Spending bills laden with anti-conservation riders

Greater sage-grouse.

Credit: Tom Koerner (USFWS), flickr.

Anti-conservation riders in the Interior Appropriations bill likely to be voted on this week would further undermine our bedrock conservation lands and harm our public lands.

For years, Congress has hobbled conservation and restoration on our nation’s favorite wildlands by underfunding the federal programs that support our public lands – lands that are owned by all Americans.

It’s important to remember that merely one percent of the federal budget goes to conservation of our national parks and wild places, which hosted more than 300 million visits last year.

The relatively small federal investments in conservation yields enormous dividends for our national economy. The funds help keep our public lands healthy, well-maintained and open to all Americans. Our public lands promote exercise and public health, protect wildlife habitat, provide clean air and water and help local economies and gateway communities all across the country benefit from the more than $646 billion outdoor recreation economy.

Earlier this year, the Senate proposed a $125 million funding cut to the Interior Appropriations bill. Even flat funding is tantamount to a cut because of several additional obligations in the Interior bill, including the centennial of the National Park Service. These cuts make it even more difficult for agencies to fulfill their obligations on top of budget allocations that have been steadily declining for years.

In addition to all of this, the appropriations process has become even more tenuous and contentious due to the proliferation of ideologically based policy “riders” attached to must-pass spending legislation.  Many of these riders are designed to weaken safeguards for our national public lands, waters and wildlife.

Below is a comprehensive list of the problematic anti-conservation riders in the Interior and Environment Appropriations bill. These proposed riders would weaken our bedrock conservation laws, hamper efforts to curb methane pollution and reform oil and gas leasing on our public lands, and roll back efforts to conserve the sagebrush steppe, which is home to sage grouse and hundreds of other species. And that’s just a few of the bad ideas proposed.

As summer approaches and millions are making plans to pass time in the clean air of America’s great outdoors, Congress should make plans to pass a clean budget – one without riders, which have no place in the budget process in the first place.

Damaging Anti-Conservation Riders in FY17 Appropriations Legislation

  • Undermining the National Environmental Policy Act
    • ​This rider would add a massive new exemption to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) environmental review process. It would eliminate public input and all environmental impact analysis for practically any forest management project on National Forest lands up to 3,000 acres.
  • ​Undermining Sage-grouse Conservation
    • ​​Prohibits the Department of Interior from using funds to list the greater sage-grouse as an endangered or threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The US Fish and Wildlife Service determined that a listing was “unwarranted” in the fall of 2015.  The rider would prevent USFWS, from listing the birds, regardless of the results of current conservation efforts.  While the provision is unnecessary thanks to landmark conservation plans to preserve the sagebrush and the species within, it is also misguided and counterproductive.
    • An amendment was added in committee that jeopardizes the “unwarranted” determination and future of the sagebrush habitat, by blocking implementation of collaboratively developed conservation plans.
  • Blocking Stream Protections
    • ​Prohibits the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) from finalizing and implementing a new rule for regulation of coal mining to better protect streams, fish, wildlife, and related environmental values from the adverse impacts of surface coal mining operations and provide mine operators with a regulatory framework to avoid water pollution and the long-term costs associated with water treatment the effectiveness of reclamation.
  • Blocking Methane Regulations
    • This rider would prevent the BLM from putting in place rules to prevent the waste of natural gas from oil and gas operations on federal public land.  Wasting natural gas has tremendous consequences for taxpayers. A recent study showed that wasted gas from our public lands costs taxpayers $330 million annually.
  • Blocking Fracking Rule Implementation
    • Seeks to stop the implementation of BLM's common-sense hydraulic fracturing rule. BLM's rule takes modest steps to improve well integrity, reduce the impact of toxic wastewater, and increase transparency around chemicals used in the fracking process.
  • Blocking Common Sense Coal Reforms
    • This rider terminates Secretarial Order 3338 that initiated a programmatic review of the federal coal program at the end of FY 2017 initiated by Secretary Sally Jewell in 2016. The programmatic review is to identify and evaluate potential reforms to the federal coal program to ensure that it is properly structured to provide a fair return to taxpayers and reflect its impacts on the environment, while continuing to help meet our energy needs.
  • Delaying BLM Plan Revisions
    • An amendment added during the markup of the Interior Appropriations bill would delay the implementation of Bureau of Land Management’s new planning regulations, which aim to improve the process for public involvement and the incorporation of best management practices into land use planning.
  • Blocking National Monuments
    • ​An amendment added during the markup of the Interior Appropriations bill would undermine the President’s ability to respond to local communities by blocking the designation of national monuments in several counties in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Maine.
  • Blocking Oil and Gas Regulations in Refuges
    • This amendment, added on the floor, blocks a vital new rule for managing non-federal oil and gas development on the National Wildlife Refuge System. The rule updates inadequate 50-year old regulations to facilitate responsible oil and gas operations on refuges, while conserving wildlife and ecosystems, enhancing public enjoyment of refuge resources and reducing the costs of oil-spill clean-up for American taxpayers. This misguided amendment bars these common-sense measures intended to prevent avoidable damage to some of our nation’s most sensitive wildlife habitat.

Damaging Anti-Conservation Amendments Pending on FY17 Appropriations Legislation

  • Blocking Common Sense Oil and Gas Royalty Rates
    • This amendment would prevent the Obama Administration from using its executive authority to raise the royalty rate charged for oil, gas or coal produced from our nation’s public lands.  The federal government currently charges a royalty rate of 12.5 percent on onshore oil and gas from public lands, which has not been changed since the 1920’s.  The federal onshore royalty is lower than royalty rates in Western states, which charge between 16.67 and 25 percent.  Offshore oil companies generally pay a rate of 18.75 percent. This gap between the federal and state royalty rate shortchanges American taxpayers $500 million per year.
  • Blocking Drilling Safeguards
    • This amendment would block the Well Control Rule. This rule, which is intended to strengthen safety in offshore oil and gas operations, was published on April 29, 2016 by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. It is long overdue and would provide commonsense protections against devastating offshore blowouts, like Deepwater Horizon.
  • Blocking Offshore Arctic Drilling Regulation
    • This amendment would block new regulations for offshore Arctic energy exploration and development. New, stricter regulations are essential to protecting the Arctic Ocean. This region is an extremely challenging operating environment with large masses of moving ice, dangerous storms, winter darkness and a lack of shore-based infrastructure that would be needed to respond to spills. Drilling there is far riskier than in the Gulf of Mexico, which is why BSEE recognized the need for these new requirements. The Arctic Ocean is a vital, near-pristine habitat for species found nowhere else in the world, and provides important subsistence resources for Alaska Native communities. The Arctic-specific exploratory drilling requirements are technically reasonable, and essential to protect the Arctic Ocean from the devastating effects of a major spill.
  • Forcing Unsafe Drilling Leases in Arctic Ocean
    • This amendment would block the removal of three lease sales in the Arctic Ocean. Shell showed in 2012 that Arctic Ocean drilling cannot be done safely, and the government’s own estimate on one lease sale alone is that there is a 75 percent chance of a major spill over the life of the operations. The Arctic Ocean thrives with sea life and is a fragile marine ecosystem. Native communities on Alaska’s northern coast depend on Arctic Ocean sea life to sustain their way of life, yet the Chukchi and Beaufort seas have no U.S Coast Guard facilities or infrastructure to support a major oil-spill response. The industry isn’t ready to drill safely in the Arctic Ocean, yet this amendment is attempting for force unsafe leases to move forward.
  • Undermining Arctic Refuge Protection
    • This amendment would block the implementation of the Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This plan was developed over many years, with significant public input, using the best available science, and following a lengthy environmental impact analysis. The Arctic Refuge is an irreplaceable crown jewel of our public lands and more than merits protection as wilderness. The Comprehensive Conservation Plan has been final for over a year and this amendment is a last minute attempt to undermine a lengthy collaborative public process.
  • Blocking New Marine Monuments
    • This amendment would block new marine monuments and undermine the Antiquities Act, the tool that protected nearly half of our national parks, which is particularly egregious during the National Park Service’s centennial year.  Specifically, this amendment would prohibit designation of new marine monuments in the Exclusive Economic Zone – an area of over 4.5 million square miles that represents nearly all U.S. oceans.  Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have each used the Antiquities Act to protect areas of American waters as marine monuments. In order for the U.S. to maintain its role as a global leader in ocean conservation, we must not hamstring our ability to protect critical habitat for marine mammals, seabirds, and other vital resources off our shores.
  • Leaving Endangered Species in Limbo
    • This amendment would devastate conservation and recovery efforts for listed species any time the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fails to meet its obligation to complete a 5-year review of the species’ status as required by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The agencies are often prevented from completing these reviews on time due to lack of funding, or due to competing priorities. This amendment would inevitably leave many species in a state of limbo, because they would retain their ESA status, but all federal funding for recovery efforts, law enforcement efforts, and consultations would be blocked.