The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Annette Shacklett
LOG Editor 

Senator's Interior budget ready for floor vote

 


Interior Department funding for programs in Alaska and other states is being worked on by the U.S. Senate.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski last week presented a far reaching appropriations bill to the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee of which she is chair. That bill, the 2016 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, was passed by the Appropriations Committee with few changes last week. The act has moved to the Senate floor where it will be debated, amended and voted upon.

The Senator talked with The LOG on Saturday about the act.

The bill would provide about $30 to Interior Deparment agencies – about $2.2 billion less than Presdient Barack Obama asked for.

The bill, she emphasises, is the first of its kind in six years. And without a funding bill by the appropriations committee, “funding defaults to the priorities of each agency,” she said.

As with most folks in Alaska right now, wildfires are on Murkowski mind. Funding for fighting wildfires on federal land comes through the Interior Department. Often when funding for firefighting is all spent in a fiscal year, money is borrowed from other budgets or programs.

“The fire borrowing has to stop,” Murkowski told The LOG. “Fire borrowing makes it extremely difficult for agencies to complete other management activities because funds are held back,” she points out.

To that end, the act includes 100 percent of the requested amount for wildfire preparedness and suppression, ensuring resources necessary to combat wildfires is available, makes $1.05 billion in emergency funding available in the event regular fire suppression funds are exhausted and provides a mechanism to make disaster funding available in the future and prevents the practice of “fire borrowing,” when agencies “borrow” from other programs to fund firefighting activities.

Wildfires aren’t the only thing in the act, however, as the Interior Department also funds and/or manages many agencies, departments and programs that affect Alaska. Other agencies that impact Alaska are Office of Emergency Management, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management and United States Geological Survey.

Other highlights in the bill are:

For the BIA it provides important increases to make Native lands safer while addressing education and infrastructure needs, provides an additional $92 million over the enacted level with increases to programs that help combat domestic violence, substance abuse, and other public safety and justice initiatives. This includes $10 million in Tribal Court funding for P.L. 280 states.

For Indian Health Service it provides full contract support costs for BIA and IHS and creates a separate appropriations account so that other service funds cannot be taken to pay for the legal obligation to pay full CSC’s. This will prevent the “robbing Peter to pay Paul” cycle that has occurred at the IHS over the last two years, provides $40 million for Indian Health Service, Facilities Maintenance and Improvement and Sanitation Facility Construction to address critical infrastructure needs in villages and on reservations nationwide, provides $20 million for facilities construction to start on the next facility on the Indian Health Service list, provides full funding for staffing packages for new facilities, and provides $2 million for Village Built Clinics.

Keeps pace on commitments made under ANCSA, it funds the Alaska land conveyance program at $22 million to keep momentum toward completion of land conveyances, requires completion of an inventory of contaminated Alaska Native lands in need of remediation and directs the BLM to coordinate with all responsible federal agencies to get the lands cleaned up as soon as possible and instructs the BLM to work with the State of Alaska to efficiently rectify erroneous land conveyances made to the state.

For the Fish and Wildlife Service on prioritizing important Alaska efforts by facilitaing the building of a one-lane, non-commercial, life-saving road from King Cove to Cold Bay, prohibits the Fish and Wildlife Service from using funds to conduct a caribou hunt on Kagalaska Island, and restores the National Wildlife Refuge fund to provide compensation to local governments for non-taxable Fish and Wildlife Service lands.

It facilitates energy development in Alaska by providing a $19 million increase to onshore oil and gas programs, which will help increase capacity for development within the NPR-A and on other BLM lands in Alaska, and provides necessary funds to support offshore conventional and renewable energy development.

Facilitates responsible mining activities on public lands by preventing the EPA from placing duplicative and costly bonding requirements on the mining industry. BLM, the Forest Service and the state already have similar requirements in place.

The act funds conservation priorities and enhances access for sportsmen by providing new funding to the National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service for recreational access while maintaining recreational access funding at the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, increases access to public lands that have inadequate access for hunting, fishing, and other recreational activities

For the National Park Service provides funding for the Centennial Initiative focused on deferred maintenance to make visits to National Parks safer and more enjoyable, adds new account and funds for recreational access for sportsmen, $30 million for cyclical and rehabilitation maintenance in the agency’s operating account and $54.6 million for Park Service in the construction account for maintenance projects.

 

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