Budget Deal Reflects Process Tilted Towards Special Interests

"In the new year, conservationists will be ready to fight harder than ever to protect America’s wildlife and natural resources."

12-16-2011 // Miles Grant
Bighorn Sheep

Congressional leaders announced a budget deal today and are reportedly considering on a two-month extension of a payroll tax break.

“There’s no doubt this bill has come a long way since we started 2011 with the truly appalling House Appropriations Committee budget, reflecting outrage across the country over its attacks on wildlife, air, water and public health, including deep cuts in conservation investments,” Adam Kolton, executive director of the National Wildlife Federation’s National Advocacy Center.

The budget bill does not include some of the most controversial cuts and provisions:

  • Cuts just $219 million from the Environmental Protection Agency’s $8.68 billion enacted fiscal year 2011 budget, much less than the original House Appropriations cut.
  • Riders to block new mercury pollution rules, climate pollution standards, fuel efficiency rules for cars and trucks, and Clean Water Act expansion were dropped
  • Programs like the State & Tribal Wildlife Grants, North American Wetlands Conservation Fund, Multinational Species Conservation Fund received a cut of only 5 percent or less from their enacted fiscal year 2011 budgets, and the Land and Water Conservation Fund actually received a 7 percent increase.

“But the polluter riders that remain reflect a process where powerful special interests still have keys to the back room. In particular, the last-minute rider to effectively exempt Arctic drilling from national air quality standards shows the back door is always open for Congress’ Big Oil donors,” said Adam Kolton.

Among the anti-environment provisions in the bill:

Energy

  • Halts implementation of the energy efficiency standards for light bulbs that were enacted in 2007 with strong bipartisan support. Energy efficiency measures are one of the cheapest and quickest ways to reduce the carbon pollution that contributes to climate change. The standards will prevent more than 100 million tons of carbon pollution per year—the equivalent of taking 17 million cars off the road. These standards are supported by the industry that is already developing newer high-tech incandescent bulbs to replace the venerable 135-year-old version, saving consumers $15.8 billion annually.
  • Gives oil companies a free pass from complying with critical Clean Air Act requirements to control air pollution from offshore drilling. Specifically, the bill would move air permitting for Arctic offshore drilling from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Department of the Interior, which would effectively exempt Arctic drilling from national air quality standards.

Wildlife

  • Undermines protections for endangered and threatened wild bighorn sheep. A century ago, bighorn sheep thrived in the West, with numbers in the millions, but contact with diseases carried by domestic sheep has reduced overall bighorn populations to the thousands. To avoid this complication, federal agencies were charged with reducing interactions between the two species—an effort that has proven remarkably successful with the help of National Wildlife Federation, the Nez Perce tribe and other stakeholders. This bill would undermine that charge and result in the decline of wild bighorn sheep populations.

Public Lands & Waters

  • Halts funding for the Missouri River Authorized Purposes Study. As recent, repeated catastrophic floods have shown, our federal Missouri River policies are outdated, often conflicting, and in need of revision. This study would for the first time provide a comprehensive analysis to ensure better management, including flows that better mimic nature, land protection that allows for flood storage, and protection of fish and wildlife.
  • Blocks the EPA from issuing permits to control pollution from logging activities. This exemption would allow discharges associated with a broad suite of timber management activities to proceed regardless of impacts to water, including most importantly those associated with roads. Roads are a leading threat to water quality in forested areas because they collect sediment-laden runoff that degrades water quality and alters hydrology to increase the threat of flooding and harms steelhead and salmon populations. These effects can be severe, which is why the EPA and states require discharge permits for other types of industrial activities with similar impacts, including state highways, municipal stormwater, mining, and oil and gas drilling.
  • Reduces opportunity for citizens to participate in how public lands are governed, undercutting one of the foundations for the management of federal lands. In the current system, one of the more meaningful rights is the public's prerogative to petition the federal courts when a citizen believes that a federal decision has not adhered to the rule of law. This bill would severely curtail these rights by reducing opportunities for the public to appeal decisions on Bureau of Land Management lands related to grazing.
  • Obstructs the public’s right to appeal decisions on the movement of livestock across public lands, also known as trailing. This unnecessarily creates conflict between livestock and wildlife and takes away stakeholder’s ability to reduce this conflict.
  • Prohibits the Obama administration from finalizing new guidelines for planning federal water projects and programs required by the Water Resources Development Act of 2007.  Revision of the federal water resources planning principles and guidelines (P&G) provides an unparalleled opportunity to protect the public, protect and restore the environment, and improve the economic vitality of communities across the nation for decades to come.  The current P&G are decades old and produce projects that unnecessarily damage the environment, often fail to protect the public, and undermine sustainable economic development.  For example, despite the construction of innumerable flood damage reduction projects during the past 20 years, the nation’s flood damages have increased at an alarming rate.  During the same period, federal water projects played a major role in increasing the percentage of North America’s freshwater fish species at risk of extinction from 20 percent to an estimated 40 percent.

“As Congress works towards a long-term payroll tax extension, we’ve already seen the House take what should be a straightforward bill to help the economy and load it like a bad holiday fruitcake with giveaways for polluters,” said Adam Kolton. “Greasing Big Oil's land grab for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline won’t create jobs. Neither will blocking long-overdue rules to clean America’s air. In the new year, conservationists will be ready to fight harder than ever to protect America’s wildlife and natural resources.”

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