This week, the House of Representatives debates its Interior Department spending bill. National Journal’s Energy and Environment Expert Blog asks, “What’s at stake in the spending debate?” The answer? A lot. Read on to hear what Defenders’ president and CEO Rodger Schlickeisen has to say about this potentially disastrous bill.
The Interior Department appropriations bill currently before the U.S. House of Representatives contains provisions that would spell disaster for our country’s communities, imperiled wildlife and natural resources. Its nearly 40 policy riders that put the environment and our public health at risk have no place in an appropriations bill and would not save the country a penny, but they would cost lives and lead to the significant degradation of our environment.
One of these provisions, an “extinction rider,” would prevent the listing for protection of any more plants or animals under the Endangered Species Act. This would increase the risk of extinction for more than 260 species by blocking crucial life-saving protections for “candidate species” currently awaiting listing decisions, including wolverines, red knots and walruses. Should such a dangerous rider pass, we will feel its effects for decades. Because while we put vital listing activities on hold, the impacted plants and animals will have to fend for themselves. Denying much-needed protection for these imperiled species only means that their situation will be even more dismal down the road when—or if—the moratorium on listing is lifted.
This bill may represent the worst assault on public health and the environment ever to come before Congress.
This is exactly the case with the red knot, a shorebird whose numbers have continued to plummet during its five years on the candidate list. With the red knot at dangerously low population levels, the Fish and Wildlife Service finally plans to give the shorebird the Endangered Species Act protections it so badly needs and move forward with the listing process. If this plan is blocked by a moratorium, we can be sure their numbers will continue to fall, until they vanish completely. For other species whose numbers are already shockingly low, such as the wolverine (of which scientists estimate there are fewer than 300 left in the lower 48) they have even less time.
It isn’t just our wildlife under attack– this bill threatens our communities and natural resources as well. An amendment introduced just yesterday by Congressman Austin Scott (R-GA) would prevent the Interior Department, Forest Service and Environmental Protection Agency from preparing for any climate change impacts. That includes the implementation of programs that prepare for future floods, fires and drought. America has already experienced record floods, record droughts and record fires this year, and climate change promises more of these events occurring with greater intensity. But this anti-disaster preparation amendment would tie the hands of those agencies charged with protecting us from such events, from the Forest Service, the nation’s largest first responder to forest fires, to the EPA, which provides $23 billion in storm protection services to communities every year.
This bill may represent the worst assault on public health and the environment ever to come before Congress. And it is likely to get much worse before it leaves the House floor. There is no argument that the American government needs to tighten its belt. But while these difficult economic times will require some fiscal austerity, it should not come at the cost of the safety of our communities, wildlife and natural resources.