But Appropriations Committee Moves to End Royalty Payoff to Big Oil

WASHINGTON (June 29, 2006) -- The Senate Appropriations Committee today undermined critical programs that protect public health and the environment in budget cuts that may irreparably harm the health and safety of our citizens and the economy, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The committee action came in a unanimous vote on a fiscal year 2007 funding bill that set the lowest funding levels for environmental programs in this century.

"The panel's cuts were not as deep as those proposed by President Bush or adopted by the House, but they are reductions nevertheless, and their potential consequences are serious. Let no one be fooled," said Heather Taylor, NRDC's deputy legislative director.

The price tag on the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations bill for FY 07, approved by committee, was $26.1 billion -- down from last year's spending of $26.3 billion. The Bush administration recommended $25.5 billion and the House approved $25.9 billion.

To cite just one example of an ill-conceived program cut, the Senate reduced funding that supports America's water infrastructure from $886 million to $687 million -- the lowest level in a decade. At the same time, the bill contained a rider that for the first time legislatively exempts many timber sales from public comment and appeal.

The one ray of sunshine came when the committee adopted an amendment by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) that would stop the giveaway of billions of dollars in taxpayer funds to oil companies.

The measure, already adopted by the House, would recoup $10 billion in lost royalties because many oil companies have been drilling in waters owned by all Americans without paying for those rights under leases awarded in 1998 and 1999. The amendment would bar such companies from bidding on future leases.

"With oil prices sky-high, it's long past time for Congress to end royalty 'relief'' for Big Oil and stop lining the industry's already-deep pockets," Taylor said.