House approves Interior spending bill
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JUNE 22, 2001

Rejecting a number of President Bush's energy goals, the House of Representatives on Thursday approved an $18.9 billion Department of Interior spending bill that includes increases for Indian Country above the administration's original request.

Debate on the floor was heated and unruly at times as Democrat members led the charge against oil and gas development of federal lands. Although the amendments they offered were opposed by Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Joe Skeen (R-N.M.), the sponsor of the fiscal year 2002 appropriations bill, the Republican-led chamber easily approved the two most contested measures.

One amendment temporarily delays oil and gas drilling in an area of the Gulf of Mexico known as Section 181. Over the objections of Florida Governor Jeb Bush (R), Bush's older brother, Interior Secretary Gale Norton wants to proceed with the sale of leases but would be prohibited from doing so until April 1, 2002.

Offered by Reps. Jim Davis (D-Fla.) and Joe Scarborough (R-Fla.), the amendment passed 247 to 164. Lawmakers from other states on the Gulf of Mexico, including Alabama and Louisiana, spoke against the amendment, claiming the 6 million-acre area could help fulfill the nation's growing energy needs.

Davis disputed the claim, saying that the the area would provide "no more than 21 days worth of oil" at the expense of his state's natural treasures. By Interior estimates, Section 181 contains about 400 million barrels of oil.

A separate bill, H.R.1631, being offered by the Florida delegation would ban drilling permanently.

Preventing drilling in national monuments was the goal of another amendment submitted by Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), the ranking member on the House Resources Committee. Norton has asked local and tribal leaders throughout the country to identify changes to the use of land in national monuments declared in the last two years of the Clinton administration.

Additionally, the US Geological Survey -- at the request of Republicans -- has identified potential energy reserves in five of those monuments. Approved 242 to 173, Rahall's amendment would stem off development in any of them except beyond what has already been approved.

Rahall has introduced a separate bill, H.R.2085, to ban development in the Valley of the Chiefs, a site in Montana considered sacred to a number of tribes. The Bureau of Land Management has control over the land.

A third amendment, requested by Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), would prevent Norton from changing the "3809" hard-rock mining regulations that went into effect on the last day of the Clinton administration. It passed by a vote of 216 to 194.

The final bill, H.R. 2217, was approved 376 to 32. It includes less contentious increases to Indian Country spending above Bush's April request.

An additional $10.3 million would be spent overall on the Bureau of Indian Affairs budget. Tribal priority allocations -- funds tribes use for critical daily operations -- would receive $753.8 million, $3.3 million above the Bush request.

The House bill, however, doesn't add to the Bush request for tribal school construction. A number of Senators, including Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), are hoping to beef up $292.3 million in funds to repair crumbling Indian schools.

The bill now goes on to the Senate for consideration.

Get the Bill:
Making appropriations for the Department of the Interior and related agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2002, and for other purposes (H.R.2217)

Related Stories:
Shuffling of environmental funds criticized (6/21)
Norton denies politics played role in drilling (6/7)
Norton targets monuments for changes (3/29)
Environment: The GOP strikes back (3/21)
Bush vows change in lands attitude (3/14)
Drilling off Florida also hot issue (1/26)

More on the BIA Budget:
Campbell miffed with Bush over BIA schools (5/24)
BIA has small goal for big problem (5/22)
BIA proposal includes slight increases (4/10)
BIA / OST Budget Overview (4/10)