The House Appropriations Committee Tuesday released the fiscal year 2014 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill, specifying funding priorities for the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Forest Service and other related agencies.
The Republican-backed bill cuts more than $24 billion in base funding, a figure that's $5.5 billion less than fiscal year 2013 funding.
The committee said funding in the bill is focused on the "highest-priority" programs, such as fire suppression, native peoples' programs, required payments to local communities and domestic energy expansion.
But conservation groups feel the cuts go too far. Chief Conservation Officer for Ducks Unlimited, Paul Schmidt, said wetlands programs such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund and state wildlife grants aren't funded in the latest budget, and that could mean issues for not only habitats but water quality.
"Wetlands protected and conserved by these programs do so much more than provide waterfowl and wildlife habitat. They lessen the effects of floods and hurricanes, prevent soil erosion and improve water quality," Schmidt said in a press statement.
The North American Wetlands Conservation Act didn't make the funding cut, either. Ducks Unlimited CEO Dale Hall argued that the program is needed – not only for conservation benefits but for jobs.
NAWCA has translated more than $1 billion in federal appropriations over the life of the program into nearly $3.5 billion in additional economic activity, thus creating nearly 7,500 new jobs, according to Ducks Unlimited.
Bill slashes EPA funding
Proponents of the committee's budget maintain the cuts to conservation programs were necessary to return focus to the most needed programs and jump-start reforms to related agencies.
"In order to do more with less, the legislation seeks to protect vital programs that directly affect the safety and well-being of Americans, while dramatically scaling back lower-priority, or 'nice-to-have' programs," House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said. "In addition, by holding back overly zealous and unnecessary environmental regulations, this bill can have a positive effect on our economy and will help encourage job growth."
Included in the cost-cutting are reforms to the Environmental Protection Agency, which has been targeted recently by Republican lawmakers that have questioned the agency's transparency and spending.
Under the bill, EPA would be funded at $5.5 billion, a reduction of $2.8 billion – or 34% – below the fiscal year 2013 enacted level.
The bill continues a cap on EPA's personnel, cuts operational accounts by $921 million, cuts the office of the EPA Administrator by more than 30%, cuts the EPA Congressional Affairs office by 50%, and makes other cuts and reductions to programs within the agency.
The legislation also includes provisions to "rein in various problematic, costly, and potentially job-killing regulatory actions by the Administration."
Targeted actions include language related to the "stream buffer rule"; changes to the definition of navigable waters under the Clean Water Act and "new source" performance standards.
Related agency cuts
Scale-backs under the bill also include a cut of $76 million below the fiscal year 2013 enacted level and approximately $20 million below the level caused by sequestration for the Bureau of Land Management. Reforms deal largely with oil and gas permitting.
The Fish and Wildlife Service also saw a cut of $401 million – or 27% – below the fiscal year 2013 enacted level, and the bill also reduces funding for the U.S. Geological Survey by 9%.
“Simply put, this bill makes very difficult choices in an extremely tough budget environment. In order to fund critical ‘must-do’ priorities, like human health, public safety, and treaty obligations and responsibilities, we’ve had to reduce and even terminate some programs that are popular with both Members of Congress and the American people," said Interior Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson, R-Idaho.
"We are going to continue to see these kinds of dramatic reductions as long as we keep trying to reduce the debt by cutting discretionary spending alone, rather than also tackling mandatory spending, which is the real driver of our debt," Simpson said.
For a closer look at the bill's funding priorities, click here.