Thursday, June 08, 2017
Budgets, good and bad, and monuments get their review
Remember those budget cuts Trump recommended for EPA and Interior? Well you can forget that. The recently negotiated budget deal passed by Congress and signed by Trump does no such thing.
The EPA is funded at 99 percent of last year’s budget. The Park Service got an $81 million increase mostly earmarked for the maintenance backlog. The Fish and Wildlife received an $11 million increase, much of which is earmarked to address their endangered species delisting backlog. And the USGS received a $23 million increase for water and other studies. The BLM received a total budget of $1.2 billion. That’s an increase of $15 million, which includes $9 million for the sage grouse conservation project.
One item of controversy in the BLM budget is the creation of a congressionally chartered foundation for the bureau. ASI, PLC and NCBA have written to the appropriating committees asking they “rethink” this proposal.
“"Buried in the hundreds of pages of bill and report language is Section 122 which creates a new, Congressionally-authorized Bureau of Land Management Foundation," the letter states. "This Foundation was championed by Obama Administration officials like former Sec. Sally Jewell and BLM Director Neil Kornze. There are several parts of this language that are of great concern. The language creates a new quasi-governmental foundation that has broad authority, and a board of directors that is not overseen by Congress. The BLM Foundation would have the ability to hold real property, including land, water, or interest in land or water, essentially adding to the federal estate. While funding is to be by private donation, funds to establish an office and meet administrative, project and other expenses are appropriated through the FY 17 appropriations bill. It is simply inappropriate to include authorizing language for a brand new entity in a short-term spending bill."
Earlier drafts of the bill didn’t include this provision, so it was snuck in at the last minute. Bottom line: A Republican congress has increased the budget for BLM and smoothed the way for more private money and land acquisitions.
There was a positive in the budget deal. I have written here several times about Michelle Obama’s Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which placed such onerous standards on the school lunch program. Those standards included calorie ranges for each age group, sodium limits, zero tolerance for trans fats, and specific ounce amounts for meats and grains. The result? Less meat. The kids revolted and hundreds of school districts dropped out of the program. Finally, and mercifully, Congress is catching up to the countryside. The budget deal ends these regulations. This whole program goes back to 1946 when it was started after WWII to sop up surplus ag commodities and morphed over time until it became the former First Lady’s personal social engineering party. It was misguided in the beginning and is still wrong today.
The monument’s moment
President Trump signed the E.O. mentioned in my last column, requiring a review of all national monuments of over 100,000 acres and designated since 1996. “Today, I am signing a new executive order to end another egregious abuse of federal power, and give that power back to the states and to the people, where it belongs,” said the President.
Trump required that Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante in Utah be reviewed first, and Secretary Zinke has since spent an eventful week touring those two sites.
Beginning with Bears Ears, Zinke met with Utah officials and the Utah Congressional Delegation, followed by meetings with Tribal leaders and local government folks. Having toured Bears Ears by plane and horseback, he then moved on to the Grand Staircase Escalante, which had been created by President Clinton in 1996.
His tour of that unit began in Kanab, where he started the day with a roundtable discussion. Leland Pollock, a County Commissioner and rancher, said prior to the designation of the monument he was able to run 260 head, but for the most recent grazing season he had been cut back to 64 head. Pollock explained the other animal units had been placed in “suspension”, which meant they still showed up on paper in the BLM office. “That,” said Pollock, “is how the federal government is getting rid of the rancher on the monument.”
Later that day, on a hike to the once-proposed Smokey Hollow Mine, Utah Rep. Mike Noel explained that while an employee of the BLM he had overseen a “bulletproof” EIS on the project which, “would have generated 9 billion tons of clean high-quality coal, hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in revenue.” That all came to a screeching halt when Clinton designated the monument.
The theme that day seemed to be one of optimism. “I’m very excited. I think there’s hope, hope for the people who want change on the monument and who want the boundaries reduced dramatically,” Pollock said. And Zinke said, “I’m an optimist and I think there’s enough common ground to move forward. So we’ll gather our thoughts, break out the maps and make a good recommendation to the president.”
Zinke also said something I found very interesting.
“Monuments should never be put in a position to prevent rather than protect…”
I believe this perfectly describes what happened here in southern New Mexico when they went beyond the Organ Mountains. The objective was to prevent certain activities such as land exchanges, rights-of-way for utilities and pipelines, geothermal development, water development, placement of Border Patrol devices, etc., rather than to protect objects. Boundaries were drawn and then the hunt was on for objects to justify those boundaries. Let's hope Zinke visits here and makes this observation himself.
Here we go again
Just as I was wrapping this up Trump released his budget for FY 2018. Here’s a quick rundown: Interior -$1.6 billion; BLM -$162.7 million; FWS -$202.9 million; Park Service -$296 million. And leading the pack was EPA with a 31 percent cut.
It appears Trump doesn’t give up easily, and neither should we.
Until next time, be a nuisance to the devil and don’t forget to check that cinch.
Frank DuBois was the NM Secretary of Agriculture from 1988 to 2003, is the author of a blog: The Westerner (www.thewesterner.blogspot.com) and is the founder of The DuBois Rodeo Scholarship and The DuBois Western Heritage Foundation