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The ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources urged the committee's chairman to have Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Ryan Zinke testify before the panel "as soon as possible" following President Trump's proposed $1.5 billion budget cut to DOI.
In a letter to Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT), Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) said that despite Zinke's pledge to resist efforts to slash DOI's funding -- which Zinke repeated to DOI employees upon his arrival at the department earlier this month -- the proposed budget Trump unveiled last week allocates $11.6 billion to the department, a 12% cut from current funding.
"Given the lack of detail provided in the president's proposal, it is critical that Secretary Zinke appear before the committee to explain how the department plans to fulfill its responsibilities to manage our National Parks and other federal lands, oceans, endangered wildlife, cultural resources, and honor the federal government's trust responsibilities to Native American tribes using $1.5 billion less in funding," Grijalva told Bishop.
According to Grijalva, on five occasions since the start of the Trump administration, he has written questions to Trump, Zinke and Acting Secretary Jack Haugrud over several budgetary matters at DOI. One correspondence was sent jointly with Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans. Another included several lawmakers from California, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
Grijalva said all five of the requests have been rebuffed. He added that since Jan. 5, a date nearly two months before Zinke won Senate confirmation to lead DOI, he has been sending weekly requests to Zinke for a meeting but has so far received no response.
"A period of adjustment at the dawn of a new administration is to be expected," Grijalva wrote. "Months of deliberate silence on each and every significant issue facing the department is not. A sustained refusal to even acknowledge inquiries from Congress is not."
But Molly Block, press secretary for the House Committee on Natural Resources and a spokesperson for Bishop, told NGI’s Shale Dailythat Grijalva’s ire was misplaced.
“Maybe Ranking Member Grijalva should direct his concerns at Senate Democrats, who have delayed confirmations at a level not seen before,” Block said Thursday. “To try and blame Secretary Zinke for inaction before he was even confirmed is silly. We look forward to reviewing the president’s full budget request once it is made available.”
Grijalva said that on Feb. 23, he sent Haugrud "a series of questions regarding widely discredited job loss figures that were nevertheless appearing on the DOI's website regarding the Stream Protection Rule [SPR]."
House lawmakers successfully invoked the Congressional Review Act to target the SPR, which was promulgated by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, another DOI agency. On Feb. 1, the House voted 228-194 to pass HJ Res 38, a resolution introduced by Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH) to nullify the SPR. The resolution passed the Senate on a 54-45 vote on Feb. 2. Trump signed the resolution into law on Feb. 16.
Trump's budget proposal "requests an increase in funding for core energy development programs" at DOI, but also advocates the elimination of funding "for unnecessary or duplicative programs while reducing funds for lower priority activities, such as acquiring new lands."