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Senate Oks Cuts For Interior Programs

The Senate voted Wednesday to cut spending for federal land management programs, Indian tribes, energy conservation and scientific research on natural resources.

The $12 billion spending bill for the Interior Department, about $1.5 billion less than this year, provides slightly more money for some programs than already approved by the House, but cut other programs - such as funds for Indian tribal governments - more severely.

Differences must now be reconciled between the two chambers.

Money for the Bureau of Indian Affairs was slashed by $258 million to $1.26 billion, although critics of the cuts said it would prevent tribal governments from providing basic services. An attempt by several Western senators to restore $200 million failed 36-61.

The overall bill was approved by a vote of 92-6.

The Senate then began debating a $36.2 billion measure financing transportation programs that trims spending by nearly $2 billion from last year’s levels, including reductions for mass transit, highways and airports. Lawmakers expect to complete the bill today.

The spending bill would cut money for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s endangered species program and ban the listing of new species for at least a year. The restrictions are less sweeping, however, than those imposed by the House, which prohibits even preliminary research into new species listings.

The Senate, like the House, refused to disrupt a seven-year moratorium on offshore oil drilling that covers most U.S. coastal waters outside of the western Gulf of Mexico.

But it voted to end a yearlong moratorium on the Interior Department selling mining rights on federal land under a controversial mining law enacted 124 years ago. Instead, the Senate directed Interior to expedite the processing of mining applications that already are in the pipeline.

The Senate provided $146 million more than approved by the House for the National Biological Service, an agency created within the Interior Department to consolidate scientific research. The House would dismember the agency and reduce funding for its scientific programs to $112 million.

The spending bill also would:

Provide an additional $26 million for logging on federal forests. The U.S. Forest Service is directed to increase its timber sales and is provided more money to build logging roads.

Freeze federal land purchases, including parks, and reduce spending for park construction. Some fees at some parks also would be increased.

Block implementation of proposed grazing policies by the Interior Department for 90 days, giving Congress time to pass its own grazing legislation that is more favorable to ranchers.

Tags: budget