RELEASE:

COCHRAN: SENATE FUNDING BILL ADDRESSES WOTUS, DELTA AQUIFER, FORESTRY

Senate Interior & Environment Appropriations Bill Reins in EPA Regulations, Funds Important Research and Conservation Initiatives

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, today reported that a committee-passed spending bill would help Mississippi overcome natural resource challenges, including the depletion of underground water supplies in the Delta.

Cochran on Thursday presided over committee approval of the FY2016 Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill. The bill would fund and place limitations on federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, that administer water, forestry and conservation activities in Mississippi. Approved on a 16-14 vote, the bill is now available for consideration by the Senate.

“Mississippians cherish the natural resources that make our state unique, and we’ve tried to direct federal agencies toward actions that will improve, not hinder, how these assets are used and enjoyed,” said Cochran, who serves on the Senate Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee. “I’m pleased that the bill would rein in the most onerous Environmental Protection Agency regulations while ensuring that important forestry and wildlife management programs can continue.”

Within funding for the U.S. Geological Survey, $2 million is provided to conduct enhanced groundwater resource studies to assess declining aquifers in regions within the Mississippi River Alluvial Plain which are experiencing declining or erratic groundwater availability.

“Our state is already working to find solutions to water problems in the Delta, with a Governor’s task force in place and many farmers implementing more efficient irrigation practices,” Cochran said. “The U.S. Geological Survey can help us better understand the aquifer situation in the Mississippi Delta, which would give states like Mississippi information on which to base solution to declining aquifer levels.”

Water quality is also addressed through a $164 million appropriation for the EPA Nonpoint Source grant program, which helps states reduce sediment runoff and increase water quality. The legislation also requires the EPA to reevaluate its grant allocation formula to ensure that resources are being in spent in areas with the most pressing need.

Additionally, the legislation provides a directive for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. Forest Service in order to preserve bottomland hardwood research conducted by the Forest Service on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Sharkey Brown Tract.

Other items of interest to Mississippi in the Senate FY2016 Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Bill:

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – The bill reduces EPA funding by, $538.8 million compared to the FY2015 enacted level. Funding for core EPA regulatory programs is reduced by $57.1 million while on-the-ground cleanup programs receive a $21.5 million increase. This funding level is intended to return the agency to its core mission of cleaning up environmental problems instead of writing costly rules that will harm the economy.

The bill does the following to stop EPA executive overreach:

* Prohibits the EPA from forcing federal plans on states that do not support the Obama administration’s onerous greenhouse gas regulations
* Prohibits the EPA Waters of the United States rule
* Prohibits the EPA from lowering the ozone standard until 85 percent of counties in non-compliance with the current standard come into compliance
* Prohibits the EPA from requiring duplicative financial surety rules on the mining industry
* Continues to prohibit the EPA from regulating certain types of ammunition and fishing tackle

U.S. Geological Survey Groundwater Resource Study – $2 million is provided for the U.S. Geological Survey to conduct enhanced groundwater resource studies to assess declining aquifers in regions within the Mississippi River Alluvial Plain which are experiencing variability in groundwater systems. These resources will help address significant aquifer declines in the Mississippi Delta as a result of agriculture irrigation.

Bottomland Hardwood Research – The bill directs the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. Forest Service in order to preserve bottomland hardwood research conducted by the Forest Service on Fish and Wildlife Service land, such as work on the Sharkey Country Brown Tract in the Mississippi Delta.

U.S. Forest Service Forest Products Laboratory – $27 million, $7 million above the FY2015 enacted level, to support laboratory research. The bill directs the laboratory to support work conducted at Land Grant Universities to accelerate the growth of the domestic finished wood products industry.

EPA Nonpoint Source (Sec. 319) Grant Program – $164.1 million, $4.9 million above FY2015 enacted level, to fund this grant program. The bill directs the EPA to reevaluate the allocation formula to ensure that resources are being in spent in areas with the most pressing need. Grants under Section 319 of the Clean Water Act are provided to states to help implement EPA-approved Nonpoint Source Management programs designed to reduce sediment runoff and improve water quality.

EPA Technical Assistance Programs – $13 million, not included in the budget request, to support grant awards to qualified not-for-profit organizations for the sole purpose of providing on-site training and technical assistance for water systems in rural or urban communities.

Heritage Partnership Program – $20.2 million, $10.3 million above the budget request, for this NPS program. Mississippi has three National Heritage Areas: Mississippi Hills, Mississippi Gulf Coast, and Mississippi Delta.

Civil Rights Movement – $5 million within the National Park Service Historic Preservation Fund to document, interpret, and preserve the sites and stories associated with the Civil Rights Movement.

6/18/15