Cochran questions returning unused CIAP funding

MISSISSIPPI GULF COAST — U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) is questioning the justification behind the Department of the Interior budget request to rescind $200 million in funding intended to pay for conservation projects in Mississippi and other Gulf Coast states.

Cochran participated in a Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee hearing to review the FY2013 budget request for the U.S. Department of the Interior. That budget plan includes a recommendation to rescind $200 million in unobligated funds from the Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP).

“The recommendation to rescind unspent balances in the Coastal Impact Assistance Program gave me pause considering the critical challenges we face in the Gulf,” Cochran said. “The subcommittee will want to carefully consider the wisdom of doing away with a significant amount of funding for conservation projects in states like Mississippi whose offshore oil and gas receipts help fund the government.”

Created by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, CIAP set aside $1 billion to distribute among six states (Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Texas, California and Alaska) for conservation, protection and preservation of coastal areas, including wetlands.  Mississippi, for example, was awarded almost $2 million in CIAP funds last year to support wilderness protection and wastewater projects on the Gulf Coast. The proposal would rescind nearly 40 percent of the remaining project money intended for the state of Mississippi, according to Cochran.

The FY2013 Interior Department budget recommends permanently cancelling $200 million of approximately $565 million in unobligated CIAP funding, citing budget constraints and the fact that CIAP funding “has been slow to be obligated.”

Cochran, in questions submitted to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, requested that the Department address concerns from states that for years the CIAP grant approval process has been cumbersome and time-consuming. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 authorized $250 million to be appropriated each year FY2007-FY2010 for CIAP. Cochran also asked for an explanation of any administrative changes related to the definition of “obligated funds.”

Congress last year transferred the CIAP program to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from the Bureau of Ocean Management (formerly the Minerals Management Service) in hopes of improving the timeliness of project approvals and the operation of the program, Cochran said.

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