On Wednesday, the Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke appeared before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies in a hearing focusing on the Department of the Interior’s (DOI’s) FY18 budget proposal.
Secretary Zinke was met with skepticism from both sides of the isle on the efficacy of the budget’s proposed cuts to several DOI programs, including: the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), and Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT). He justified program cuts with the drop in yearly federal revenues from offshore drilling royalties. When pressed, Secretary Zinke repeated earlier testimony, calling the budget a “starting point,” hinting at his willingness to work with committee members to potentially fund these programs at higher levels.
The wisdom of staying provisions of the Bureau of Land Management’s Methane rule was brought into question during the hearing. The rule prevents oil and gas companies from wasting methane when drilling on federal lands. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) called the rule a “common sense measure.” TCS agrees.
Senators also inquired about the status of much-needed reforms to DOI leasing practices including ensuring a fair return for taxpayers. Zinke conceded that the timing and overall processes for permitting and leasing in his department lack transparency. The Secretary assured Senators that current practices will be reviewed by a newly-formed Revenue Advisory Committee and promised greater transparency under his leadership. TCS applauds Zinke’s efforts to reform outdated leasing practices and hopes the Advisory Committee’s findings lead to fair returns for taxpayers.