McCollum statement at full committee markup of FY 2019 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill
I would like to thank the Chairman and his staff for their work on another successful omnibus. The Fiscal Year 2018 Omnibus sent a clear message that Congress rejects Trump’s reckless budget proposals.
I am pleased that we were able to pass a bipartisan omnibus appropriations bill that included vital funding for the important agencies under this subcommittee’s jurisdiction. It also removed many riders that made the bill too toxic for Democrats to support. I am also happy this Committee successfully negotiated a wildfire funding fix by incorporating many of Chairman Simpson’s ideas. Unfortunately, this fix will not take effect until 2020, so we are still seeing the impacts of rising fire costs in this year’s bill.
Turning to the bill before us this morning, the Interior and Environment subcommittee allocation is $35 billion, equal to the Fiscal Year 2018 enacted level. While Democrats would have written some things differently, the Chairman’s bill maintains many of the investments. I am pleased that funding for health care, education, and criminal justice needs in Indian Country continues to be a nonpartisan priority for this subcommittee. The bill also continues last year’s efforts to address the backlog of deferred maintenance on federal lands, and continues funding for important grant programs within the Historic Preservation Fund.
Yet, once again, the Majority proposing to cut the Environmental Protection Agency. While the proposed reduction is not as bad as in years past, a $100 million cut is untenable. These cuts target air and water quality programs, and reduce funding to enforce the law against polluters. If enacted, they will undermine the EPA’s ability to keep our families and communities healthy, and to protect our environment for future generations.
I must also express my opposition to the $14 million provided in this bill for the Department of the Interior to begin carrying out Secretary Zinke’s massive and ill-conceived reorganization. To be clear, I am not opposed to the idea of reorganization at the Department of the Interior. But this committee has a responsibility to ensure that there is proper planning and meaningful consultation. During the testimony of more than 80 tribal leaders, we heard repeated concerns about the lack of consultation and opposition to the reorganization as currently proposed.
We should not allow the Department to begin implementation of this major undertaking when there has not been sufficient input from all stakeholders, or a complete explanation to this Committee of the details and associated costs.
Members should also be concerned that the Department is failing to obligate the funds we appropriate in a timely manner. In February, Congress appropriated $516 million to Interior for recovery from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. As of the week of May 14th, $3 million was obligated — which means the Department had withheld $513 million. This is unacceptable when hurricane season begins this month.
The Department, until May 21st was also withholding the Bureaus’ Fiscal Year 2018 spend plans. Intense Congressional pressure got the funds moving, but these bureaucratic delays have real consequences, such as nearly closing several National Heritage Areas.
We clearly need additional controls in this bill to ensure that the Department does not delay disbursement of funds that Congress has appropriated.
The Environmental Protection Agency is also in desperate need of this Committee’s oversight.
Last month, the Government Accountability Office determined that EPA violated Section 710 of the Fiscal Year 2017 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, and the Anti-deficiency Act. EPA failed to notify this Committee of the purchase of a $43,000 soundproof privacy booth in Administrator Pruitt’s office. EPA has yet to provide the Committee with the report required by law regarding this violation.
This is not an isolated case of financial abuse by EPA leadership. Currently, there are at least 14 federal investigations examining Administrator Pruitt’s spending and management practices. Frankly, I am shocked that Administrator Pruitt has not been removed from President Trump’s cabinet when other Cabinet members were removed for far less egregious abuses.
If the Agency’s leadership does not have a moral compass, and President Trump refuses to exercise control, then Congress must step in and protect taxpayers from Administrator Pruitt’s wasteful spending.
Finally, I must also voice my objection to the fourteen policy riders included in this bill. They would undermine clean air and clean water standards, put the health and safety of American families at risk, and roll back protections for endangered species.
With Republican control of the Congress and the White House, it is long past time for the Majority to stop imposing riders like these on the appropriations process. The authorizers should do their work in their Committees.
Mr. Chairman, I see the effort you have put into this bill and I commit to working with you throughout the fiscal year 2019 process. In the meantime, because of the failure to provide allocations and the filling up with poison pills, I must oppose this bill. Of course, that might change if we can pass some of the Democratic amendments today, Mr. Chair!
Thank you and, I yield back.