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Obama’s budget benefits environmental causes in Colorado

Spending plan would help protect Colorado land, water
President Barack Obama’s budget would invest hundreds of millions of dollars in environmental causes to the benefit of Colorado and other Western states. But his spending plan already faces tough opposition from Republicans.

President Barack Obama’s final budget proposal would invest hundreds of millions of dollars in environmental causes central to Colorado and other Western states.

More specifically, the $4.1 trillion budget for 2017 would restore funding to land and water conservation, funnel more money toward water sustainability efforts and impose new fees on hardrock mining.

In a win for conservationists, the budget proposes $900 million toward fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund for the 2017 fiscal year, which will start Oct. 1. The LWCF, a 50-year-old program that works to conserve public lands and waters across the U.S. for recreational use and preservation, received a three-year reauthorization in last year’s omnibus spending bill.

In a news release announcing the president’s effort to fully fund the LWCF in the 2017 fiscal year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said the president would also push toward permanently reauthorizing the fund in 2018. The president sent his proposed budget to Congress on Tuesday.

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., who has pushed for permanent reauthorization of the LWCF in the Senate, welcomed the president’s efforts and his goal of permanent reauthorization moving forward.

“LWCF is one of our most effective conservation programs, with half of its funds dedicated to state-administered projects,” Bennet said. “It benefits rural and urban communities across Colorado, including projects to protect the scenic landscapes near Ophir and create a park for kids to explore and learn about nature in Montbello..”

The Department of Interior’s proposed 2017 budget calls for the implementation of a fee on hardrock mining, with the monetary returns used by various states, tribes and federal agencies toward remediating abandoned mine sites. The budget calls for the royalty fee to be imposed on certain hardrock-mined minerals, such as silver, copper and gold.

Aaron Mintzes, policy advocate with Earthworks, said the process would be similar to the Abandoned Mine Lands fund already in place for coal producers.

“By requiring the hardrock mining industry to pay a royalty for public minerals taken from public lands like the oil and gas industry does, and to pay an abandoned mine reclamation fee like the coal mining industry does, the president’s budget would raise almost $2 billion over the next decade for mine cleanup,” Mintzes said.

According to the Interior Department, the proposed budget also “includes a total of $98.6 million for WaterSMART programs, with $61.5 million for water sustainability efforts through (the Bureau of) Reclamation, an increase of $3.4 million from 2016 enacted.” The program works to improve water conservation and maintain a ready supply of clean and potable water for continued use.

But the president’s $4.1 trillion budget faces a tough path forward with a Republican-controlled House and Senate.

In a brief statement shared on his official Facebook page, Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., criticized the budget proposal for continuing to add to the federal deficit.

“The president’s budget is more of the same tax-and-spend policies that have failed to put this country on a better path,” Gardner said. “It’s time we propose real reforms to decrease the deficit and put Americans back to work.”

The proposed budget, which also addresses issues such as cybersecurity, infrastructure improvements and global warming, would increase taxes by an estimated $2.6 trillion over the next decade. The budget would also impose a $10-a-barrel fee on crude oil.

Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, echoed Gardner’s sentiment and said the budget dramatically increases taxes and spending and is already a non-starter.

“The president is literally going for broke, and it’s the American people who carry all the risk and face the consequences,” Tipton said in a statement. “Needless to say, this is dead on arrival in the House.”

egraham@durangoherald.com. Edward Graham is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald.

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