Saturday, May 27, 2017

Interior Secretary Zinke Defends Agency Budget Cuts

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is defending the Trump administration’s budget proposal unveiled last week, despite deep cuts it would make to land-management agencies that could have severe consequences in Montana and other western states. The budget, which is still subject to approval by Congress, carries cuts to the Department of Interior and the Department of Agriculture — agencies that, combined, manage more than 700 million acres of public land. The Trump administration’s budget would cut Interior funding by about 11 percent, reducing funding to $11.7 billion in fiscal 2018 — about $1.6 billion less annually. The proposal would also eliminate programs that Zinke has previously championed, but which he now says the administration considers unnecessary, duplicative or considers a low priority. “It was not an easy job. There were difficult decisions that were made,” Zinke said in a May 23 call with reporters. “This budget overall speaks to the core mission of the Department of the Interior. It funds our highest priorities — safety, security, infrastructure.” Among the programs Zinke said were redundant are discretionary grants to help reclaim abandoned mine sites, National Heritage areas that Trump administration officials say are more appropriately funded locally and National Wildlife Refuge payments to local governments. The budget also significantly decreases funding for new major acquisitions of federal land, cutting such appropriations by more than $120 million. Cuts to the popular and bipartisan Land and Water Conservation Fund total nearly $54 million, an 80 percent cut to this year’s enacted level. Zinke said the administration intends to focus on investing in and maintaining existing federal lands. In particular, the proposal would boost money to help address the roughly $11 billion maintenance backlog within the national park system. Defending the cuts to the land acquisition program, Zinke said, “We need to take care of what we have first.” “I don’t think we need to buy more land, but take care of what we have first before we buy into more acquisitions,” he said...more

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