What to know about the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill

Differences in the Senate and House versions include Endangered Species Act riders, lead-content ammunition

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — A conference committee will work to resolve differences between the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate versions of a bill that funds several key federal agencies, most of which impact the Four Corners region.

Affected are the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Indian Education.

This is the first time since 2009 that the bill, known as the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, has made it to a conference committee, according to a spokesman for Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM. It was sent to the conference committee after passing the Senate last week.

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall talks with Shiprock Chapter President Duane "Chili" Yazzie, left, during a September 2016 visit to Shiprock.

Udall said in a speech following the Senate vote that the funding is critical to meet wildland firefighting needs, support national parks and public lands, and continue the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

“We need to pass a final bill to fund the Environmental Protection Agency, support arts and cultural institutions, and meet our nation’s trust and treaty responsibilities,” Udall said.

A full text of the bill is available at congress.gov.

What are some of the bipartisan measures in the bill?

The bill includes $500 million for Payment in Lieu of Taxes program, or PILT. These payments are distributed to counties based on the amount of federal land in their boundaries. The payments are intended to offset the lost tax base from federal lands. San Juan County received $2.3 million this year in lieu of taxes on 861,218 acres. Both U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-NM, and Udall praised the bill for fully funding the PILT program.

“Fully funding PILT is a massive win for rural and western states,” Pearce stated in a press release. “I am honored to have played a central role in securing this money.”

Udall and Pearce also praised the bill for funding wildland fire suppression. The bill provides $2.454 billion for fighting wildfires.

Both versions include more than $4 billion of funding for Indian Health Services, including $2 million to contract with drug and alcohol treatment services, including detox services.

The two versions also include $1.39 billion for the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund and $864.23 million for the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund. These funds have been used by local cities for major water and wastewater projects. This includes $2.9 million for the third phase of replacing the 2P waterline in south Farmington and $5 million for the sewer outfall line in Aztec, which is the main sewer line transferring wastewater to the treatment plant.

How are the House and Senate versions different?

“I am particularly proud that we have moved this bill without the addition of contentious authorizing matters or poison pill riders — quite an accomplishment,” Udall said during a speech following the Senate vote. “Unfortunately, there are still scores of riders in the House bill. But by voting to send the Senate Interior bill to conference without adding controversial items, we are, as a body, telling the House that we will reject these poison pills once again.”

The House Appropriations Committee Republicans’ summary of the bill stated that it would remove the gray wolf from the Endangered Species listing and “prevent the unnecessary listing of the greater sage grouse.”

The House Appropriations Committee Democrats described those riders as an “assault on our environment.”

The livestock industry also saw various provisions in the House version that do not appear in the Senate version. For example, the House version would have prevented animal feeding operations from being regulated under the Solid Waste Disposal Act, according to the Democratic summary. The Republican summary states that the House version would exempt the livestock industry from EPA greenhouse gas regulations.

Another of the so-called “poison pills” was the prohibition of regulating lead-content ammunition and fishing tackle.

How does the process work?

The interior appropriations bill was introduced in the House of Representatives on June 19 and passed the House on July 19 on a 217 to 199 vote that closely mirrored party lines. None of the Democrats in the House of Representatives voted in favor of the bill.

After the bill passed the House of Representatives, it was sent to the Senate. The Senate made changes to the bill before it passed with bipartisan support on Aug. 1. Only six Republicans voted against the bill, which passed 92 to 6.

The bill has now been sent to a conference committee, which is tasked with working out differences between the House and Senate versions. If the House approves the Senate’s changes, the bill will be sent to President Donald Trump.

How did New Mexico’s congressional delegation vote?

Both Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-NM
, and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-NM, voted against the House version of the interior appropriations bills. Pearce voted in favor of the bill. Lujan Grisham and Pearce are running for governor.

Udall and Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-NM, voted in favor of the Senate version. Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.