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Drought, Drilling Top Of Mind As Lawmakers Press Haaland On Interior's Spending Priorities

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland spoke with House committee members this week about the agency's proposed budget.
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Interior Secretary Deb Haaland spoke with House committee members this week about the agency's proposed budget.

The Interior Department is asking Congress for $17.6 billion next year, about $2.5 billion more than this year.

During a hearing Wednesday, members of the House Natural Resources Committee largely praised budget increases to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and efforts to address the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

However, some lawmakers want more money for water infrastructure, including storage and recycling, as the West faces a historic drought. There's also criticism over the Biden administration’s pause of new oil and gas leases on public lands while it reviews them.

Colorado Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Republican, asked Secretary Deb Haaland about it.

“Do you anticipate a permanent ban of production for new leases when the review is done?” he asked.

“As I have said many times,” Haaland answered, “gas and oil production will continue well into the future, and we believe that that is the reality of the economy and the world we’re living in.”

Idaho Republican Rep. Russ Fulcher said the U.S. shouldn’t depend on other nations like China for fuels and rare earth metals.

“According to the USGS, China currently provides 85 to 95% of our rare earth elements, and that’s problematic for a whole host of reasons,” he said.

Haaland says Interior's review of fossil fuel development on public lands should be released early this summer. A Louisiana judge recently ordered for drilling lease sales to resume, and Haaland said the agency is working through the ruling's implications.

Haaland also says the agency is still deciding what to do with the Bureau of Land Management headquarters, which was moved from Washington, D.C., to Grand Junction, Colo., under the last administration.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News.