Lawmakers in both parties are complaining about the energy and environmental agenda laid out in the Trump administration’s budget blueprint last week.
Democrats criticized a wide array of proposed cuts, while Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said Republicans would detail their own priorities in due time.
“I think we recognize that we’re in a budget environment where it’s just tough around here,” Murkowski said during a committee hearing on infrastructure projects on Tuesday. “And as we saw from the ‘skinny budget’ that was laid down, there’s a lot in it that a lot of us don’t like.”
Murkowski told reporters after the hearing she disagrees with the White House proposal to cut the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy and to cut DOE’s loan guarantee program, which she said should be reformed rather than eliminated. She had also previously criticized the proposal to eliminate the Department of Transportation’s Essential Air Service and the Department of Health and Human Service’s Low Income Heating Assistance program.
But she said the White House budget proposal is short on details, and lawmakers would have their turn to respond.
“I recognize that when a president’s budget request gets laid down, it’s the president saying, ‘Hey, this is where I’m coming from. These are my priorities,'” she told reporters. “Well, we will say in this committee, and in the other committees that I serve on and in appropriations, how we feel the legislative priorities should balance against the president’s.”
Democrats were more aggressive in criticizing the proposed $1.5 billion in budget cuts for the Department of the Interior. Twelve Democratic senators sent a letter on Tuesday to President Donald Trump expressing “dismay” at the cuts, which they called “deeply disappointing.” The letter criticizes a number of measures, including funding for climate change resiliency, for fighting wildfires in national forests and for the National Park Service.
The proposed Interior budget prompted a discussion at the hearing about increasing the role of volunteers and public-private partnerships at the National Park Service. Marcia Argust, director for the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Restore America’s Parks campaign, told the committee the National Park Service could save money by having volunteer coordinators in each region, rather than a single volunteer coordinator in Washington.
Argust also suggested focusing more on partnering with private business volunteers to help maintain parks. She said there is a “public perception problem” about corporate partnerships that sponsor maintenance activities.
“There is a concern that that is going to lead to a banner across Mount Rushmore,” Argust said. “That is not the case.”