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Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today held a hearing on the Administration’s Fiscal Year 2009 budget request for the Department of the Interior. Senator Feinstein is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies.

During the hearing, Chairman Feinstein touched on the following topics: the elimination of rural fire grants, abandoned mine clean up on federal lands, oil and natural gas royalties, the restoration of the San Joaquin/Sacramento Delta, managerial problems with the U.S. Park Police, and the collapse of the Klamath and Sacramento salmon runs.

Following is the prepared text of Chairman Feinstein’s opening remarks:

“Good morning ladies and gentlemen and welcome to this budget oversight hearing on the fiscal year 2009 budget request for the Department of the Interior.

Testifying on behalf of the administration this morning is Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne.  Mr. Secretary, we’re pleased to have you with us.

Joining the Secretary is Jim Cason, the department’s Associate Deputy Secretary, and Pam Haze, the director of the Office of Budget.  Welcome to both of you, too.

Before we begin, I just want to take a moment and offer a special thanks to Secretary Kempthorne.

Mr. Secretary, with a change in administration set for next year, this will most likely be your last appearance before our subcommittee.  As the subcommittee chairman, I know I speak for all my colleagues when I say that we deeply appreciate the degree of dedication you have brought to your job, and the level of cooperation you’ve extended to us and our staff.  You exemplify public service and we sincerely wish you all the best in your future endeavors.

Turning now to your budget, I first want to commend you for retaining some of the programmatic increases the Congress provided in the 2008 bill.  The extra funding for park operations, for refuge operations, for refuge maintenance, and for law enforcement on Indian lands were all critically important and will make a real difference in the field.

But despite those successes, this proposal leaves us having to fill more than a few holes.

All in all, the department’s 2009 request is a reduction of $189 million, or 2 percent, from the current 2008 level.  The real cut, however, is much larger when you factor in the $165 million in fixed cost increases that have to be covered, and the additional $45 million needed to meet the 10-year average for fire suppression.  Take those costs into account, and the request more realistically represents a programmatic reduction of nearly $400 million, or 4 percent, below the 2008 level.

To be fair, there are two sizable increases.  The budget includes, for example, an extra $160 million for park operations and an additional $45 million for fire suppression.  But those increases are offset by some pretty hefty cuts.  Consider, for example, the following:

  • Construction at parks, refuges, Indian schools: cut $99 mil (-21 percent)
  • Land acquisition at parks and refuges: cut $51 mil (-59 percent)
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs, overall: cut $100 mil (-4 percent)
  • Payment in Lieu of Taxes: cut $34 mil (-15 percent)
  • State & local historic preservation projects: cut $25 mil (-19 percent)
  • State land acquisition grants: cut $25 mil (-100 percent)
  • U.S. Geological Survey water & mineral programs: cut $38 mil (-4 percent)

Mr. Secretary, as I look at the department’s budget, it seems clear to me that many of these cuts are the result of arbitrary decision making at the Office of Management and Budget.

Given the size of the backlog maintenance problem among Interior’s bureaus, for example, there’s simply no way to justify a 21 percent reduction in the construction program.  Or a $100 million cut at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  BIA may be a lot of things, but overfunded it’s not.

And, so, I suspect that as we begin drafting the 2009 appropriations bill, the Members of this subcommittee will largely be in agreement that many of the proposed reductions are simply untenable and will need to be fixed.

Mr. Secretary, I look forward to hearing your testimony, but before that I would like to turn to my distinguished Ranking Member, Senator Allard, for any opening comments he may wish to make.”