(ENS) WASHINGTON, D.C. --
U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee approved a
$13.9 billion fiscal year 2000 budget for the Department of the Interior (DOI) on Thursday June 24, increasing
funding for some departments but also passing several environmentally unfriendly riders.
Rider 329 would provide the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior with broad discretion to choose whether to collect new information about wildlife on the National Forest System or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands before changing resource management plans, issuing leases, or authorizing other management.
The amendment would overturn a February 18 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit that the Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia had violated federal law by not maintaining population data on management indicator species or sensitive species as required under its own forest management plan.
The conservation group American Lands warns the U.S. Forest Service could use the language of section 329 to undercut the implementation of the Northwest Forest Plan and move away from science based forest management.
"This bill harkens back to the dark days of the Salvage Logging Rider by suspending key requirements of the National Forest Management Act intended for protecting wildlife," said Steve Holmer, campaign coordinator for American Lands. "This rider would overturn a recent court injunction halting logging in Georgia's Chattahoochee National Forest and could moot pending litigation to force the Forest Service to comply with the survey and manage requirements of the Northwest Forest Plan."
Rider 320 would impose a funding cap to halt the revision of any forest plans not already undergoing revision, except for 11 national forests legally mandated to have their plans completed during calendar year 2000. The revisions could not resume until final or interim final planning regulations are adopted.
Environmentalists fear this provision could put pressure on the Forest Service to hastily create new regulations without incorporating recommendations developed by an independent Committee of Scientists.
Rider 321 would halt funding to carry out strategic planning under the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act.
An amendment opposed by the White House would prevent the federal government from collecting millions of dollars in additional royalties for oil drilling on public lands. The Clinton administration estimates that the rider, which would extend an existing moratorium on collecting the royalties, would allow the oil industry to avoid paying $60 million in royalties.
Rider 117 would allow the BLM to reauthorize grazing permits without completing National Environmental Policy Act documents, Federal Land Policy Management Act analysis or Endangered Species Act requirements through fiscal year 1999 or until the Bureau completes assessments that are currently underway. This provision provides an escape clause for the BLM allowing the agency to delay court ordered analyses.
Another amendment overturns a 1997 decision by the DOI limiting the number of acres that mining mill sites are allowed for waste storage on federal lands. The 1872 mining law states that for every 20 acre mineral claim, mining companies are allowed only one five acre site for the processing or dumping of mine wastes. The rider lets mines that have already been approved and all grandfathered applications to use an unlimited amount of federal public land as a waste dump. This amendment had bipartisan support, and passed on a 16-9 vote.
Riders would also provide incentives for increased logging at Tongass National Forest in Alaska, prevent the reintroduction of grizzly bears in Idaho and Montana, and divert a roads and trails fund to "improve forest health conditions," which could include selective logging.
An amendment added to this funding bill by the committee blocks an order that President Bill Clinton issued earlier this month instructing federal agencies to curb their pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. It is the latest Republican effort to keep the White House from imposing policies that would reduce coal and oil use until the Senate ratifies the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The bill increases funding for the operation of the National Park System by $70 million, for a total budget of $1.35 billion.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service funding would increase by $26 million, for a total of $828 million, including $683 million for wildlife refuges. That total is 12 percent below White House requests for endangered species programs.
The BLM would get $33 million more, for a total of $1.22 billion. Forest Service funding would increase by $17 million to $2.68 billion, but forest research program funding would fall by 25 percent.
Funding for land acquisitions would increase slightly over the amount approved by the committee last year, but still fall $177 million below the fiscal year 2000 request level and $132 million below actual fiscal year 1999 amounts.
The bill excludes land grant programs requested in the budget proposed by the White House.
June 28, 1999 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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