Critical safeguards for people and wildlife win budget reprieve – for now

Diane Regas

Facing a backlash against environmental rollbacks from citizens across the country, Congress has delayed, for now, the worst attacks against federal programs that protect public health, wildlife and the environment.

President Trump wanted to slash nearly $18 billion in discretionary spending for the remainder of this fiscal year.

Importantly, the bipartisan omnibus deal congressional leaders reached sets a precedent heading into the all-important fiscal 2018 appropriations process, which will begin soon and continues to keep many Americans on edge.

The Trump administration is seeking steep cuts for clean water, renewable energy, national parks, wildlife and other programs supported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Energy and Interior departments. The 2017 omnibus deal maintains most of their funding for the rest of this fiscal year, but all remain on the chopping block for 2018 spending bills.

Here are key highlights of environmental spending in the package for the next five months that Congress is expected to approve this week. They include continued funding for some key programs – and even some promising increases. 

EPA’s 1% cut gives agency breathing room

The EPA would receive $8.06 billion for 2017, a cut of less than 1 percent, and current funding levels would be maintained for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, which provide safe drinking water to communities nationwide.

This is significantly less than the 31 percent Trump wants to slash from the agency in fiscal 2018 and precludes immediate EPA layoffs. However, the omnibus bill also includes provisions affecting the agency’s ozone and biomass programs which have raised concern among environmentalists.

DOE gets clean energy boost

The U.S. Department of Energy would be funded at $31.2 billion, roughly $1.4 billion more than fiscal 2016 levels.

It would give $2.1 billion for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, a $17 million increase that helps create more clean and safe renewable energy jobs for Americans. The White House wants to reduce office’s budget by 25 percent in fiscal 2018.

As did the smaller-than-expected cut for the EPA, Congress’ funding for the Energy Department sends a signal of opposition to the Trump administration.

Interior finally gets an increase

The U.S. Department of the Interior would be funded at $1.3 billion, an increase of $42 million over current levels. President Trump, by contrast, has requested a 12-percent cut for fiscal 2018.

The omnibus bill includes slight increases in funding for the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and Fish and Wildlife Service – critical for sustaining and improving park maintenance, fighting wildfires and protecting our nation’s most at-risk wildlife.

Importantly, funding for evaluating and protecting imperiled species is maintained, with a slight uptick of $2 million for spending on key species recovery efforts, and $4 million for consultations and planning.

This increased funding is a relatively small, but important, step toward adequate funding for Fish and Wildlife Service. It will help put species on the path to recovery and removal from the endangered species list, a goal both Democrats and Republicans can get behind.

Additional safeguards for wildlife

The original fiscal 2017 appropriations bill put forth by the Trump administration contained multiple threats to wildlife beyond agency cuts, including the proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall, which would have devastating impacts on wildlife and communities on both sides of the 2,000-mile border.

Fortunately, funding for construction of a border wall was punted from the current spending bill, although it will likely reappear in 2018 budget proposals.

Earlier iterations of the 2017 spending bill also included multiple bad wildlife riders, including one that would restrict the implementation of BLM’s greater sage-grouse plans – which are already supported with financial investment and multi-stakeholder conservation efforts in multiple western states.

Rolling back these plans through riders would undermine bipartisan, cooperative conservation efforts of landowners, industries and governors who played a significant leadership role in precluding the need to add the sage-grouse to the endangered species list.

All eyes now on FY 2018

Assuming Congress approves the omnibus deal this week, we celebrate the leaders who ensured these short-term wins while calling on them to continue to push back against the president’s detrimental budget cuts as well as future policy riders.

The Trump administration’s crippling 31-percent cut to the EPA’s budget would inevitably result in a rise in children’s asthma attacks, health problems for elderly Americans and more pollution for the nation as a whole. The 12-percent cut Trump sought from the Interior Department’s budget, would have an immediate impact on our national parks and wildlife.

It’s why we count our victories when we can, while preparing for what comes next.

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