Relations fraying, GOP to grill Jewell on $13.2B budget

By Phil Taylor | 03/02/2015 07:19 AM EST

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell heads back to Capitol Hill this week for two more rounds of GOP grilling on her agency’s $13.2 billion fiscal 2016 funding request.

There will be new Republican faces but similar attacks on the Obama administration’s proposed spending hikes and its energy and natural resources policy.

Jewell will appear Wednesday before the Senate Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, which is led by one of her top critics, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). On Thursday, she will testify before the House Natural Resources Committee, which is led by new Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah).


Neither forum will be particularly inviting.

Murkowski last week blasted Jewell for "depriving" Alaskans of "jobs, revenue, security and prosperity" during a hearing before the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which she also chairs.

And Bishop, while he has praised Jewell’s background as a petroleum engineer and businesswoman and said he sees opportunities for bipartisanship, has been no less critical of President Obama’s moves to restrict oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and to designate national monuments across the West.

At last Tuesday’s ENR hearing, Republicans pressed Jewell on a laundry list of Interior issues, including Bureau of Land Management efforts to regulate hydraulic fracturing and the venting and flaring of natural gas, as well as the Fish and Wildlife Service’s pending decision on whether the greater sage grouse deserves protections under the Endangered Species Act (Greenwire, Feb. 24).

At a second hearing a day later, Republican leaders on the House Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee said Jewell’s budget was part of a broader Obama spending plan that exceeds limits set in the 2011 Budget Control Act and simply cannot be approved (E&E Daily, Feb. 26).

Jewell’s $13.2 billion requested budget — an 8 percent hike above current funding levels — also contains a wish list of longtime administration proposals to increase inspection fees on oil and gas drillers, encourage more diligent development, reform federal royalties, and hike grazing fees. Those proposals stand little chance of passing in a Republican-controlled Congress, considering that they also failed to pass when the Senate was in Democratic hands (Greenwire, Feb. 2).

Jewell’s budget also leans heavily into conservation and recreation. It offers $900 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), three times the current funding level, and would provide $3 billion for the National Park Service, a $433 million increase over current levels and enough to hire 471 additional full-time employees as the agency approaches its 2016 centennial.

But members of both panels will likely use this week’s hearings to press Jewell on a panoply of non-budget issues happening in their home states and districts — including energy regulations, endangered species and access to public lands.

Thursday’s 9 a.m. hearing before Natural Resources could spill into the afternoon depending on how many of its nearly four dozen members attend to ask questions.

Bishop has been a top critic of using LWCF funding for land acquisition and has proposed using some money to fund county payments under payment in lieu of taxes (PILT), among other non-conservation uses.

While he’ll have no shortage of gripes with the administration’s spending and energy plans, he’s also crafting a signature public lands bill for Utah and will need the administration’s cooperation if he hopes to pass it. He told E&ETV last week that Jewell has "a better background than other secretary of Interiors that we’ve had in the past."

In contrast, Jewell’s standing with Murkowski is on thin ice.

That’s in large part due to recent Interior decisions to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve (NPR-A) and the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge that Murkowski has characterized as out of step with her constituents’ needs.

Those issues should again take center stage at Wednesday’s hearing, among other issues, including wildfire, conservation, national parks funding and American Indian programs.

Schedule: The Senate hearing is Wednesday, March 4, at 10 a.m. in 124 Dirksen.

Witness: Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

Schedule: The House hearing is Thursday, March 5, at 9 a.m. in 1324 Longworth.

Witness: Jewell.