A proposal in Congress would force road construction in Izembek National Wildlife Refuge (Alaska).
Credit: USFWS, flickr.
Congress is working on a deal to fund our government for the coming year, but this fundamental congressional obligation may be hijacked by anti-conservation interests.
Over the next few weeks, it is likely that enemies of public lands in the Senate and House will try to roll back bedrock environmental laws by tacking harmful proposals—called “riders”—onto the federal appropriations bill. We need to tell Congress and the White House that we won’t tolerate these destructive measures larding up the nation’s essential budget work.
The appropriations bill is a “must-pass” piece of legislation, so anti-conservation politicians like Rep. Rob Bishop see it as an ideal vehicle for sneaking their extreme agenda past fellow lawmakers. In addition to funding vital conservation measures like the Land and Water Conservation Fund and wildfire reform, our leaders in Washington need to hear that their constituents support a package that funds the government for the rest of the fiscal year without toxic riders.
As Congress works to pass an appropriations bill, we must repel these five especially bad riders.
1. Blocking national monuments
The culprit: Rep. Cresent Hardy (R-NV)
The anti-monument rider would block funds for presidential declarations of national monuments in several counties in western states, the latest in an ongoing campaign to obstruct the Antiquities Act, which will celebrate its 110th anniversary in 2016. This will make it harder for local communities to collaborate and protect unique places they care about.
The Antiquities Act authorized all future presidents to protect historic landmarks or objects of “scientific interest” on public lands as national monuments, fulfilling a need to preserve deteriorating archaeological resources that had become targets of vandalism. It has since been used by almost every president—from both parties—to protect outstanding natural sites, from the Grand Canyon to Denali National Park and Preserve. Most voters support presidential monument protection and oppose obstructionist efforts like this one.
Muir Woods National Monument (California). Credit: neekoh.fi, flickr.
2. Building a road through Alaska wilderness
The culprit: Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
If successfully attached to the appropriations bill, this provision would force the construction of an unnecessary road through designated wilderness in Alaska’s Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. Scientific research has concluded that such a road would irreparably damage the heart of globally significant wilderness, wildlife habitat and subsistence resources for native Alaskans on the Bering Sea coast. This.project has been rejected by Congress and the federal government multiple times.
In September, the U.S. District Court upheld Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell’s decision to protect Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and its designated wilderness. The rider would knock down that decision and set a dangerous precedent by effectively stripping a public tract of land of its protected wilderness status for the first time ever.
Izembek National Wildlife Refuge (Alaska). Credit: Kristine Sowl (USFWS), flickr.
3. Limiting options to save sage-grouse and their habitat
The culprits: Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT)
Since 1975, greater sage-grouse habitat has been cut in half, and grouse population numbers have likewise plummeted. But there was good news in September 2015: Conservation plans released by the federal government mean that the species is not facing imminent extinction and does not need to be listed as an endangered species. The plans were hailed as a collaborative breakthrough, bringing conservationists, ranchers, corporations and others together for a common cause.
The plans work for local communities, the sagebrush and the more than 350 species that live within it. A rider would torpedo those plans, hurt conservation of the imperiled sagebrush habitat and put sage-grouse back on track for a listing under the Endangered Species Act.
Greater sage-grouse. Credit: Alan Krakauer, flickr.
4. Preventing taxpayers from getting their fair share
The culprit: Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM)
Oil and gas companies have been paying unfairly low rates to drill on our federal public lands since 1920. This means American taxpayers have been seriously shortchanged for a long, long time—big oil still pays the same royalty rate it did back when Pancho Villa and Marcel Proust were alive. These rates need to reflect what our public lands are truly worth rather than encouraging more dirt-cheap, carbon polluting drilling.
This rider would shut down the effort to modernize rental and royalty rates, preventing the Bureau of Land Management from giving taxpayers a fair share of the return on their public lands.
Credit: Paul Lowry, flickr.
5. Blocking wilderness protections in Alaska
The culprit: Rep. Don Young (R-AK)
Earlier this year the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service finalized a plan for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that recommended Congress designate the fragile coastal plain and other areas of the refuge as wilderness.
This rider would keep the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from implementing that plan and protecting habitat for polar and grizzly bears, muskoxen and migratory birds. This plan was developed collaboratively over the course of several years with ample input from citizens across the country and respected scientists. Failure to put it into action would prohibit the Fish & Wildlife Service from managing this incredible wilderness landscape for its priceless wildlife habitat, and allow big oil to get their hands on it instead.
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (Alaska). Photo: Judith Slein, flickr.
We must urge Congress to keep these harmful policy provisions out of the spending bill currently being negotiated so that they send a clean bill—without damaging anti-environmental ‘riders’—to the President’s desk without delay.