On June 6, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee approved its FY 2019 Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations bill on a 25 to 20 vote. The bill funds the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), among other key programs and federal agencies that support and protect the nation’s natural resources. Overall, the bill would provide roughly $35.3 billion in appropriations, equal to FY 2018 enacted levels. The package also includes various policy measures aimed at reducing regulations from EPA and other agencies.
Of particular importance to counties, the following programs and agencies are funded thorugh the bill:
- PILT: DOI’s Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) Program, which reimburses counties for forgone property tax revenue due to the presence of tax-exempt federal lands within their jurisdictions, would be funded at $500 million for FY 2019. The allocated amount is $35 million above the president’s FY 2019 budget request, but $30 million below FY 2018 enacted funding levels. This reduction occurs because prior-year SRS payments will be deducted under the PILT formula now that SRS has been reauthorized. The reduced funding level will bring funding for FY 2019 in line with previous fiscal years. Because local governments are unable to levy taxes on federal lands, PILT payments are critical for supporting essential local government services.
- EPA: EPA would be funded at $8 billion under the appropriations package, representing an overall decrease of $100 million from FY 2018 and a reduction of $228 million to EPA’s regulatory programs. The bill includes language that would fund the EPA’s Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Funds at $2.6 billion and the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program at $75 million. As major owners, operators and users of local water resources and infrastructure, counties often utilize these programs to build and maintain key water infrastructure projects. The bill also includes $80 million for brownfield grants and $1.12 billion for cleaning up contaminated sites. Additionally, the bill would fully repeal the “Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS)” regulation, which was originally finalized in 2015. The 2015 WOTUS rule has been fraught with legal challenges and is currently undergoing revisions at EPA following an executive order by the president in late 2017 directing the agency to review and either rescind or rewrite the rule. As co-regulators and regulated entities under the Clean Water Act, counties have called on EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to rewrite the 2015 WOTUS rule in a way that is inclusive of their state and local government partners.
- U.S. Forest Service: The U.S. Forest Service would be funded at $6.1 billion under this package, $3 billion of which would be allocated to fire suppression and prevention. Including these funds, the Interior and Environment Appropriations measure would provide $3.9 billion for wildland firefighting and prevention activities, fully funding the 10-year average for DOI and Forest Service wildfire suppression costs. Further, $500 million is included specifically for Forest Service suppression operations, while $655 million would be provided for hazardous fuels management, an increase of $30 million above FY 2018 levels.
- BLM: The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) would receive $1.4 billion in the appropriations package, an increase of $55 million over FY 2018. This funding includes $60 million for sage grouse conservation efforts and a $6.2 million increase in funding to promote energy and mineral development on BLM lands. Language is also included that would prevent the listing of the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act.
- NPS: The National Park Service (NPS) would be funded at $3.25 billion, an increase of $53 million over FY 2018. The bill includes an increase of $175 million to address deferred maintenance on NPS lands. Of this increase, $40 million would be directed toward maintenance, repair and rehabilitation projects, while $135 million would be used for deferred maintenance of NPS facilities.
- LWCF: Additionally, the bill would provide $360 million for Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) programs. State and local recreation and battlefield preservation programs would be prioritized under the bill, with 62 percent of this funding directed to NPS State Assistance, Forest Legacy, American Battlefield Protection and Highlands Conservation Act programs.
On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate has also started working on its FY 2019 Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies is scheduled to markup the bill on June 12 with a full committee markup scheduled for June 14.
NACo continues to engage with House and Senate appropriators on Interior and Environment Appropriations and will continue to work with Congress and the administration as the appropriations process moves forward to ensure final measures reflect the needs and priorities of America’s counties.