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Senate Panel Opens Wallet, Sets $32.6B Budget for Interior, EPA Spending

Effectively rejecting the Trump administration’s call for steep budget cuts, the Senate Appropriations Committee last Monday unveiled a $32.6 billion spending bill to fund the Department of Interior (DOI) and related agencies, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Under the Senate'sInterior and environment appropriations bill, one of 12 to fund the federal government, $12.17 billion would be allocated to the DOI and its agencies in fiscal year (FY) 2018, a 7% ($930 million) cut from what it received in FY2017 ($13.1 billion). The bill also gives $7.9 billion to the EPA, a 3.7% ($300 million) decrease from FY2017 funding ($8.2 billion).

The Senate's proposed allotments to the DOI and EPA are charitable in comparison to a version released by the House Appropriations Committee last July -- and downright lavish when compared to what the Trump administration called for in May. A $31.4 billion House bill allocated $11.9 billion to the DOI and $7.5 billion to the EPA in FY2018, while the president's $4.1 trillion budget proposal called for giving $11.7 billion to the DOI and a paltry $5.7 billion to the EPA.

"The effective management of the nation's natural resources is important, as is the government's commitment to native peoples," said Committee Chairman Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), adding that the bill "establishes a Senate position for working with the House and the administration to reach an agreement to meet these priorities."

According to a summary of the chairman's mark of the bill, the DOI's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) would receive $1.24 billion for FY2018, while the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) would receive $1.09 billion. Meanwhile, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would receive $1.48 billion, while the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management would get $99.2 million and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement would be budgeted $109.2 million. The budget also provides funding for the National Park Service ($2.94 billion), the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement ($252.3 million) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs ($2.87 billion).

BLM would receive $16 million below the FY2017 enacted level, while USGS funding would be flat.

Of the $7.9 billion earmarked for the EPA, $3.56 billion would be for state and tribal assistance grants, while $2.48 billion would fund environmental programs and management. An EPA trust fund for leaking underground storage tanks would receive $91.9 million in FY2018, while its inland oil spill program would get $18.2 million.

The Senate bill also differs from the House version as it does not contain a provision authorizing the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw the controversial Clean Water Rule. The rule was promulgated by EPA ad the Army Corps during the Obama administration to clarify what constitutes Waters of the United States. "The bill allows the EPA to move forward with its effort to define its authority under the Clean Water Act," the committee said.

The committee currently does not have any hearings scheduled to mark up the bill.

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