Chair-designate McCollum Floor Statement on H.R. 266, Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill
House Appropriations Committee Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Subcommittee Chair-designate Betty McCollum delivered the following remarks in support of H.R. 266, the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations bill. The legislation is a bipartisan bill to reopen federal agencies and ensure that America's National Parks can fully reopen.
I rise today in support of H.R. 266, the fiscal year 2019 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations bill.
Today is the twenty-first day of the Trump Shutdown and the damage it inflicts on families and communities across this country continues to grow. More than 800,000 federal workers are without pay, and today will be the first missed paycheck for those families. Many of our civil servants are working without pay. Telling them they may have to file for unemployment is outrageous and just wrong.
Today, Democrats are offering this bill that provides critical funds to reopen the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, Indian Health Service, and the other important agencies.
Our National Parks – America’s crown jewels – are under threat. This Administration continues to allow visitors to enter as if everything is “normal”. Our Park Service does not have the funding to ensure visitor safety, address the most basic standards of cleanliness, and protect park assets.
Joshua Tree National Park is experiencing significant damage because there are not enough rangers to stop off-road driving in the park. New tracks are being cut into the sensitive landscape, and many Joshua Trees, the precious namesake of this park, have been destroyed.
Just this past weekend, the Department of the Interior announced an illegal plan to force Parks to start redirecting funds from entry fees. Those fees are designated for capital improvement projects, but now will be used to clean toilets. This is no substitute for the Park System’s annual operating budget of $2.5 billion.
Lasting damage is being done to our National Parks and their long-term upkeep is being compromised. We must ensure public safety and protect our pristine spaces. That is why I am calling on the National Park Service to close all parks until the government reopens. Congress needs to pass this bill to fully staff and protect our National Parks.
Passing this bill will allow the Forest Service to get back to work on critical activities – like hazardous fuels management. That work needs to happen now to prevent wildfires.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s mission is to protect human health and the environment, but the Trump Shutdown has furloughed more than thirteen thousand employees, stopping inspections at drinking water systems, stopping inspection at hazardous waste management facilities, and stopping inspections at chemical facilities. This places the health of the American people and their communities in jeopardy.
The Trump shutdown is particularly threatening to the health and safety of our Native American brothers and sisters. Once again, we have failed to meet our treaty responsibilities to tribal nations.
Basic services like health clinics, tribal justice services, and food assistance for seniors are being put at risk for nearly 1.9 million Americans throughout Indian Country. Approximately 54% of the Indian Health Service budget goes to tribal organizations to run their own programs.
During the Trump Shutdown, critical programs in Indian Country run by tribal organizations stop. This includes the Domestic Violence Prevention Initiative, the Indian Children’s Program, the Suicide Prevention Program, and the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Program.
Native American Lifelines is an example of a health care program that is under contract with the Indian Health Service. These clinics focus on care for the needy and elderly. Well, I am outraged to report that – today – as I deliver these remarks, the clinics have been forced to close.
They will not be able to continue to coordinate care for their patients. Patients like the 80-year-old woman who depends on Native American Lifelines to help her manage her type 2 diabetes.
It is time to reopen the government.
The Interior bill before us was drafted by the Senate and passed overwhelmingly with a bipartisan vote of 92-6. This bill should be familiar to everyone as it was part of the 6-bill package that passed overwhelmingly in the House with a bipartisan vote last week.
This bill provides $35.9 billion, which is $601 million more than the fiscal year 2018 enacted bill. It maintains funding for nearly every agency at or above the fiscal year 2018 enacted level, including the Environmental Protection Agency. It is important to note what this bill does not contain: New partisan riders.
Clearly, I would have written things differently, especially in regard to the funding for Indian Country. However this bill will immediately reopen the Department of the Interior, EPA, and the other agencies and give us a path forward to end the Trump Shutdown.
Last year, Congress had the opportunity to pass the bill negotiated by the Conference Committee, but Republican leadership controlled the floor and chose not to finish their work.
And then, we thought there was an agreement to keep the government open while the issues in the Homeland Security bill were being worked out. Senator McConnell brought the continuing resolution to the floor and it passed unanimously. But Speaker Ryan went along with President Trump to shut down the government and go home. And now 800,000 federal employees are without a paycheck.
Democrats are doing everything we can to quickly pass bipartisan bills to reopen the government. We need to finish last year’s work so that we can move forward to serve the American people in 2019.
I urge my colleagues on both side of the aisle to support this bill.