Eye On Washington

By Dan Sealy and Kenny Mort


In Congress

Congressional committee hearings are planned for mid-July where budgets for departments and agencies that administer the environmental and conservation programs of the United States will be covered. The budgets include the Department of the Interior where the National Park Service and US Fish and Wildlife Service sit and the Department of Agriculture which oversees the US Forest Service.  Leaders in the House and Senate hope for full floor votes later in July.  In recent years the House has been more generous with conservation budget proposals, while the Senate continued to recommend more belt-tightening.  Sabre-rattling has begun between the two bodies with Leader McConnell threatening to pull anything remotely related to the Green New Deal; a posture that the President has said suits him just fine. Regardless of the committee work scheduled for July, Congress is not likely to send many, if any, spending bills to the President before the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1. As a result, lawmakers will be required to pass stopgap legislation, known as a continuing resolution, in order to keep the government open, at least after the elections. 

Is Permanent Conservation Funding Possible?

  1. 3422, “The Great American Outdoors Act,” is a landmark piece of conservation legislation that would, for the first time in our country’s history, provide guaranteed $900 million-dollar annual funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Those funds are used for a variety of projects by states and the federal government including new public lands purchases. The bill would also allocate $20 billion over the next five years to address maintenance backlogs in national parks and public lands. The funding for these programs would come from royalties from offshore oil and gas revenues. The bill garnered bipartisan support, even from the President, but in recent days, there has been some pushback on the bill from some Gulf State senators and waffling by the President. This pushback has mainly been led by Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA). These senators have stated that they are concerned that Gulf States (primarily Louisiana and Texas) have been left out and Cassidy would seek an amendment on the bill that would guarantee Gulf States more money from the oil and gas revenues. Increases to Gulf States would, of course, be at the expense of all the other states. The Senate, despite this last-minute pushback, voted to adopt the legislative vehicle as-is with a vote of 80-17. The bill passed the full Senate with a bipartisan vote of 73-25 and awaits the President’s signature. 

Visions of Green Infrastructure — Covid-19 Funding

Progressive and moderate House Democrats are pushing budgets that increase funding for sustainable energy like solar and wind and energy saving infrastructure. H.R.2210, the “INVEST in America Act,”  introduced by the chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rep.  DeFazio (D-OR) would include $500 billion in a “green” transportation bill aimed at addressing the climate crisis. Republicans on the committee, however, immediately complained they were not involved in drafting the legislation and would not support the bill.  In the Senate, the powerful Energy and Public Works Committee had unanimously passed “America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act,” S. 2302, last summer and it sits ready for action. That bill contains the first-ever climate title and aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation and improve natural disaster resilience in new projects. Unfortunately, it also includes “streamlining,” i.e. limiting, public environmental review of those projects, a continuing goal of conservative groups and the current administration. It is uncertain if the clean-energy  provisions of the House bill that were removed last year in a similar bill can be added, but House Ways and Means Committee Chair Neal (D-MA) wants to see them returned to the bill. These provisions were supported by conservationists and industry. 

Migratory Birds

The Trump administration has begun rule making to reduce protections of birds covered under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which includes most native birds. The Act makes it illegal to harm or interfere with the nesting and health of all but invasive species and sport-hunting fowl. The changes would generally assure industries they will not be prosecuted for inadvertently killing migratory birds — even when the company’s actions clearly have the potential for loss of birds. Even the US Fish and Wildlife Service recently called out the increased mortality the changes would make.  The Service predicts that without enforcement of the Act that “some entities” such as energy companies will “likely reduce” compliance with industry best-practice standards designed to protect birds.