Earlier this week, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations released its fiscal year 2016 Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill, which provides funding for the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Forest Service, and other various agencies. The TRCP and other sportsmen’s groups are dismayed at the inclusion of riders that would delay a decision from DOI on the greater sage-grouse and scrap the recently released Clean Water Rule, which clarifies which headwaters and wetlands are protected under the Clean Water Act.
In total, the bill includes $30.17 billion in base funding—that’s $246 million less than in fiscal year 2015 and $3 billion less than what the President has requested. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is funded at $1.4 billion in the bill, which is $8 million below fiscal year 2015.
The bill does increase funding levels for implementation of sage-grouse conservation measures, but it comes at a cost: the extension of a delay on any further Endangered Species Act rulemaking for sage grouse until October 2016. “Once again, Congress is trying to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory,” says Whit Fosburgh, the TRCP’s president and CEO. “Rather than supporting the unprecedented cooperative efforts of private landowners, the states, and four federal agencies to avoid a sage-grouse listing, Congress is sticking with its tired old talking points about gross federal overreach. Rather than delay a listing decision, Congress should simply provide the resources necessary to implement conservation plans designed to benefit sage grouse, and more than 350 other species, and give industry the certainty it needs to thrive.”
The bill cuts EPA funding by 9 percent from 2015 levels, and prohibits the agency from making changes to the definition of “navigable waters” under the Clean Water Act. “Less than two weeks after the release of the final Clean Water Rule—which was celebrated by the hunting and fishing community and some of our leading outdoor industry voices—Congress is working to cloud the waters again,” says Jimmy Hague, director of the Center for Water Resources at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This rulemaking process was successful in that it more clearly defines, without expanding, which bodies of water should be protected, to ensure the health of fish and wildlife habitat and our nation’s drinking water, and we’d urge lawmakers to stop undermining that effort.”
The Senate’s appropriations proceedings could take place next week.