Ocean territories surrounding the United States cover 3.4 million square nautical miles – more than the entire land area of all 50 states.
The Department of the Interior (DOI) has the literally enormous responsibility of “support[ing] stewardship and collaborative conservation and management” of these ocean, Great Lakes, and coastal resources. DOI Secretary Ryan Zinke defended the president’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 at a series of hearings this week before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, and the House Natural Resources Committee.
Overall, the President’s FY 2018 budget request proposes an allocation of $11.7 billion for DOI, a five percent cut from the FY 2017 appropriated level. Many questions at the hearings related to ocean management centered on oil and gas exploration. While the Obama administration worked to close parts of the Arctic to these endeavors, Republicans on all three committees commended the new administration’s plans to invest in energy exploration on these public lands. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (AK) especially supported oil development in Alaska, which she said “can create thousands of jobs” and “generate tens of billions of dollars in new revenues.” Secretary Zinke also shared his interest in exploring the potential for Atlantic offshore drilling with seismic testing and his desire to use oil and gas revenues to later invest in programs, saying, “when you have money in the bank, you can afford to spend money on programs that we think are important.” However, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (WA) told the secretary that, in his narrow focus on revenues from oil and gas, he was ignoring the $887 billion annual economic impact of the outdoor industry. Echoing his stance in a budget hearing earlier this month, Secretary Zinke stayed adamant in his defense of the proposed cuts. However, after praising the budget as “better than what we have seen in the last few years,” Chairwoman Murkowski went on to say that “it’s still not going anywhere on Capitol Hill.”