House Spending Bill Cuts Funding for Wildlife, Attacks Clean Air and Clean Water Acts

Appropriators take an axe to vital public lands, wildlife conservation and public health programs while continuing to subsidize Big Oil

07-07-2011 // NWF Staff

Leaders of the House Appropriations Committee this week released the fiscal year 2012 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill.

According to NWF’s Adam Kolton, the bill is “riddled with special interest policy riders, pet provisions and unprecedented cuts to virtually every program that protects the air we breathe, the water we drink and the public lands and wildlife that we cherish.

The bill slashes investments for agencies charged with providing clean water, protecting public health, and safeguarding wildlife. This includes an 18% cut in investments for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a 7% cut in investments for the Department of Interior. 

In addition to these deep cuts, harmful provisions tacked onto the bill seek to: 

  • Endanger the survival of countless species of wildlife, fish and plants by cutting of all investments to list endangered species or provide listed species with “critical habitat.”
  • Rollback pending protections for river otters, cutthroat trout, waterfowl and other species by blocking the EPA’s effort to restore Clean Water Act protections for millions of acres of wetlands, lakes, and streams.
    Polar bears on ice
  • Put the health of people and wildlife at risk by hamstringing the EPA’s court-ordered responsibility to control carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants and oil refineries for one year.
  • Threaten polar bears, seals, walruses and other Arctic species by pushing aside the federal Clean Air Act permitting process to allow Shell Oil to rush forward with ”exploratory drilling” in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas off of Alaska’s coast.
  • Threaten salamanders and other freshwater species by blocking environmental regulations of mountaintop-removal coal mining.
  • Allow coal ash to pollute groundwater by preventing the EPA from regulating the toxic substance as a hazardous waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. 

Here is National Wildlife Federation’s detailed analysis of the bill and what it means for America’s air, water, wildlife and wild places:

Yanking the Safety Net from Endangered Species


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: 21% Cut

$1.2 billion is $315 million below last year’s level.

  • State and Tribal Wildlife Grants Program: This program was funded at $22 million, a 65% decrease from last year. It is the nation’s core program to prevent wildlife from becoming endangered in every state. 
  • North American Wetlands Conservation Act: This program was funded at $20 million, a 47.5% decrease from last year. It provides matching grants to organizations and individuals who have developed partnerships to carry out wetlands conservation projects for the benefit of wetlands-associated migratory birds and other wildlife.
  • Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund: This program was funded at $2.85 million, a 95% decrease from last year. It provides grants to states and territories to implement voluntary protections for endangered wildlife on non-federal lands.

In addition to these extreme cuts, the bill would instate a complete moratorium on funding for the Fish and Wildlife Service to list species under the Endangered Species Act. Furthermore, it prohibits investments to designate critical habitat for species that have already been listed as threatened or endangered.

Taking the Teeth Out of the Clean Air Act

Factory Pollution 

Environmental Protection Agency: 18% Cut

$7.1 billion is $1.5 billion below last year’s level.

In addition to these cuts, riders attached to the bill would:

  • Stop the federal government’s court-ordered responsibility to control the carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants and oil refineries that harm the health of people and wildlife.
  • Push aside the federal Clean Air Act permitting process to allow Shell Oil to rush forward with “exploratory drilling” in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas off of Alaska’s coast. These seas are some of the last undamaged ocean frontiers, home to polar bears and other Arctic wildlife and marine life. Moreover, allowing these permits to go forward would impacts coastal communities by drastically increasing local air pollution.
  • Restrict EPA’s authority to implement strong, national safeguards on coal ash disposal. Coal ash is a dangerous waste generated by burning coal for energy, and it contains many toxic metals and chemicals like arsenic, lead, hexavalent chromium and selenium. 
  • Exempt “manure management systems” from Greenhouse Gas reporting. This effort would restrict the Agency’s ability to gather emissions data from large polluters in the greenhouse gas registry – information crucial for the Agency’s responsibility to set standards on carbon pollution.

Gutting the Clean Water Act


Clean Water State Revolving Fund: Cut $836M – or 55% - from last year’s levels. This program provides loans for the construction of municipal wastewater facilities and implementation of nonpoint source pollution control and estuary protection projects. It is the most important tool to ensure that wastewater infrastructure doesn’t impair water quality.

EPA Geographic Programs: Cut $70 million – or 17% – from last year’s levels. This program provides technical and financial assistance to restore America’s Great Waters. Investments for Puget Sound, Chesapeake Bay, Great Lakes and other restoration efforts all come from this. Significant cuts will delay or stymie restoration efforts and endanger economic activity like fisheries and tourism dependent upon clean water.

The bill also includes several provisions that would weaken protections for America’s rivers, streams, wetlands and other cherished waters. Specifically, the bill would:

  • Undermine EPA’s ability to restore Clean Water Act protections for millions of wetland acres and stream miles by undercutting a new rulemaking that clarifies which waters are “Waters of the U.S.” protected by the Clean Water Act.
  • Create a Clean Water Act loophole for logging roads by overturning a landmark decision that polluted stormwater generated by logging roads is subject to regulation under the Clean Water Act’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System and that forest roads and their associated stormwater runoff gathering systems are ”point sources” subject to the National Pollution Discharge Elimination (NPDES) permit programs.
  • Weaken Clean Water Act protections against pesticides by removing Clean Water Act tools that protect rivers and streams from these toxic pollutants. This new loophole will endanger countless rivers and streams and take away the tools that are currently used to clean up impaired streams.
  • Block EPA from protecting rivers and streams from stormwater by halting progress made by the EPA toward developing a new rule to address the detrimental impact of stormwater runoff.

Eliminating Protections on Public Lands

bighorn sheep

The Department of the Interior: 7% cut

$9.9 billion is $720 million below last year’s level.

  • Bureau of Land Management (BLM): The bill includes $1 billion for BLM – a decrease of $63 million below last year’s level. 
  • U.S. Geological Survey (USGS): The bill includes $1.1 billion for the USGS, a $30 million cut below last year’s level. The majority of the reductions are in climate change and satellite imaging programs.
  • Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE): The legislation contains $154 million for BOEMRE, which is $72 million below last year’s level (due to a transfer of royalty fee management to the Office of the Secretary).
  • Land and Water Conservation Fund: The bill slashes the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) by 80%, which would represent the lowest budget level in the program’s history. LWCF is the nation’s premier land conservation program that provides funds to acquire land and water for recreation and habitat conservation purposes as well as preserving historic battlefields and cultural sites and conserving working farms and ranches.
  • National Wildlife Refuge System: The appropriations bill includes a 21% cut to the Fish and Wildlife Service which would translate to a big hit to wildlife and habitat, including the National Wildlife Refuge System. The Refuge System was uniquely created to conserve public lands and waters for the nation’s fish, wildlife and plants. Already running on a shoestring budget, any more significant cuts in operations and management and it’s likely visitors centers will be closed and crucial positions, such as biologists, eliminated.

In addition to these dramatic cuts in investments the bill includes riders that seek to:

  • Block Interior Secretary Salazar from withdrawing new uranium mining claims on one million acres around the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon is a national treasure and an international tourist destination. Mining next to this one-of-a-kind place would jeopardize the natural qualities that make the Grand Canyon so special in the first place.
  • Undermine the scientifically credible decision by Idaho’s Payette National Forest to protect and restore at-risk populations of bighorn sheep by preventing any reduction in livestock numbers or change in distribution to manage bighorn sheep, no matter how small the change in livestock operations or how urgent the need to avoid extirpation of bighorn populations by disease outbreaks. This is an indefensible exclusion from existing law and scientific consensus for one small economic interest, and it shuts out not only the Forest Service’s own normal decision-making process, but also the voices of Indian tribes, state wildlife agencies, sportsmen, and wildlife advocates.
  • Prohibit the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review of trailing of livestock across public land. NEPA review of trailing decisions has been very important to efforts to reduce bighorn/domestic sheep contact and disease transmission.
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