Policy Pulse: Year-End Federal Budget Bill a Mixed Bag for Conservation

U.S. Capitol DomeIn mid-December, Congress passed and President Obama signed major legislation to fund the federal government for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2016. In addition to funding federal agencies that manage natural resources and protect our air and water, this measure also affects conservation issues important to the League.

There are several positive elements in the final legislation. The bill:

  • Does not block the Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from implementing the Clean Water Rule. The League worked hard throughout the fall to keep this prohibition from becoming law.
  • Extends the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) for 3 years and provides $450 million in Fiscal Year 2016 to conserve open space and support outdoor recreation. Taking this action was imperative because Congress allowed the LWCF to expire in September, threatening to undermine conservation nationwide.
  • Provides nearly $20 million to restore critical habitat along the Upper Mississippi River in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.
  • Includes $300 million to continue the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), which is $50 million more than the Obama administration requested. The GLRI is funding projects throughout the Great Lakes to combat invasive species, clean up highly polluted industrial sites, and restore habitat for fish and wildlife.
  • Does not deeply cut Farm Bill conservation programs, which support wetland conservation, protect water quality, and reduce soil erosion.
  • Does not include other harmful policy provisions that would have blocked implementation of common-sense rules to improve air quality and reduce emissions of pollutants that contribute to a warming planet.

On the other hand, the legislation undermines some critical conservation measures that are important to the League. It cuts funding to restore fish and wildlife habitat in the Missouri River by more than $12 million compared with the amount requested by the Army Corps of Engineers. The League believes the Corps’ budget request was insufficient to begin with, especially after cuts to the recovery program budget in previous years. Further reductions by Congress will directly undermine river restoration efforts, which benefit fish and wildlife as well as the outdoor re- creation economy throughout the Missouri River basin, including in South Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa.