Debt-ceiling deal passes; wildlands, environment to suffer

Congress’ Great Outdoors Giveaway continued this week with the Aug. 2 passage of a debt-ceiling deal that will make it significantly more difficult for the government to invest in conservation funding over the next ten years.

This threat to conservation is part of a recent large-scale effort by some in Congress to give away our great outdoors to corporate polluters and developers. And rather than helping America rein in the deficit, the debt-ceiling deal will create an environmental debt that we can’t repay.

“The reductions in spending the deal causes will result in massive cuts that threaten to damage our water, our air and our lands beyond repair,” said Wilderness Society President William H. Meadows.

But alarmingly, the debt-ceiling bill is only a part of a large-scale, unprecedented attack on wildland protections in Congress this year.

Another bill being debated in the House would drastically cut, and in some cases defund, longstanding, critical conservation programs. This House Interior Appropriations bill is teeming with provisions that seriously threaten wildlands and human health.

Just a few examples of the many alarming things this bill would do:

Close wildlife refuges: The bill would force up to 25 percent of our wildlife refuges to close.

Gut the Endangered Species Act: Limitations on programs like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s listing of endangered species.

Leave rivers and streams unprotected: One such provision eliminates requirements for chemical companies to obtain permits for pesticides entering rivers and streams.

Expose citizens to even more power plant pollution: Another provision, the Cross-State Air Pollution rider prohibits the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from implementing a rule to protect communities from pollution caused by power plants upwind of them. The EPA estimates that this rule would prevent up to 34,000 premature deaths, 15,000 heart attacks, 400,000 cases of aggravated asthma, and 1.8 million sick days a year beginning in 2014.

Slash other important conservation programs: For example, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a federal program which takes revenues from Big Oil to purchase and protect special wild areas, would be cut to its lowest funding levels in history.

Fortunately, work on the Interior Appropriations bill will be postponed until after the August recess, but make no mistake that anti-wilderness foes will be back at it again come September and we will need your help to stop them.

Moving forward, a new Congressional committee will be formed to identify more deficit reduction, and we’ll be urging them to target programs like tax subsidies to polluters rather than funds that protect our clean air and water.

Congress needs to hear from you. Please consider attending town hall meetings or local events for your Congressional representatives this August and make sure they know that Americans don’t want to balance the budget on the back of our last wild places.  Urge your member of Congress to protect the environment when it returns to Washington in September to finalize a budget for next year.

If you don’t have a chance to speak with your representatives, there is yet another anti-conservation effort you can help us fend off.  An anti-wilderness bill is moving its way through Congress. That bill, introduced by Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., would open up tens of millions of acres of pristine lands to logging, oil and gas development, mining and other industrial development. We are hard at work to stop this bill in its tracks and we need your help.

Together, these attacks on our environment are the most unprecedented assault on our air, water, land and wildlife in our nation’s history.  To fight back, we must speak with one voice that protecting the environment is an investment in the future of our country, and we cannot balance this country’s check book on the backs of our natural heritage.