68 House Democrats urge more reconciliation money for Interior

Lawmakers say the Senate's version falls billions short of what’s required to address environmental crises

House Natural Resources Chairman  Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., is among 68 House Democrats who signed a letter calling for more funding through the Interior Department to combat climate change. (Carolina Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
House Natural Resources Chairman Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., is among 68 House Democrats who signed a letter calling for more funding through the Interior Department to combat climate change. (Carolina Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted August 30, 2021 at 3:53pm

Nearly 70 House Democrats have urged party leaders in both chambers of Congress for more funding in the reconciliation budget to combat climate change through the Interior Department, calling funding proposed so far “disappointing” as most of the West is in drought, wildfire seasons grow longer and species die off.

In a letter sent Aug. 25 to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., 68 lawmakers criticized the funding under the $3.5 trillion budget resolution the Senate passed in early August. The House Natural Resources Committee is set to mark up its portion of that bill, which includes funding for the Interior Department, on Thursday.

The money Interior would receive under the Senate version falls billions short of what’s required to address sweeping environmental crises, they said.

“Unfortunately, the Senate-passed budget resolution does not address DOI funding shortfalls totaling tens of billions of dollars,” the letter says. “As the nation’s principal conservation agency responsible for approximately one-fifth of the land in the United States, DOI plays a critical role in addressing the climate crisis.”

The Senate version short-changes key programs to brace against and respond to a warming world, the members said: “Simply put, we cannot claim to be taking climate change seriously if our budget fails to invest in essential DOI climate mitigation and resiliency programs.”

In an Aug. 24 memo from House Natural Resources Committee staff, members were told the panel would propose spending $5.5 billion to $6 billion more than the $25.6 billion it was allocated in its instructions for its portion of the budget reconciliation bill.

The memo also included a list of 26 "revenue raisers" to offset the additional spending, though it attached no dollar figures to them. They include a fee on carbon pollution, fees for pipeline owners, royalties for methane emissions and royalties for the mining of hard rock minerals, like gold, copper and silver.

Projects and programs targeted by the spending plan would include funding for tribal land in Arizona where a copper mining project has placed ceremonial land at risk, nearly $10 billion for ocean and coastal restoration, bans on offshore and Arctic drilling and money for dozens of other programs, according to the memo.

The letter comes as about 99 percent of the American West is in drought, wildfire seasons have grown longer than they were decades ago and scientists warn of what is called the Sixth Mass Extinction of plant and animal species due to the impact of humans on Earth.

Forty-seven percent of the country is in drought, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in mid-August, prompting the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on Aug. 16 to declare the first-ever federal water shortage for the Colorado River, a decision that will cut back the amount of water available for two states and Mexico.

The House members called for more funding for environmental justice, tribal water rights, drought mitigation, wildfire, public lands, biodiversity, ecosystem restoration, urban parks, permitting and U.S. territories.

“The abovementioned DOI investments are urgently needed climate adaptation and response measures,” the lawmakers wrote.

Several committee chairmen signed the letter, including Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., of the Natural Resources Committee, and Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, D-Ore., of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Pelosi has said House committees would finish marking up their respective portions of the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package by Sept. 15.