House cuts $246M from Interior-EPA spending pot

By Phil Taylor | 04/23/2015 07:11 AM EDT

The House Appropriations Committee yesterday announced a spending plan that provides $30.17 billion for the bill that funds the Interior Department, the Forest Service and U.S. EPA, a $246 million cut below current funding levels that will force appropriators to do more with less to maintain a bevy of energy, environment and conservation programs.

The funding pot for the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, known as a 302(b) allocation, is about 1 percent below current funding levels.

It is part of an overall $1.017 trillion Republican spending plan that hews to sequestration levels set in 2011 and that has sparked a major spending battle with Democrats and the White House.


Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, the top Democrat on the committee, said the spending allocations for the 12 appropriations subpanels are "insufficient and fundamentally flawed."

"We will still have to cover the increased costs to combat deadly wildfires, provide contract support costs in the Indian Health Services and prepare for the centennial anniversary of the National Park Service, all from an allocation below last year," she said.

The funding level will further squeeze a host of conservation programs, clean water grants, and climate change and habitat restoration work that are funded under the Interior-EPA bill.

"It’s a disappointing number," said Alan Rowsome, a public lands lobbyist for the Wilderness Society. "It’s not a number that gives you a huge amount to play with."

The funding level will be particularly challenging considering the rising costs of wildfires and Congress’ inability to find a mandatory funding source for payments in lieu of taxes (PILT), Rowsome said. PILT, which provides more than $400 million annually to compensate counties with large tracts of non-taxable federal lands, was funded with mostly discretionary dollars last year, putting a strain on other Interior-EPA programs.

The House’s 2016 allocation for the Interior-EPA panel is not going to be enough to meet the needs of programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund and national parks maintenance funding, Rowsome said.

The Obama administration budget is $74 billion, or 7 percent above the sequestration levels set by the Budget Control Act for defense and nondefense programs.

The gap between White House and Republicans’ funding plans threatens another government shutdown this fall.

"The president has been clear that he is not willing to lock in sequestration going forward, nor will he accept fixes to defense without also fixing non-defense," Shaun Donovan, director of the Office of Management and Budget, told House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) in a letter this week.