Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy Statement On The FY 19 Funding Request For The U.S. Department Of The Interior

Thank you, Chairman Murkowski and Ranking Member Udall.  Secretary Zinke, we expressed our concerns to you last year when the President proposed to eliminate or reduce critical programs in the FY18 budget.  You reportedly said to your own staff that you were “not happy” about the budget proposed by the White House, which proposed a 12 percent overall cut to the Interior Department.  Now, you are in charge and have requested a 19 percent reduction compared to the FY18 enacted level, taking an axe to many of the same core environmental protection, conservation, land management, and tribal programs that the administration tried – and failed – to cut or eliminate last year.

This budget would starve the Department of its ability to enforce environmental safeguards, protect wildlife, and manage our cherished public lands. It would do all this while at the same time opening more public lands and waters to mineral and fossil fuel extraction. Further, the administration continues proposing billions of dollars for a border wall to be built without complying with our nation’s bedrock environmental laws.

Our unique system of public lands was created so that all Americans, from all walks of life, rich and poor, young and old, from Alaska to Vermont and everywhere in between, may enjoy the outdoors and the benefits of our public lands.  These lands provide public health benefits, recreation opportunities, ecosystem preservation, and jobs.

Yet your budget would abandon the Land and Water Conservation Fund and Congress’ promise to the American people.  For more than 50 years, the LWCF has been an important funding source for state and local outdoor recreation facilities, city parks that serve as critical green infrastructure, and acquisition of public forests, wildlife refuges, and park lands.  Vermont – like every state – has benefitted from LWCF investments, but we still have much more to do.  We need to protect scenic vistas along the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and Vermont’s Long Trail.  We need to create and expand community parks, develop recreation facilities, and implement locally-supported recreation plans.

I also have concerns that your department may be delaying the obligation of LWCF funding, given the administration’s lack of support, even though Congress appropriated funds. Your first quarter report shows more than $133 million in prior years’ unobligated balances in LWCF line-item projects.  It troubles me to think that such delays could harm our ability to safeguard natural areas threatened by development, seeing them auctioned off to the highest bidder instead.

As Vice Chairman, I feel strongly that this Committee is where we define who we are as country and make the priorities of a nation a reality for the people. I look forward to working closely with Chairman Shelby, as well as the Chair and Ranking Member of this Subcommittee, to ensure that your Department executes those appropriations as Congress intended and directed.

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Contact: Jay Tilton –202-224-2667