Merkley, Wyden Announce Increased Water Infrastructure, Tribal, Forest Funding in 2020 Spending Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden today announced that the 2020 spending bill includes U.S. Department of Interior Appropriations funding that provides critical investments in earthquake preparedness, water infrastructure, and wildfire suppression and recovery activities that are of particular importance to communities across Oregon.

“This bill invests in both recovery and prevention efforts to save our forests, our communities, and our farms, ranches and other businesses from devastating losses,” said Merkley, who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee. “It also secures critical resources for water infrastructure that will create jobs while improving sanitation and drinking water across Oregon. I will continue to use my seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee to fight for the emergency and long-term resources communities across Oregon rely on.”

“These key resources will help Oregon communities to prepare for natural disasters, protect safe drinking water and prevent wildfires that threaten lives and businesses throughout our state,” Wyden said. “All of these investments add up to safer communities and better quality of life for Oregonians.”

Merkley is the only Oregon member of Congress from either chamber since Senator Mark Hatfield to serve on the Appropriations Committee, considered to be one of the most powerful on Capitol Hill. He joined the committee in 2013 so that Oregon would have a strong voice in decisions about the investments our nation should be making.

Key elements of the appropriations bill that will impact Oregon include:

Forest Health Restoration and Collaboration: The bill includes funding increases for several programs that reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires on public and private lands. The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management received an additional $19 million and $5 million, respectively, for hazardous fuels reduction, bringing the total funding level to $639 million. In addition, the bill maintains funding for the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program at $40 million. Oregon has three active CFLR projects: Southern Blues Restoration Coalition Collaborative Landscape Restoration Project, Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project, and Lakeview Collaborative Landscape Restoration Project.

Wildfire Management: In anticipation of the next fire season, the bill includes $1.414 billion for fire suppression at the Forest Service and Department of the Interior. Fiscal year 2020 is also the first year that the bipartisan “fire borrowing fix” comes into effect, resulting in $2.25 billion of additional funds available for fire suppression and other priorities within the Interior bill.

Columbia River Basin Restoration Program: The EPA will receive $1.2 million to continue implementation of the Columbia River Basin Restoration Program. Merkley created this program, and has secured funding since fiscal year 2019 to provide grants to business owners, farmers, ranchers, local governments, and others in the Columbia Basin to clean up and reduce toxics for a cleaner, healthier basin.

Klamath Basin Water and Wildlife Conservation: In continued efforts toward a long-term solution in the Klamath Basin, the bill includes $6.5 million—a $2.5 million increase—to support strategies to restore fish habitat and scale up ongoing efforts to restore healthy populations of shortnose and Lost River sucker fish. The agreement also included $5 million habitat restoration in advance of the removal of Klamath River dams.

Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT): The bill includes $500 million for the PILT program to fund vital services for rural communities, including public safety, social services, transportation and housing. This funding goes to Oregon counties that have large tracts of federal land, which doesn’t pay property taxes. The investment approved by Congress is $35 million over the president’s request.

Clean Air and Water Funding: The bill protects funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). President Trump’s budget proposed cutting the agency, which is responsible for reducing pollution and safeguarding public health, by over 25 percent. Merkley organized 36 of his colleagues, including Wyden, in urging opposition to those cuts, and the Committee provided an additional $265 million for the EPA.

Water Infrastructure: Critical water infrastructure loan programs under the Water Infrastructure Financing Innovation Authority (WIFIA) Act received $60 million to leverage over $11 billion in investments, such as the new projects in Hillsboro and Portland. Merkley authored the WIFIA program in 2012, working to ensure public drinking water and wastewater infrastructure are well-maintained—critical for public health and safety, strong local businesses, population growth, and clean rivers and aquifers. WIFIA was passed into law as part of the 2014 Water Resources Development Act.

Drinking Water: The bill provides $26 million for lead contamination testing at schools and child care centers, $20 million for lead reduction projects in rural areas, and $25 million for water projects in communities working to improve Safe Drinking Water Act compliance.

Tribal Programs: The Indian Health Service, which provides health care to thousands of Oregon Tribal members, received $6.047 billion, $243 million more than fiscal year 2019 and $138 million more than the President’s budget request. The Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Indian Education received $3.223 billion, an increase of $142 million to the fiscal year 2019 level.

Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF): The bill provides $495 million, enough to fund all pending LWCF projects in Oregon. For over 50 years the program has been the main source of funding for federal land and water acquisitions. Acquiring and protecting public lands not only provides environmental and recreational benefits, but also creates jobs in the tourism, recreation, timber, fishing, and other natural resource sectors.

Earthquake Preparedness: The bill includes $170.8 million for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to support regional earthquake initiatives, including $19 million for ShakeAlert. The report also encourages the USGS to continue the development of a system for Cascadia that will help prepare for and mitigate the negative human and economic impacts of a major seismic event.