As Congress debates funding for conservation programs this week, wilderness lovers should know that some members have launched an unprecedented assault on our wild places and natural resources.
The House will vote as early as this weekend on a appropriations bill that would close wildlife refuges, remove much-needed protections for wildlife, allow uranium mining to go on near the Grand Canyon, and prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from protecting the air we breathe and the water we drink.
The House Appropriations Committee already has reported an Interior Department funding bill with massive cuts to a slew of environmental programs for the 2012 fiscal year. The full House has been working on the legislation all week and will continue through the weekend. Even though funding cuts in the bill to water, air and land protection programs are already severe, Big Oil and other special interests are seeking even greater reductions in these programs. The reality is worse than even what The Wilderness Society expected. Among other initiatives Congress is cutting off at the knees, the House spending bill would target a host of critical conservation and environmental programs, even though funding for such programs represents less than one percent of the federal budget. These programs and agencies include:
- National Wildlife Refuge System: Funding cuts would mean that up to 25 percent of our nation’s wildlife refuges would be closed – eliminating access to places where people can hike, camp, hunt and learn about the natural world.
- Land and Water Conservation Fund: The LWCF would be decimated to its lowest ever funding level. This program takes funds from polluters and uses those revenues to protect open space, provide access to recreation, and strengthen our parks, forests, and refuges across the nation. These dollars have been used successfully to leverage state and private investments nationwide for nearly 50 years, and killing the program would end a promise to the American public to protect the way of life we all enjoy. Every Congressional district in the country has a park or other protected place today because of the LWCF.
- The Antiquities Act: Under an amendment expected to be offered to the bill this weekend, the president would lose his authority to work with local communities on the ground to designate new National Monuments under the Antiquities Act. Even in 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt had the foresight to establish the Act so that conservation initiatives would not be hindered by the slow-turning wheels of Congress. Today, more than 50 million people enjoy America’s National Monuments annually, and this “rider” would prohibit new protection-worthy places from joining the likes of the Statue of Liberty and the Grand Canyon.
Despite overwhelming support nationwide for pristine lands, healthy wildlife populations, and clean air and water, Congress continues to launch an all-out assault on our environmental protection programs and natural resources management agencies, meaning that millions and millions of Americans in the future are facing dirtier air, dirtier water, and damaged public lands.