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U.S. Interior secretary to promote big spending jump for tribal, climate programs

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland will ask a U.S. House spending panel to increase funding for the department's tribal programs and climate resilience efforts, according to written testimony released ahead of a hearing scheduled for Thursday.

The administration's budget request for fiscal 2023 would significantly increase spending for the Interior Department. Its agencies oversee onshore oil and gas drilling, tribal assistance, national parks and wildlife policy, and manage public lands accounting for 10% of acreage across the country.

Haaland's written testimony to the House Appropriations Energy-Environment Subcommittee was published on a House website ahead of the hearing.

The budget "sets ambitious goals, but they are achievable," Haaland's written testimony to the committee reads. "Working together, we have the opportunity to invest now to strengthen our Nation for all Americans, protect our environment, and ensure our future generations continue to not only enjoy, but improve our way of life..

Haaland is scheduled to appear before the panel Thursday. Her opening statement will likely be shortened from the written version. Members of the panel will be able to question her.

Though President Joe Biden released a budget request last month, Congress has the sole authority to write spending bills. Cabinet officials typically appear on Capitol Hill to defend the spending request as part of the process.

Biden's request included a 19% increase for Interior — nearly four times the 5% boost for all domestic discretionary spending. Haaland's written testimony summarizes some of the largest line items in the proposal.

At several points in the testimony, Haaland characterizes the fiscal 2023 request as a supplement to the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law that included billions for Interior programs to clean up abandoned mines, reduce wildfire risk and build water infrastructure.

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Her remarks call for a passing 2023 funding bill that "complements this investment."

Tribal programs

Biden's fiscal 2023 request includes a significant boost for several funding sources for tribes.

Haaland, who is the first Native American person to serve in a Cabinet, wrote that it was "deeply meaningful" for her to promote the budget blueprint, including the request for tribal programs.

The administration proposed increasing spending on Indian Affairs programs by nearly 25% to $4.5 billion, a sum Haaland called "unprecedented." The request would prioritize sovereignty and advance equity and opportunity for tribal communities, Haaland said.

The infrastructure law provides $2.5 billion to help deliver water resources to tribes. That spending is included in the request, as is another $340 million over 10 years to support the operation and maintenance of that effort.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs would receive $2.8 billion, an increase of more than $500 million from fiscal 2022. A major piece of that funding would go toward operating costs for tribal self-governance of federal programs.

Bureau of Indian Education funding would go from $1.3 billion in fiscal 2022 to $1.6 billion under the Biden request. Construction money for tribal schools would see a nearly 60% increase to $420 million.

Climate priorities

Haaland will ask for funding to help transition to renewable energy and take other steps to mitigate climate change, while also highlighting the need to adapt to a certain amount of climate change that is already unavoidable.

"Worsening drought, increased weather risks, more extreme wildfires, profound threats to wildlife habitats, warming water temperatures, and new threats from invasive species are among the tangible challenges land and resource managers face right now," her testimony reads.

The request includes $1.4 billion for Bureau of Reclamation water projects to deal with droughts that are expected to worsen in coming years. That funding would build on $8.3 billion in the infrastructure law.

A separate Appropriations panel, the Energy-Water Subcommittee, is responsible for that part of the department's funding.

The request also includes $1.2 billion for wildfire management, an increase of nearly $175 million over the fiscal 2022 level.

The request would also target climate resilience spending for tribal communities. The administration has asked for $61 million for a tribal climate resilience program, nearly double the $32 million enacted for the current fiscal year.

The request includes funding across several Interior agencies for restoration and conservation.

"Healthier lands are more resilient to the effects of the changing climate, and investments that are made now will help ensure the unique and spectacular lands and resources Interior manages endure for future generations," the testimony says.

The department also continues to work on its initiative to protect 30% of lands and waters by the end of the decade. Haaland's testimony does not mention specific funding for the program.

Interior support of jobs 

The Interior department supported an estimated 1.9 million jobs in 2019, according to Haaland's testimony.

Those jobs were mainly driven by the department's energy programs.

The 2023 request includes extra funding to spur job creation from money in the infrastructure law and the Great American Outdoors Act, a 2020 law that provided permanent funding for public lands infrastructure, Haaland said.

The administration's request aims to grow renewable energy sources, but spending on wind and solar is still dwarfed by oil and gas programs.

The request would provide about $101 million for renewable energy programs for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Land Management programs. It would also send $11 million to the BLM to plan renewable energy projects on public lands.

Meanwhile, the request calls for $477 million for oil and gas programs, 13% more than the same programs received in 2022.

The administration's climate and conservation programs will also create jobs, Haaland says, including in a Civilian Climate Corps and through new jobs in clean energy.

Still, Interior plays a role "in balancing conservation and development," Haaland will tell the committee.

The budget request includes money to speed permitting for clean energy infrastructure and for a Fish and Wildlife Service program to support development that protects migratory birds.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.


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Interior Dep't

Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland speaks on the opening day of the White House Tribal Nations Summit on Nov. 15, 2021.