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Victory for wildlife: Congress strikes an omnibus funding deal free of catastrophic anti-Endangered Species Act riders
WASHINGTON (December 16, 2015) - A deal on a new omnibus funding bill has been reached, with House and Senate approval expected in the next few days. The original House and Senate bills covering the Department of the Interior and related agencies were rife with anti-environmental policy provisions or “riders” that would undermine fundamental protections for our air, land, water and wildlife.
The following is a quote from Defenders of Wildlife President and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark:
"The final omnibus bill rejects all of the new riders designed to undermine the Endangered Species Act and our nation’s commitment to wildlife and wildlands. These riders were part of one of the worst congressional attacks we’ve ever seen on endangered wildlife and the Endangered Species Act. Keeping these out of the omnibus bill is a major victory for wildlife. We commend our champions in Congress, the Department of the Interior and the Obama administration who successfully fended off this assault.
"Despite these endangered species victories, the omnibus bill unfortunately continues a restriction from last year blocking potential additional protections for sage-grouse and will encourage further fossil fuel production through the lifting of the oil export ban.
"It is also disappointing that the omnibus bill fails to include a fix to the U.S. Forest Service’s severe fire budget problem, an urgently needed and non-controversial measure that was held hostage due to damaging forestry provisions."
The Good: The following is a description of the anti-wildlife amendments which were ultimately blocked or removed from the final spending bill.
Endangered Species Act: Over a dozen anti-Endangered Species Act (ESA) provisions were on the table during negotiations on this bill, including riders that would have blocked the listing of several imperiled species, removed existing protections for theatened and endangered species (including gray wolves, northern long-eared bat and lesser prairie chicken) that have not yet recovered and forced the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to delist species if the agency did not complete its scheduled five year evaluations for the species on time. These damaging riders would have been disastrous for threatened and endangered species, as well as imperiled species that may need ESA protection in the future. No new anti-ESA riders were included in the omnibus spending bill. This is a great victory for the Endangered Species Act, a bedrock environmental law in the United States that has been under attack by anti-environmental Congressional opponents for decades. The sage-grouse rider was an unfortunate renewal of a rider in last year’s federal spending bill.
Izembek National Wildlife Refuge: A rider that would undo decisions to protect Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska also was not included in the omnibus bill. This rider would have forced construction of a habitat-damaging road through federally-designated wilderness in a national wildlife refuge. The Secretary of the Interior already rejected the proposed road in 2013, citing the irreparable harm to Izembek’s land, water and wildlife and the availability of alternative transportation systems. Keeping this rider out of the omnibus was critical to safeguarding wildlife refuges and wilderness protections across the United States.
Elephant ivory: One of the most egregious riders in play for the bill, backed by the National Rifle Association, would have blocked FWS effort to crack down on the illegal ivory trade in the United States through stronger regulation of ivory imports, exports and commercial sale. Fortunately, this rider was not included in the final bill, clearing the path for FWS’ Office of Law Enforcement to take a stronger stand against ivory trafficking.
National Environmental Policy Act Climate Guidance: A rider that would have blocked the Council on Environmental Quality’s (CEQ’s) climate guidance, barring federal agencies from considering greenhouse gas emissions or climate change impacts in environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), was not included in the final spending bill. The CEQ climate guidance advises agencies on how to consider the impacts of climate change and GHG emissions on critical infrastructure and other projects, helping to protect taxpayer investments, ensure development of responsible, resilient projects and safeguarding vulnerable communities and wildlife habitat.
The Bad: Below are the anti-wildlife provisions and legislation included in the final spending bill.
Sage-grouse: Congress has once again blocked Endangered Species Act protections for two species of sage-grouse, which have been in decline for decades. Congress should not be interfering with the ESA by precluding the Service from listing any species—especially sage-grouse—given the deficiencies in recently adopted state and federal conservation plans.
Oil Export Ban: The bill encourages fossil fuel production by lifting the longstanding oil export ban.
Missed Opportunities: Below are some badly needed funding measures not wholly resolved and included in the final spending bill.
Wildfire disaster funding: In addition Congress failed to address the perpetual problem with how emergency wild fire response is funded. As a result, a huge portion of the already-meager Forest Service budget will be spent on fire control and emergency response meaning fewer funds available for other critical programs including those designed to maintain and restore forest resiliency, conserve wildlife, and support healthy watersheds. A bi-partisan and broadly supported fix to the problem became bogged down with unnecessarily controversial forestry provisions preventing its inclusion in the final bill.
LWCF: Funding and a three year reauthorization was included for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. However, it is a missed opportunity to permanently renew and fully fund this important program.
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Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org.