Cantwell Questions Interior Secretary Zinke on Baseless and Dangerous Budget Cuts

Cantwell Demands Answers on the Department’s Decision to Suspend Parts of the Methane Rule

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) questioned the Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke on the President’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget request. Sen. Cantwell raised concerns over budget cuts that will limit access to public lands, threaten conservation efforts, and abdicate commitments to tribes. 

During Secretary Zinke’s confirmation hearing he stated that providing frontline professionals with the tools and resources they need was one of his top priorities. Sen. Cantwell questioned how a proposed $378 million cut to the National Park Service budget would accomplish that priority. “Just one year after the National Park Centennial, this budget would cut almost $400 million from the Park Service budget. It would result in cutting more than 1,000 full-time employees,” said Sen. Cantwell. “And according to the Department’s own math, “nearly 90 percent of parks would reduce their current staffing levels, leading to the reduction of services to the public.”’ 

The National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey and Bureau of Land Management would all see major budget cuts under the Trump Administration’s budget. Sen. Cantwell asked Secretary Zinke how the Administration justifies proposed cuts to funding for programs that could save lives, while increasing funding and using taxpayer dollars for corporate giveaways to the oil and gas industry. “The Administration’s war on science is also on full display. The U.S. Geological Survey would be cut by 15%, $163 million. We’re talking about water and climate science; we’re also talking about USGS work on natural hazards, including a number of earthquake and volcano early warning systems vital to the public,” said Sen. Cantwell. 

The proposed budget zeroes out nearly $4 million in funding for volcano monitoring and an Early Warning System that would improve monitoring of high-threat volcanoes in the Cascades and help protect nearly 80,000 Washingtonians living within the lahar hazard zone of Mt. Rainier.  

The budget also zeroes out over $9.5 million in funding for earthquake monitoring and an Early Warning System that would help protect cities and communities across the West Coast from a catastrophic earthquake disaster.  

Sen. Cantwell noted that the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund appropriations would also see devastating cuts. “Secretary Zinke’s proposal also uses a budget gimmick to try to obscure the fact it’s cutting the Land and Water Conservation Program by 85 percent, $61 million down from $400 million. This is our nation’s most successful land conservation program, which 85 Senators voted to make permanent just last year,” said Senator Cantwell. “Suffice it to say, this budget would pump the brakes on the booming outdoor recreation economy—all in favor of industries that have had trouble competing in today’s marketplace.”

During the question and answer period Sen. Cantwell said, “Mr. Secretary, I find the budget so focused on the oil and natural gas aspect of revenue that I think you are neglecting the fact that the outdoor economy generates $887 billion dollars a year, $65 billion in federal revenue, $59 billion in state and local revenue, so that’s $124 billion dollars to the government. So that versus the $2 billion you’re talking about or $18 billion depending on price fluctuations for oil and gas. I want to make sure we are putting pedal to the metal as it relates to the outdoor economy and the opportunities — that is what is going to generate a lot more revenue for us as a government." 

Sen. Cantwell in her opening statement noted that the Bureau of Indian Affairs funding would also be significantly reduced. “Secretary Zinke’s proposal would cut another 11 percent, $371 million, from the already woefully underfunded Bureau of Indian Affairs,” said Sen. Cantwell. “These cuts would significantly reduce funding for tribal education programs and social services.  This is unacceptable, and is a betrayal of our trust responsibilities to tribes.”

During the hearing Sen. Cantwell raised the issue of the agency suspending parts of the methane rule. “Secretary Zinke, the administration is also attempting to unilaterally suspend rules that have already gone into effect—on the BLM methane rule. Last week, the Department announced its legally dubious decision to suspend the Methane and Waste Prevention Rule. This is a common-sense rule implements a 97-year-old requirement to prevent waste of federal natural gas,” said Sen. Cantwell.

“Many people understand here that my colleagues in the Senate just voted on this recently. But instead of following what the U.S. Senate has said should be done, the Department is trying to abandon hundreds of pages of new environmental analysis.”

Sen. Cantwell stressed her opposition to Secretary Zinke’s recommendation to make major changes to the protected status and conserved acreage of Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument. “It took the Trump Administration less than 100 days to launch its unprecedented war on 111 years of bipartisan land conservation—which began with President Roosevelt’s leadership. The most glaring example is the ongoing attacks on the Antiquities Act in general, and Bears Ears National Monument in particular,” said Sen. Cantwell.

“Trying to roll back Bears Ears is a waste—especially at a time when the Administration is proposing significant staff cutbacks. 

In my opinion, Secretary Zinke’s recent decision to propose “other” management designations for Bears Ears is an affront to the tribes of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition. These tribes have spent years working to protect those lands. I believe that any action by this Administration to undermine protection for Bears Ears or any other national monument is illegal.”

The video of Senator Cantwell’s opening statement can be found here. 

Witness testimony will be available online immediately before the start of each hearing at on committee website.