Is This What A Balanced Budget Looks Like?
Secretary of the Department of the Interior (DOI) Ryan Zinke had his hands full fielding concerns from Democrats and Republicans as he defended the president’s budget request for the DOI in front of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies. While he called the proposal one that “reflects the Administration’s commitment to strengthen America’s economic and energy security, focus on the nation’s infrastructure, be responsible stewards of magnificent lands, encourage public access for outdoor recreation, and strengthen tribal sovereignty and support self-determination,” Ranking Member Betty McCollum (MN-4) called the president’s proposal (which cuts DOI by 13 percent ($1.6 billion) and funding for climate change research and mitigation by 80 percent) “unacceptable.”
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which the secretary called “the nation’s leading source of expertise in earth and natural sciences” would receive $922.2 million ($137.8 million below the 2017 continuing resolution (CR) level) “to focus on core science activities including land and water resources, energy and minerals, mapping, ecosystems, invasive species, natural hazards, and environmental health.” Committee Chairman Ken Calvert (CA-42) stated his pleasure in seeing full funding for the agency’s Landsat 9 satellite program; the $70.9 million would support a FY 2021 launch to replace the aging Landsat 7. However, both the chairman and ranking member raised concerns with proposed cuts to the early earthquake warning system. When Ranking Member McCollum inquired about climate change research in light of our nation’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, Secretary Zinke explained, under the proposed budget, all of DOI’s climate research would be done in one division at USGS rather than across multiple agencies. The ranking member and Representative Chellie Pingree (ME-1) made clear their intentions to follow up with Secretary Zinke to better understanding the work that will continue despite the consolidations of programs, with Ranking Member McCollum highlighting cuts to programs, including climate research development and science support.
Secretary Zinke referenced the “all-of-the-above” energy development strategy, which would include increased funding for offshore oil and gas. At $171 million, the Bureau of Offshore Energy Management (BOEM) would see a slight bump in the proposed budget compared to the 2017 CR level, which would include a $10.2 million increase to update the Five-Year Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program. The $204.9 million to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) reflects a slight increase from the 2017 CR, including a $1.2 million increase for technical training for the inspector, engineer, and geoscience workforce. However, funding for oil spill research would drop $2.2 million from 2017 levels to $12.7 million in the proposal.
Despite a few areas of agreement with the president’s proposed budget, there was widespread bipartisan concern. Ranking Member McCollum’s statement, “This budget is unacceptable and I expect my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to reject it” seemed to ring true.