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Environment & Energy Report

Murkowski Plans Speedy September Action on EPA-Interior Spending

July 26, 2019, 9:00 AM

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is about to pick up the pace on an environment and Interior Department funding bill next week, to ensure her spending panel is ready to take up the measure as soon as senators return in September from a monthlong recess.

Murkowski and other Senate appropriations subcommittee chairmen expect to receive their total allocations for fiscal 2020 bills the week of July 29.

The so-called 302(b) allocation is an overall spending figure provided to each subcommittee, each of which then divides the total dollar figure among various programs and agencies.

Appropriations staff have been readying the Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department spending bill, but they can only do so much without a total funding number, Murkowski told Bloomberg Environment.

With a number in hand next week, aides and senators would spend August drafting the legislation for quick consideration by Murkowski’s EPA-Interior spending subcommittee the week of Sept. 9—just as the Senate is scheduled to return from recess.

Rapid Process

Once the subcommittee approves the measure, it would then move to the full Senate Appropriations panel sometime later in September, she said.

If approved there, it would likely be packaged with other spending bills before being brought to the Senate floor, she said. But a Senate-passed measure would still have to be reconciled with the House’s version.

Current-year spending runs out Sept. 30. That makes it likely Congress won’t be able to move all 12 of the spending measures in such a short period and will have to resort to covering at least some federal spending using a short-term continuing resolution, Murkowski said.

“It’s going to be really compressed,” she said of the September schedule.

The Alaska Republican said her goal is probably the same as that of the other Appropriations subcommittee chairmen in charge of the 12 annual spending bills: make sure the bill isn’t ignored in September.

Those measures that fall short will likely need to be have their programs funded at least temporarily through a continuing resolution to give Congress additional time to complete all of the fiscal 2020 spending bills. A funding extension in a continuing resolution typically extends current funding levels.

“Do we really believe that we are going to be able to process all 12 appropriations bills out of the Senate, conference with the House and get them to the president for signature by the end of the fiscal year?” Murkowski said. “That’s a pretty tall order, and I think we all recognize that.”

Lagging Behind

Senate progress on the EPA-Interior and other spending measures has lagged behind the House, which passed its fiscal 2020 EPA-Interior bill in June (H.R. 3055), which would give EPA a near-record budget of $9.5 billion—$3.4 billion above Trump’s request—in fiscal 2020.

Senate efforts were slowed by negotiations on budget caps and lifting the debt ceiling, but a deal struck July 22 between the White House and House and Senate leaders essentially gives the green light for Senate appropriators to start work in earnest.

The Senate is scheduled to depart Aug. 2, but Murkowski and other senators say it’s possible they could wrap up by midweek and leave town as early as July 31, if the Senate has cleared the budget cap and debt-ceiling legislation by then. The House passed the measure July 25.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at dscott@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Chuck McCutcheon at cmccutcheon@bloombergenvironment.com; Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloombergenvironment.com