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APPROPRIATIONS - Interior-EPA bill will not see floor action -- Democratic aide

APPROPRIATIONS: Interior-EPA bill will not see floor action -- Democratic aide   (10/20/2011)

Phil Taylor, E&E reporter

A Senate subcommittee's draft $18.8 billion bill to fund the Interior Department and U.S. EPA this fiscal year won't likely see action on the floor or the committee, leaving much of the remaining negotiations over funding levels and policy riders in the hands of congressional staff, a Senate Democratic aide said yesterday.

The bill, which was released late Friday and contains almost none of the policy riders that were in the House version, does contain a provision to create new wilderness and mandatory logging in Montana, as well as language tripling the time Interior is allowed to review offshore oil and gas exploration plans (E&E Daily, Oct. 17).  

"It's not going anywhere," said an aide to Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who is a member of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), who chairs the panel, said this week that he met with Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), his counterpart in the House, to begin ironing out differences in funding levels.

But the two did not discuss policy riders in the House bill, several of which would curb EPA's authority to regulate pollution and Interior's ability to manage wildlife species and mining, among other things.

"We pretty much conceded that these would all be very difficult debates," Reed said. "We understand that we agree on a lot of things and disagree on a lot of things."

Reed said he will continue to fight to keep the bill clean of policy provisions, but he said the debate would likely also include leadership in both chambers and the White House.

He added that he believed support in the Senate was strong for including Sen. Jon Tester's (D-Mont.) wilderness and logging proposal in the bill.

"There's a strong commitment on this side to get that language through, but it's going to be vigorously debated," Reed said.

Reed said he believed the draft could be included in a future "minibus" but that he was leaving the procedural decisions to Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii).

Inouye yesterday suggested it was doubtful whether the committee would formally mark up the bill, or even whether it would become part of a mini package of appropriations bills.

"It's up to the subcommittee chairman at this time. It may be part of an omnibus bill," he said. "At this stage, with just seven weeks of legislation left [in the calendar year], that's not much."

Landrieu opposes drilling language

Landrieu yesterday criticized language in the appropriations package extending review times for energy exploration in the Gulf of Mexico.

"I have not agreed to extending time for review until the [Interior] Department can tell us how they are going to make more transparent their process, and how they are going to expedite permitting for the Gulf," she said.

Landrieu also said she would continue pressuring Interior to extend leases in the Gulf that she said were negatively affected by a drilling moratorium and permitting delays following last year's Deepwater Horizon spill.

"They should start with extending the leases that they took away," she said. "They took away one year or more of leases and they need to give that year back before I'll agree to almost anything."

Landrieu last month said she supported Sen. David Vitter's (R-La.) pledge to block the nomination of Rebecca Wodder as Interior's assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks until the agency offered a blanket extension of leases due to expire at the end of the year (E&E Daily, Sept. 20). 

Interior has said it has extended the vast majority of deepwater leases that have requested extensions. But it said shallow water leases would not be given similar exceptions, arguing that those leases were not affected by the moratorium.


This article appeared in the E&E News