The draft House Interior and Environment Appropriations bill released today is a clear improvement from previous years, though it still misses the mark on several key conservation, climate and public lands needs and is laden with numerous policy provisions or “riders” that have no place in the appropriations process.
“In this difficult fiscal climate we applaud Chairman Ken Calvert’s first bill as chair of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee in providing modest funding increases for many important programs when compared with previous House proposals” says Alan Rowsome, Senior Government Relations Director at The Wilderness Society. "However, compared to currently enacted funding levels, this legislation proposes significant cuts to a number of important conservation priorities.
"Funding for conservation is a win-win that translates to substantial benefits on the ground and in local communities. Though we recognize the Chairman’s effort in crafting a far better bill than we have seen over the last few years, this proposal still represents a net loss for conservation, public lands and local communities.”
Several vital conservation programs would be impacted by this spending proposal:
The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), now in its 50th year, would be funded at $152 million. While this is a significant improvement after the program was eviscerated in last year’s House bill, it still equates to a more than 50 percent reduction from current funding levels. LWCF dollars fund ball fields, local parks and sportsmen’s access to premier hunting and angling opportunities. A reduction of this magnitude would significantly impact locally driven conservation efforts and opportunities for local communities to enjoy public lands.
Overall funding for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is down $13 million from enacted levels, though funding to speed up permitting and increase inspection for oil and gas development is up by $20 million. While the increased funding for inspections is a welcome improvement, this proposal would still seek to elevate one use (oil and gas development) above all other uses of BLM lands.
Though this bill includes substantial funding to combat wildfires it ignores the proposed fix to our broken wildfire funding structure, which the Administration, Forest Service and bipartisan coalitions in both chambers support. Under the current structure the Forest Service has been forced to transfer billions of dollars away from vital conservation programs over the past several years, including those specifically aimed at reducing future catastrophic wildfires. The increased funding in this proposal, though helpful in the short term, still fails to address the larger problems that have led wildfire costs to balloon to nearly half of the Forest Service budget.
On top of this, the House proposal also includes several very problematic policy riders that would gut longstanding environmental laws through the appropriations process. Riders included in the bill would block implementation of the Administration’s greenhouse gas emissions rule for existing power plants, which would be a huge step towards combating the threat of climate change, and would delay for one year any action on a Fish and Wildlife Service Endangered Species Act listing of the sage grouse. Policy riders of this sort run counter to the desires of local communities, ignore the best available science and have no place in appropriations bills.
“Much still remains to be done to ensure that conservation and public lands programs are not further undermined,” says Rowsome. “We will continue to work with the Chairman and the full committee to make sure that we address the areas where this proposal falls short. While ultimately an improvement over previous proposals, we have our work cut out for us to ensure that this bill invests in local communities, public lands and conservation in the coming year.”