Chair McCollum Statement at Hearing on FY 2021 Interior Budget Request

2020-03-11 09:35

Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN), Chair of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Subcommittee's hearing on the Fiscal Year 2021 budget request for the Department of the Interior:

Secretary Bernhardt, thank you for being with us this morning.

We’re here to discuss President Trump’s fourth budget request. Unsurprisingly, it is largely a repeat of the prior three budgets, once again proposing devastating cuts that Congress will never enact.

And disappointingly, it walks back the bipartisan budget agreement that was enacted into law last year.

For fiscal year 2021, the Interior Department is seeking a $1.9 billion cut, or 14 percent, from the fiscal year 2020 enacted level for the bureaus and programs funded through the Interior appropriations bill. It would slash the US Geological Survey budget by 24%. It would eliminate Landscape Conservation Cooperatives and Science Support at the Fish and Wildlife Service. Essentially, this budget would undo all progress we made last year toward advancing science.

It would also cut funding for historic preservation by 66%, eliminating grants our communities rely on to protect our Nation’s historic and cultural resources. It would starve the National Park Service of funding critical to maintaining a positive visitor experience in the parks. And, it would abandon the investments made in Indian Country, by cutting $421 million for Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Indian Education funding.

Let me be clear: this budget will never be enacted as proposed.

However, the unrealistic funding levels in the Trump budget cause needless worry by the many Americans who care about our public lands, and the federal employees and volunteers who work to protect them.

In your short tenure as Secretary, you have laid out an ambitious agenda that is remarkably damaging to our environment, public health, and natural resources. And you have been executing it at a staggering pace.

Your desire to dismantle the Bureau of Land Management’s headquarters is likely to cost that agency more than 75% of its most knowledgeable and experienced land managers. That is a level of damage that will be felt for decades.

Your use of Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act fees was found to be illegal by the Government Accountability Office. Yet you continue to use these fees for day to day operations, in violation of the law, sending a message to your staff that the law does not matter.

And, your overzealous desire to circumvent environmental laws and regulations in order to serve the interests of the oil and gas industry has led to endless rounds of litigation. This is costing the American taxpayer millions of dollars. Just two weeks ago, for example, a federal judge ruled that BLM’s attempt to limit public input was “arbitrary and capricious.”

Public input is a cornerstone in our democracy. Actions like these erode the trust between Congress and the Administration, and do not serve the American people.

Furthermore, the Administration’s relentless efforts to undermine the integrity of science must stop. The Department’s science programs provide data and tools to inform sound decisions when addressing complex challenges, such as drought, natural hazards, and climate change. Scientific integrity is essential to assure there is no bias or preconceived agenda in any information issued by the Department.

Two years ago, I expressed concern over the Department’s senior leadership intervention in U.S. Geological Survey policies regarding unpublished USGS data. Today, I am furious to see this type of unacceptable behavior is continuing. A March 2, 2020 New York Times article details the steps taken by the Deputy Secretary’s office to insert misleading language about climate change into the agency’s scientific reports, including environmental studies and impact statements.

And political interference in BLM’s decision-making process with respect to Resource Management Plans is a documented fact. Mr. Secretary, actions speak louder than words, and the Department’s actions on confronting climate change, biodiversity, species protection, and land management make me question your stewardship of our Nation’s natural and cultural resources. 

The President’s budget, which you are presenting today, would further diminish the Interior Department’s ability to fulfill its mission. It is the federal government’s responsibility to protect our natural and cultural resources, both today and as the legacy we leave to future generations. Congress will be doing our part to uphold that responsibility by rejecting this harmful budget proposal.

I would now like to yield to our Ranking Member, Mr. Joyce, for any opening remarks he would like to make.

116th Congress