GOP spending bill threatens to gut U.S. endangered species protections

Legislation would affect Northwest species

By Kathie Durbin, Columbian staff writer

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service no longer would have funding to protect new species as threatened or endangered under a Republican spending bill being debated on the House floor this week. The agency, however, would retain funding to remove species from the list and to reduce their level of protection.

The bill, House Resolution 2584, funds U.S. Interior Department agencies and the Environmental Protection Agency in the budget year that begins Oct. 1. U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., plans to introduce an amendment that would restore funding enabling the Fish and Wildlife Service to study species proposed for listing.

The agency has a list of 260 candidate species, including the wolverine and the Pacific walrus, awaiting protection under the Endangered Species Act.

“The nature of this provision is such that it’s not about money,” said Marjorie Mulhall of the public interest law firm Earthjustice, who is monitoring the spending bill. “It’s about creating a one-way ratchet toward species extinction. It defunds critical aspects of the ESA that would create greater protection for species. It still keeps funding alive for programs that would reduce protection for species.”

The appropriations bill is rife with provisions that would reverse or abandon “bedrock American conservation laws,” Earthjustice said in a briefing paper.

“This bill is loaded with devastating funding cuts and anti-environmental provisions that will wreak havoc on our land, water, air and wildlife,” said Darin Schroeder of the group American Bird Conservancy in a statement earlier this week.

Besides tying the hands of the Fish and Wildlife Service when it comes to protecting threatened and endangered species, the bill would:

• Eliminate funding for the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, the only federal program dedicated to conservation of migratory birds throughout the Americas.

• Cut by 64 percent wildlife grants to states that allow them to prevent more than 12,000 at-risk species of birds and wildlife from becoming endangered.

• Cut by 40 percent the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, which funds conservation projects that benefit wetland birds.

• And prohibit the EPA from implementing measures recommended by federal wildlife experts to protect endangered species from pesticides.

The bill passed out of the House Interior and the Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, on July 7. It includes $27.5 billion in federal spending for Interior Department agencies and the EPA, a $2.1 billion reduction from last year’s budget and $3.8 billion less than President Barack Obama requested. It cuts the budget for the Environmental Protection Agency alone by nearly one-third.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Kentucky, who introduced the bill on the House floor Monday, said, “Frankly, many of the cuts in this bill are just plain common-sense, particularly when it comes to the Environmental Protection Agency. The reductions and provisions in this bill were made with very good reason — to rein in unparalleled, out-of-control spending and job-killing overregulation.”