What Westerners Need to Know About the fiscal year 2015 Omnibus bill

The Interior and Environment portion of the Omnibus prioritizes funding to address the nation’s most important public lands issues, including fighting and preventing wildfires, maintaining our vast natural resources, and expanding domestic energy production. Overall, the legislation provides $30.4 billion for Interior and Environment programs. The bill also includes several policy provisions to help rein in harmful regulatory overreach by the Administration that ties businesses and industries in unnecessary, harmful, bureaucratic red tape and hinders economic growth.

The Energy and Water Subcommittee portion of the Omnibus provides $10.2 billion for energy programs within the Department of Energy (DOE) – a $22 million increase above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level – to support programs that encourage U.S. economic competitiveness and help advance the nation’s goal of an “all-of-the-above” solution to energy independence.

The Agriculture Appropriations bill included in the Omnibus prioritizes funding to support American farmers and ranchers – including agriculture production, promotion, research, and marketing programs. The investments will help build upon the record level of U.S. agricultural exports last year which support more than one million American jobs, and which are essential to the nation’s continued economic growth. The bill also funds important programs such as rural development, food and drug safety, and nutrition. In total, the bill provides $20.6 billion in discretionary funding – $305 million below the fiscal year 2014 enacted level – while cutting back lower-priority programs and rescinding unused funds.

These are some of the specific provisions that may be of interest to the members of the Western Caucus:

Interior and Environment

Wildfire Fighting and Prevention – In total, the bill provides $3.5 billion for wildfire fighting and prevention programs within the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service. This will address wildland fire suppression operations for the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service at the full 10-year average level. In addition, the bill provides $526 million for hazardous fuels reduction activities, which is $21 million above the President’s budget request.

The bill also provides a total of $65 million to acquire aircraft to enhance firefighting capacity, effectiveness, efficiency, and safety. This funding is essential to support the phase out of numerous antiquated aircraft.                   

Domestic Energy Production – The bill helps encourage domestic energy production to further the nation’s goal of energy independence and to reduce energy costs for consumers by:

            -Blocking Administration and Senate proposals to impose $48 million in new fees on onshore oil and gas producers;

            -Providing a $13 million increase for the Bureau of Land Management to improve onshore energy and minerals development; and

-Providing $150 million for the Office of Surface Mining, including $69 million in state grants to allow states to implement programs without increasing fees on the mining industry.

EPA - The bill cuts the EPA by $60 million below the fiscal year 2014 level, providing a total of $8.1 billion for the agency. Overall, EPA funding has been reduced by $2.2 billion – or 21% – since Republicans regained control of the House in 2010.  

            - The agreement rejects $66 million requested by the President for EPA regulatory programs.

            - Creates exemptions for livestock producers from onerous greenhouse gas regulations.

            -Establishes a provision requiring the Administration to report to Congress on federal agency obligations and expenditures on climate change programs.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) – The BLM is funded at $1.1 billion – $14 million above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level – to provide for the effective stewardship of the nation’s vast public lands. The legislation also seeks to protect American ranchers from regulations that increase costs and harm their livelihoods.

-The bill does not include Administration and Senate proposals to charge $6.5 million in new grazing fees on BLM and Forest Service lands, and provides $79 million for Range Management to continue to reduce the backlog of grazing permit applications.

- Directs the BLM and Forest Service to make vacant grazing allotments available to a holder of a grazing permit or lease when lands covered by the holder of the permit or lease are unusable because of drought or wildfire.

- Continues funding to reduce grazing permit backlogs.

U.S. Forest Service – The bill provides $5.1 billion for the Forest Service – which includes full funding for wildfire prevention and suppression. The legislation also includes a provision requiring the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service to report on non-emergency closures of public lands to hunting, fishing, shooting, and other recreational activities.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) – The FWS is funded at $1.4 billion, $12 million above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level. Within the total, the bill provides: $1 million to compensate ranchers for livestock killed by wolves; $2 million to stop the spread of invasive quagga and zebra mussels in the West; and $5.5 million to stop the spread of Asian carp into the Great Lakes. The legislation also continues funding for effective state wildlife grant programs, and includes funding and a directive to ensure national fish hatcheries remain open and at full production.

-Sage-Grouse – To stop actions by the Fish and Wildlife Service that would have severe economic consequences on Western states and the nation’s efforts to become energy independent, the bill prohibits funding for the Service to issue further rules to place sage-grouse on the Endangered Species List. The bill also includes $15 million within the BLM to conserve sage-grouse habitat to continue efforts to protect the species and its natural environment for the future.

Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) – The bill includes $372 million for PILT, a program that provides funds to local governments to help offset losses in property taxes due to nontaxable federal lands within their jurisdictions. When combined with the PILT funding authorized in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014, the total for PILT in the next year is the full amount of $442 million.

Energy & Water

Army Corps of Engineers – The Army Corps of Engineers is funded at $5.5 billion, an increase of $15 million above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level.

The bill prioritizes funding for navigation and flood control to advance public safety, boost U.S. export ability, create jobs, and help ensure our waterways stay open for business. Within the total, the bill provides:

- $2.3 billion for navigation projects and studies.

- $281 million – including the full amount of anticipated revenues into the Inland Waterways Trust Fund – for construction and rehabilitation of the nation’s inland waterways infrastructure.

Energy Programs – The bill provides $10.2 billion for energy programs within the Department of Energy (DOE) – a $22 million increase above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level – to support programs that encourage U.S. economic competitiveness and help advance the nation’s goal of an “all-of-the-above” solution to energy independence. This includes:

- $571 million for research and development to advance coal, natural gas, oil, and other fossil energy technologies – an increase of $8.9 million (1.5%) above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level and $95.5 million (20%) above the President’s request – to help the country make better use of our domestic resources and reduce energy costs.

- $1.9 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs – placing priority on advanced manufacturing and weatherization assistance. This funding is targeted to effective and proven programs, while holding the line on spending in other areas. This total is $380 million – or 16% – below the President’s request.

Department of the Interior – The legislation contains $1.1 billion – $27 million above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level – for the Department of the Interior, including the Bureau of Reclamation. This funding will help manage, develop, and protect the water resources of Western states.

CWA – The legislation includes a provision restricting the application of the Clean Water Act in certain agricultural areas, including farm ponds and irrigation ditches.

Agriculture

Agricultural Research – The bill provides $2.7 billion for agriculture research programs, including the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Funding is targeted to help stop and mitigate devastating crop diseases, improve food safety and water quality, and help address issues related to drought, invasive species, and herbicide resistance.

Farm Service Agency (FSA) – The legislation provides $1.5 billion for FSA, which is $22 million above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level and $66 million above the President’s request. This funding will support more than $6 billion in loan authorizations for farm, conservation, and emergency loan programs for American farmers and ranchers.

Rural Development – The bill provides a total of $2.4 billion for rural development programs, which is $173 million above the President’s request. These development programs help create an environment for economic growth by investing in basic infrastructure, providing loans for rural businesses and industries, and helping to balance the playing field for buyers in rural housing markets.

Food Safety and Inspection - Restricts the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) from implementing certain regulations that would allow harmful government interference in the private market for the livestock and poultry industry.

Conservation Programs – The bill provides $859 million for the Natural Resources Conservation Service to help farmers, ranchers, and private forest landowners conserve and protect their land. This includes $12 million for dam rehabilitation to help rural communities ensure their small watershed projects meet current safety standards.

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