Week ahead: Interior, Energy chiefs to defend Trump budget

Week ahead: Interior, Energy chiefs to defend Trump budget
© Greg Nash

Two members of President Trump's cabinet are heading to the Senate in the coming week to defend the administration's proposed environment and energy cuts.

Ryan Zinke, the secretary of the Interior, will testify about the budget at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee hearing on Tuesday. Two days later, he'll speak on the matter before the House Natural Resources Committee on Thursday.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry will testify on Trump's Department of Energy (DOE) spending plan before the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, and the Senate energy committee on Thursday. It will be his first testimony before Congress since he took office in February.

Both secretaries are likely to face skeptical lawmakers when they present Trump's budget, which contains deep cuts to both departments. Trump proposed a $1.4 billion, or 10.9 percent, cut to Interior, and he aims to slice DOE's budget by $1.7 billion, or 5.4 percent. 

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Neither the House nor the Senate are close to writing their own spending targets for Interior or the DOE -- or the Environmental Protection Agency, which found no support for its budget request during a Thursday hearing. But the hearings will be lawmakers' chance to outline their funding priorities for the departments.

When Zinke testified before the House Appropriations Committee last week, even Republicans said they had concerns about the extent of Trump's proposed cuts, pointing to low funding levels for the National Park Service and other environmental programming, while Democrats indicated they would oppose funding cuts for climate change research and policy changes to open up more public lands drilling.

Perry's budget has yet to undergo congressional scrutiny, but members have already said they'll oppose efforts to cut funding for energy research accounts and national labs. The Energy Department confirmed this week that it was aiming to shutter an international green energy office, something likely to anger Democrats.

The House Financial Services Committee will resume marking up several bills meant to reform and reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The panel, usually bitterly divided along party lines, has expressed interest in finding a bipartisan solution before the federal flood insurance program expires at the end of September.

Republicans are looking toward a five-year extension of the program, along with various ways to get federally-insured homes covered by private plans. Democrats are eyeing a ten-year reauthorization, while both parties pursue ways to modernize flood mapping and update the process to reduce rates.

Off Capitol Hill in the upcoming week, the Dakota Access Pipeline fight is set to reignite when lawyers return to a federal courthouse on Wednesday.

U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg handed the tribes opposing the pipeline a major victory on Wednesday when he ruled that federal regulators did not conduct a through enough environmental review for the project.

The ruling, though a win for the pipeline's opponents, wasn't everything the Standing Rock Sioux or the Cheyenne River Sioux tribes had hoped, and Boasberg did not rule that oil should stop flowing through the controversial pipeline. Government, company and tribal lawyers will meet in his courtroom on Wednesday to argue over that question.

Trump approved the Dakota Access project in January, clearing the way for the 1,170-mile pipeline, which kicked up massive opposition from greens and tribal allies last year. Oil began flowing through the pipeline earlier this month.

The fight over Dakota Access so far in 2017 has been mostly contained to the courts. But Boasberg's decision -- and the next stage of the legal fight over the pipeline's future -- is certain to put Dakota Access back on activists' radar, starting next week.

 

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