As the federal government comes perilously close to defaulting on its debt for the first time in the country’s history, White House and Congressional negotiators are working furiously on a compromise plan to enable the government to keep borrowing – and those plans may impact the CRM industry directly.
First, the debt debate: As previously covered in ACRASphere, the Treasury Department is estimating that as early as June 1, the federal government will exhaust its ability to borrow money to pay for past obligations (for more on the debt ceiling and its implications, click here). President Biden and congressional Democrats have called on Congress to pass a “clean” debt ceiling increase, meaning a bill that raises the ceiling and nothing more. Republicans who control the House, however, are demanding budget cuts and other policy items be included in a debt ceiling bill.
As the clock has ticked towards the so-called “X-date,” when the Treasury will have exhausted its ability to borrow, the two sides have begun to negotiate, with the likeliest outcome a deal that will pair some budget cuts and other GOP policy goals with a debt ceiling increase. While the situation is fluid, White House negotiators and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) staff hope to hatch a deal in the coming days. But sizable disagreements remain over the amount of spending cuts Democrats will accept and whether to include work requirements for social safety-net programs like food stamps and Medicaid.
Another sticking point – which may impact cultural resources management directly – is the push by Republicans, and some Democrats, to include permitting reform in the deal. The House GOP included their energy and permitting bill in legislation they passed earlier this spring to raise the debt ceiling; it would codify into law reforms made to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by the Trump administration in 2020, which were subsequently rescinded by President Biden when he assumed office; and exempt certain oil, gas and geothermal projects from Sec. 106.
While those plans are not likely to become law, the pressure to reform permitting laws continues to grow – including among Democrats, who see reform as a way to accelerate the deployment of renewable energy projects. West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin has proposed setting a two-year limit on major federal energy project environmental reviews. Meanwhile, Democratic Senators Tom Carper (DE) and Brian Schatz (HI) last week announced a proposal to speed up reviews of renewable energy projects while increasing community engagement.
ACRA and its allies in the preservation community are continuing to make the case on Capitol Hill that, while the federal permitting process can be made faster and more efficient, weakening preservation laws and exempting entire classes of projects from Section 106 is not the way to do it.
Historic Preservation Fund Renewal
Meanwhile, another deadline looms over Congress and the CRM industry: the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF), which provides significant funding to State and Tribal Historic Preservation Offices, is slated to expire at the end of September.
The good news is that a bipartisan group of House lawmakers has introduced legislation to reauthorize the Fund for 10 years and increase its authorized amount by $100 million per year.
H.R. 3350 was introduced this week by Reps. Mike Turner (R-OH) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), the co-chairs of the Historic Preservation Caucus, along with Reps. Teresa Leger Fernández (D-NM) and Mike Carey (R-OH). The bill renews the HPF until 2033 and raises the amount of funding authorized to be deposited into the Fund from Outer Continental Shelf royalties from $150 million per year to $250 million.
With demand for HPF funds on the rise, ACRA and its allies in the preservation community have been advocating for Congress to extend it and increase in its funding level. With Congress divided between a Republican-controlled House and a Democratic-controlled Senate, the introduction of a bipartisan bill is a hopeful sign that Capitol Hill will work this year to extend and strengthen the Fund.
BLM Proposes New Public Lands Framework
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has issued a proposed Public Lands Rule that would, among other things, reprioritize its almost 50-year old multiple use mandate to put conservation and recreation on an equal footing with grazing and resource extraction.
According to BLM, the proposed rule would “establish a framework to ensure healthy landscapes, abundant wildlife habitat, clean water and balanced decision-making on our nation’s public lands. . . .By putting conservation on an equal footing with other uses, the proposal would help guide responsible development while safeguarding important places for the millions of people who visit public lands every year to hike, hunt, camp, fish, and more.”
The ACRA Government Relations Committee is analyzing the proposed rule, for which BLM is accepting comments until June 20. To share your thoughts with ACRA, please email us (email@example.com).