Interior spending bill generous to tech programs

The Senate's pending bill to fund Interior Department programs in fiscal 2008 would direct considerable amounts of cash to technology-related programs.

The $27 billion proposal approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee contains provisions for technology initiatives at various government agencies. The Environmental Protection Agency would be the biggest benefactor; it is slated to receive more than $770 million for science and technology programs.

The bill, S. 1696, also would reserve millions of dollars for tech-related state and tribal assistance grants, including the Environmental Information Exchange Network, that are supported by the EPA. The network is a repository of environmental data. The legislation would direct $10 million for grants to support the project.

The committee report on the measure also noted the EPA's intention to increase its support for nanotechnology research within its base budget. Nanotechnology involves the manipulation of matter at atomic and nuclear levels. The committee recommended that the EPA work with the National Academies of Science to develop a safety roadmap for nano research.

The proposal also would allocate $121 million for the regulation and technology account at Interior's surface mining and enforcement office. The committee recommended $6 million more for that office than the White House requested in February.

More than a $1 billion would be allocated for U.S. Geological Survey, $40 million of which would go toward satellite operations. The survey project allows access to images processed by U.S. spy satellites for environmental research purposes.

The Senate panel also attached a wide range of pet projects to the bill. According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, the measure includes nearly 450 total earmarks worth roughly $900 million -- almost five times as many as a bill cleared by the House earlier this summer.

Tech-related earmarks include $2 million for a water information-sharing and analysis center requested by Robert Bennett, R-Utah. He also requested $250,000 for an oil-and-gas Internet leasing test in his home state. Washington Democrat Patty Murray also requested $1 million to help the Washington Family Forest Foundation with its landowner management database.

The House passed its Interior appropriations bill, H.R. 2643, in June. That measure includes $119 million in earmarks, including $1.65 million requested by lawmakers in Maryland and Virginia for the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network. The project connects Web sites that contain information about the bay and its surrounding areas.

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