USA– President Obamas 2017 budget proposal released Tuesday includes an impressive array of initiatives of particular importance to the West, from preventing and fighting wildfires to battling the drought to restoring national parks.
The question: Will Obamas final budget plan being offered in a presidential election year have any impact?
Reaction to the Democratic presidents budget from Republicans was negative. The Senate Budget Committee took what Democrats on the committee said was the unprecedented step of not even holding a hearing on Obamas proposal for the budget year that begins Oct. 1. On the other hand, some of the presidents ideas on Western issues already have bipartisan support.
Here is a look at some of the Western issues in Obamas budget proposal:
Drought relief: The budget calls for a continuation of the administrations two-pronged effort to make more efficient use of existing water supplies and to invest in new water supply technology. Included are:
$98.6 million for the Interior Departments WaterSmart program that promotes water conservation. $88 million for the National Science Foundation to support research to increase the water supply and the quality of water. $28.6 million for the Bureau of Reclamation for research and development including a challenge prize for water-treatment technologies. $25 million for the Energy Department for a water desalination research hub. $15 million in the Agriculture Department to support research on agricultural practices that conserve water.
Wildfire management: The budget proposes changing the mechanism for funding wildfire suppression. Base funding is equal to 70 percent of the 10-year average of the cost of fighting wildfires. An additional $290 million is included to cover severe fires. The additional funds are expected to prevent federal agencies involved in fighting wildfires from having to transfer, or borrow, money from other parts of their budgets including funds used to clean out underbrush in forests and thereby reduce the risk and severity of fires.
Similar approaches have received bipartisan support in the House and Senate.
Land and Water Conservation Fund: Obama would permanently authorize and fully fund the program that uses offshore oil and gas royalty payments to buy park and forest land and to fund local recreation projects. Last Decembers budget legislation reauthorized the fund for three years and appropriated $450 million. The fund has provided $17 billion through its 50-year lifetime to pay for more than 40,000 local recreation projects and to buy about 5 million acres of public lands, mostly in the West.
The budget calls for spending $900 million a year from the fund, beginning in 2018.
This proposal would appear to have little chance of advancing, mostly because Republican Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, has demanded reforms in the program and blocked previous efforts to make it permanent.
National parks restoration:This is the centennial of the National Park Service, and the budget includes $860 million for rehabilitation projects at the parks (not including transportation projects.) There was a $12 billion backlog in maintenance at the parks at the end of the last fiscal year, Sept. 30, with about half that being work needed on roads and bridges inside the parks. The budget also includes $135 million for a Centennial Challenge program to provide matching funds for private donations to the parks. A record 305 million Americans visited National Parks last year, Interior Department Secretary Sally Jewell said during a conference call on the budget.