GOP chairwoman pans Obama Interior budget as ‘rocky start’ to 2016

GOP chairwoman pans Obama Interior budget as ‘rocky start’ to 2016
© Greg Nash

The chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday blasted President Obama’s budget request for the Department of the Interior as a bad start to his final year in office.

While Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiTrump education pick to face Warren, Sanders Schumer puts GOP on notice over ObamaCare repeal 9 GOP senators Trump must watch out for MORE (R-Alaska) focused largely at a hearing on what the budget would mean for Alaska, she said the country as a whole would suffer.

“When we look at the budget in front of us, it looks like, again, a rocky start to the final year of this administration,” Murkowski told Interior Secretary Sally JewellSally JewellOvernight Energy: Rough hearing for Tillerson Interior proposes raising royalty rates on federal coal mining Overnight Energy: Former Exxon chief Tillerson takes the hot seat MORE at a hearing about the budget request filed earlier this year.

Murkowski said the $13.4 billion budget for the department, which includes the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, falls short in giving Alaska control over land within its borders. The spending blueprint also puts new costs on energy and mineral production on federal land, she added, among other criticisms.

“What I see, unfortunately, is a continuation of the efforts to block our ability to safely develop our resources, and really take away some of the best opportunities that I think my state has to grow and prosper,” she said about the provisions specific to Alaska.

The budget also “seeks to impose new fees on energy producers and a new royalty on hard rock miners,” she said. “At a time when energy and commodity prices are low, I would expect that Interior would be looking for practical ways to make our energy and mining industries more competitive. But based on this budget, it looks like the goal is to drive them away from our federal lands and waters.”

Other Republicans piled on with criticisms.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said it does not make sense to end a program that gives coastal states a share of revenue from offshore drilling. The program helps rebuild wetlands, which could prevent flooding disasters such as Hurricane Katrina from getting out of hand, in Louisiana and other states, he added.

“The only way to keep that from happening again is if we rebuild our wetlands,” he said. “And lo and behold, your budget takes away those dollars.”

Sen. John BarrassoJohn BarrassoPruitt says his EPA will work with the states GOP environment chairman plans ‘wholesale change’ at EPA Overnight Energy: Former Exxon chief Tillerson takes the hot seat MORE (R-Wyo.) slammed Interior’s decision to halt new coal leases on federal land.

“I’m having a difficult time understanding why the agency is taking this step, because of the last three years, the demand for federal coal has collapsed,” he told Jewell.

“Given that demand for federal coal is down 95 percent, do you really think it’s reasonable to increase the royalty rates for coal?”

Jewell defended the budget proposal and sought to highlight provisions that reflect major Obama administration priorities.

“It builds on the successes we’re achieving through partnerships, the application of science and innovation, and balanced stewardship,” she said.

“It gives us the tools to help communities strengthen resilience in the face of climate change, conserve natural and cultural resources, ensure clean and sustainable water, engage the next generation with the great outdoors, promote a balanced approach to safe and responsible energy development, and expand opportunities for Native American communities.”

The committee’s Democrats, while critical of some provisions specific to their states, praised the proposal overall.

“In my view, this is a very responsible proposal,” said Sen. Maria CantwellMaria CantwellDems seek more vetting for Trump nominees before hearings Four Washington electors refuse to vote for Clinton Dems concerned Trump trying to 'target' Energy Dept. employees MORE (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the panel.

“It balances the funding for the Department of Interior’s often conflicting conservation and development mandates,” she said. “And more importantly, I’m pleased that the budget and recent secretarial directives are taking a long-term and forward-looking approach to responsible energy development on public lands to address the impacts of climate change into the future.”