House panel votes to boost Interior, EPA budget by $1.7B

A key House committee on Wednesday advanced the 2020 budgets for the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), voting to increase their funding by $1.73 billion over last year.
The Democratic-led House Appropriations Committee voted 30-21 along party lines to push forward $37.28 billion in funds for the two agencies. It was an increase of $7.24 billion over President Trump’s 2020 requests, which included deep proposed cuts for both agencies.
“This Interior-Environment funding bill rejects cuts proposed by the Trump administration that would have put the interests of polluters over people,” said Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), who chairs the subcommittee with jurisdiction over interior and the environment.{mosads}
Trump originally proposed gutting the EPA’s budget by 31 percent and cutting Interior’s by 14 percent. It was the third year in a row that the White House had proposed dramatic cuts to both departments, which appropriators have resoundingly rejected.
The president and some conservative Republican lawmakers have championed cuts to several departments, arguing they are necessary to rein in spending and reduce the national debt, which stands at $22 trillion.
Republicans on the committee complained that Democrats were moving ahead with bills while the House, Senate and White House have not yet agreed to overall spending levels, despite some progress in a Tuesday meeting.
“No doubt there are critical programs in this legislation that need more funding, but that does not give the Federal Government the right to borrow and spend without any over-arching plan for fiscal responsibility,” said Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio), the interior and environment subcommittee’s ranking member.
Democratic lawmakers have blasted the White House’s budget requests, arguing the billions in proposed cuts would harm the departments’ ability to run efficiently and complete their public health and environmental mandates.
The committee’s appropriations bill instead aims to increase the EPA’s budget by more than $700 million, to $9.5 billion, compared to the bill passed last year by Congress.
Democratic lawmakers also removed nearly all the riders added in past years by Republicans that aimed to block Obama-era environmental regulations. In addition, they added language to the bills that would limit oil and gas drilling on public land.
Lines in the bill could also make it harder for the government to engage in new oil and gas lease sales. A part of the bill would deny fossil fuel leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) if bidding doesn’t generate at least $500 million, half of the expected revenue. A GOP amendment to strip out the provisions was voted down.
Another measure Democrats floated in the bill would block any efforts to expand offshore drilling in the Atlantic and elsewhere until Interior makes public a final comprehensive plan. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt recently told Congress the draft plan is on hold for an indeterminate amount of time following ongoing legal challenges to ANWR drilling.
Additional amendments dealing with wild horses and sage grouse were not adopted.
The Interior portion of the bill also flew in the face of Trump’s budget request, which called for eliminating arts programs such as the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The bill increased funding for both by $12.5 million, bringing their budgets to $167.5 million apiece.
It also upped programs such as the Smithsonian Institution, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, for which Trump had requested funding cuts. 
The Interior portion of the bill allocated funding for ecological services, land management, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service, and came out $2.4 billion above Trump’s request.
The bill is the eight of 12 appropriation bills that the committee has sent to the full House, which is expected to take them up in June. Two more bills are scheduled to advance through subcommittee this week.
The Senate has refrained from releasing appropriations bills until an agreement is reached on spending caps.
Tags Appropriations bill Betty McCollum David Joyce Donald Trump Environmental Protection Agency Interior Department

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