; and veterans’ programs and military construction projects on June 25.

As previously reported, the House bill would increase FY 2020 funding for several key wildlife conservation and management programs, such as the National Wildlife Refuge System, which would receive $514 million in funding, and the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants Program, which would be funded at $71 million.

A provision in the bill would prevent drilling along the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge if bids for the leases to drill oil do not generate at least $500 million of the anticipated $1 billion. Oil leasing along the coastal plain was authorized by Congress in 2017 but has been hotly debated since.

The spending package also includes funding for the Department of Agriculture, including $1.04 billion for the Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service, a $23 million increase from FY 2019. The increase was provided to enable greater focus on pest and disease issues such as chronic wasting disease. An amendment was added to the bill to provide $15 million to the states to address CWD in wild deer. Another added amendment will provide the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service $1.72 million for CWD research.

The Senate has not yet released its appropriations bills, but funding for Interior is expected to be more modest in the Senate draft than in the bill passed by the House. The differences between the two will be addressed in a conference committee after the Senate bill is passed.

The final FY 2020 minibus, which will include funding for Congress itself, the Department of the Treasury, the judicial branch and other independent agencies, is expected to be considered on the House floor soon.

Laura BiesLaura Bies is a government relations contractor and freelance writer for The Wildlife Society. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science and a law degree from George Washington University. Laura has worked with The Wildlife Society since 2005. Read more of Laura's articles.

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