Bad news for conservation: budget bill advances in House

Colorado's Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, which has received money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Credit: Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, flickr.

A House proposal to fund public land and environmental agencies, containing major cuts to conservation programs, was passed by the appropriations committee on July 15.

The fiscal year 2015 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill contains more than 30 anti-conservation policy provisions, undercutting current funding levels despite modest increases for some programs when compared to past proposals.

“This year presented a unique opportunity to return the appropriations process to regular order, ” said Alan Rowsome, senior government relations director at The Wilderness Society. " However, this bill unfortunately maintains the trend we’ve seen in recent years – underfunding conservation, undermining our ability to protect endangered species, reducing investments in local communities and blocking the Administration’s ability to respond to the damaging causes and consequences of climate change..”

Among highlights in the proposed budget:

  • The Land and Water Conservation Fund, which devotes revenues from offshore oil and gas development to the conservation of natural resources, would be funded at $152 million, a big improvement over last year’s proposal but still only about half of the program’s current actual funding levels—and far below full and dedicated funding at $900 million, as was recommended in President Barack Obama’s proposed budget.
  • The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) would be funded at about $13 million below current enacted levels, but $20 million would be added specifically to speed up permitting and increase inspection for oil and gas development. This is a positive step for inspections, perhaps lessening the chances of spills or other accidents, but a troubling indicator that oil and gas development will still be treated as the most important use of BLM lands.
  • Additional funding would be allocated for fighting wildfires, but this would not address the larger structural problems which have forced the Forest Service and Interior Department to divert funds away from conservation and wildfire mitigation programs (preparing for and minimizing the effects of wildfires ahead of time) to cover wildfire suppression (fighting the fires once they’ve started). This influx of money may be helpful in the short-term, but it hurts land management in the long term and reinforces the vicious cycle.
  • Several “riders,” or tacked-on policy provisions in the bill, would severely damage important laws, including blocking implementation of a rule to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at existing power plants, and a provision to delay a decision on the listing of several species of sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act, tying the hands of the land management agencies working to protect critical sage grouse habitat. Amendments were offered in committee to remove some of the most damaging riders, but all failed.

The Wilderness Society is working to improve this budget proposal and ensure that conservation, local communities and America’s public lands are given the funding and protection they deserve.