Friday, July 15, 2011

The Five Worst Parts of the Budget Bill

- by Fran Hunt, Sierra Club Resilient Habitats Campaign Director:

Right now the U.S. House of Representatives is debating a budget bill that’s just riddled with bad policy that hamstrings the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency from doing their jobs. If you care about U.S. wild lands policies or how our nation protects wildlife, you’re going to hate this bill.

In no particular order, here are the five worst amendments to this proposed budget bill from my Resilient Habitats perspective:

1. A rider that would place a moratorium on new Endangered Species Act (ESA) listings and critical habitat designations, as well as prohibit court challenges of ESA delistings.
The ESA is regarded as one of the strongest conservation laws the world has ever seen, and it has had an astounding effect bringing species back from the edge of extinction and preserving biodiversity in this country. Its power lies in sound, science-based management, free from political interference.

2. A rider that would prevent a long-term ban on mining around Grand Canyon. To put it mildly, this is just a bit ridiculous.
Why do we want to mine in a national treasure? The Greater Grand Canyon region is a wild and remote landscape that includes two national monuments, two national forests, numerous wilderness areas, and the crown jewel of our national park system: Grand Canyon National Park.

These lands provide important connections for wildlife movement and homes to key animals like the desert tortoise, the endangered California condor, the northern goshawk, and the Kaibab squirrel—an animal found nowhere else.

3. Conservation funding cuts, including the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and any funding for climate change adaptation or mitigation.
The LWCF is one of the most effective tools the government has to acquire lands critical for conservation and habitat protection. Projects that receive money from LWCF are vital to the continued protection of our national parks, forests and wildlife refuges.

4. A rider that would prevent EPA from implementing or enforcing water quality standards in Florida.  Florida has a history of failing to follow the Clean Water Act. For over a decade the state has refused to set numeric limits for nutrient pollution that causes toxic algal blooms. With over 1,900 miles of rivers and streams and 375,000 acres of lakes in Florida currently suffering from nutrient pollution there is no time to lose in cleaning them up.

5. A rider that would prevent funding for Wild Lands policy.The Bureau of Land Management has a responsibility and a duty not just to inventory, but to protect our nation’s wild places.
The Wild Lands policy provides a straightforward approach to restoring balance and preserving our last wild places for future generations to enjoy.

Our outdoor heritage, our communities, and many economies, depends on keeping some places wild. The future of some of our most cherished wild places should not be determined by political games.

This bill is an all-out assault on environmental protections, and it has a good chance of passing.

Thankfully, we’ve had some champions in the House fight back against these cuts, including Rep. Jim Moran, although he remains pessimistic as well: "I think we should be very concerned that many of these could see the light of day," said Rep. Jim Moran of Virginia.

Why are House members ignoring their constituents? Polls show Americans want to protect our nation’s natural heritage. A March poll showed that 84% of Americans support the ESA and believe it is a safety net providing balanced solutions to save wildlife, plants and fish that are at risk of extinction. The same poll showed that the majority of Americans believe decisions about whether to remove the Endangered Species Act’s protections and decisions about wildlife management should be made by scientists, not politicians.

We must protect, connect, and restore healthy natural systems, not prevent the right people from doing just that. These natural places help clean our air and water. We should be helping our special places survive and thrive in a changing world. That’s the goal of the Club’sResilient Habitats Campaign; which recognizes that the natural legacy we leave our children depends on the choices we make today.

But unfortunately, the line has been drawn: the House has it out for anything that would protect critical habitats, endangered species, water quality standards, and policies that keep wild lands free of development.