Senate passes Interior spending bill
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FRIDAY, JULY 13, 2001

Rejecting a ban on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico but supporting endangered species protections in Oregon, the Senate on Thursday approved an $18.7 billion Department of Interior spending bill that includes increases for Indian Country above the Bush administration's original request.

By a vote of 67 to 33, the Senate rejected an amendment sponsored by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) that would have temporarily oil and gas drilling in the Gulf. The House last month passed a similar measure, a difference which will have to be worked out later.

Having caved in to political pressure to limit oil and gas development, Secretary Gale Norton hailed the vote as a "bipartisan compromise" on environmentally responsible energy production. All 49 Republicans were joined by 18 Democrats, including Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), the chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

"This is a victory for all Americans who desire environmentally responsible energy production and stable energy prices at the gas pump and in their home-heating bills," she said.

After facing opposition from Florida lawmakers and Governor Jeb Bush (R), the President's older brother, Norton last week scaled development. Instead of the 5.9 million acres eyed by the administration, only 1.5 million acres in Section 181 of the Gulf will proceed after a six-month comment period.

Although the Interior has confirmed no plans to do so, the bill passed yesterday includes a ban on new drilling in the national monuments declared by President Clinton during the last two years of his term. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) was responsible for the amendment approved on Wednesday and a similar measure cleared the House last month.

A contested Bureau of Reclamation decision to limit water to about 1,400 farmers in Oregon survived yesterday's debate. Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) introduced an amendment to lower the water level of Upper Klamath Lake on the Oregon-California border, thereby restoring flows to the farmers.

But members narrowly voted 52 to 48 against the proposal, upholding protections of the endangered suckerfish and the threatened coho salmon. The Klamath Tribes consider the fish important to their culture.

The final spending bill, H.R. 2217, was approved by a voice vote. It includes an increase of $23.8 million in Indian Country spending above the Bush administration request.

Increases approved include:
  • An additional $5.3 million for tribal priority allocations (TPA), most of which will go to trust reform.
  • An additional $500,000 for the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, which promotes authentic Indian art.
  • An additional $1.4 million for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe's prairie management program.
  • An additional $1 million for tribal colleges, including a slight increase in funds for the Institute of American Indian Arts in New Mexico.
The House version included $10.3 million above the Bush request. The difference would have to be resolved by a joint committee.

Neither version increases significantly the Bush request to repair crumbling tribal schools. The House and Senate each approved $292.5 million for education construction.

Norton will visit the Tiospa Zina Tribal School in South Dakota next week in preparation for future fiscal year spending.

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:
Bush drilling back on agenda (7/12)
Senate bans national monument drilling (7/12)
Energy proposals before House (7/11)
Interior scales back Gulf of Mexico drilling (7/6)
House bans Great Lakes drilling (6/29)
Ban on Great Lakes drilling sought (6/28)
House approves Interior spending bill (6/22)