The Proposed Budget Would See Huge Reductions in Funding for the Department of the Interior
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke defended the $1.6-billion’s worth of cuts to the department during a Senate hearing despite challenges that parks may fall into disarray and jobs would be lost due to the reduction.
National parks across the country would lose $400.0 million in fiscal 2018, which Democrats on the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources said would lead to staff cuts at 90% of them. On top of these proposed budget slashes, the Bureau of Indian Affairs would lose $370.0 million, which would impact education and assistance programs. A further $163.0 million would be stripped from the U.S. Geological Survey.
Republicans supported the proposal by President Donald Trump to have the publicly owned land once more be opened up for investment in energy exploration. This is particularly controversial in the Arctic, where oil and gas exploration would be reauthorized after the Obama administration had shut it down.
Republicans were quick to point out that they believe that potentially billions of dollars could be reaped from energy investment on public land, and this could lead to more jobs and economic stimulation in the areas surrounding the parks.
Zinke referenced that the Department of the Interior made $18.0 billion in offshore revenue in 2008. While that figure fell to $2.6 billion in 2016, the Interior secretary did not address the massive reduction in oil prices over that time that account for some of the drop-off in revenue. He did, however, say that the money could be repurposed to maintain and repair parks, offsetting some of the budget reductions.
One of the more heated exchanges during the Senate hearing came when the cuts made to Indian Affairs were discussed, with a focus on the $23.0-million decrease for the Bureau of Indian Education drawing criticism from Democrats alongside the millions of dollars’ worth of reductions made to social services and financial assistance programs.
This, coming at a time when several major proposals from Trump have been pushed to the Senate, including the budget proposal and healthcare reform, both of which are facing stiff opposition from Democrats over the wide breadth of cuts and reductions.
But it may all be in vain. With the Senate controlled by Republicans, Democrats have been shut out from meetings discussing the healthcare reform bill. They are also unable to question departments directly as new orders from the White House state that they are only to address committee chairpersons, all of whom are Republican.
“Zinke defends huge job cuts at Interior: ‘This is what a balanced budget looks like.’,” The Washington Post, June 21, 2017.