The 114th Congress came to a close this month with the late-night passage of a spending bill and water infrastructure legislation, along with the passage of the defense authorization bill the previous day. These bills resulted in some important wins for wildlife and communities, but also contained a setback related to the California drought and endangered species. Another piece of legislation, on energy policy reform, failed to find a compromise. Both chambers will reconvene for the next session on January 3, 2017.
The top priority for Congress had been the passage of a spending bill for Fiscal Year 2017. Rather than passing a package of appropriations bills, known as an omnibus, the House and Senate passed a Continuing Resolution to maintain current spending levels for programs through the end of April, which includes the vital conservation programs run by the Department of Interior, USDA, and other agencies.
The other must-pass legislation on the agenda had been the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorizes the defense programs for the next year. Opponents of the conservation plans for the Greater Sage-Grouse attempted to include an unrelated and damaging policy rider that would have blocked these historic protections as part of this legislation. Fortunately, these efforts were unsuccessful, and the NDAA passed the House and Senate without this language.
Congress also aimed to finish years-long efforts on two other wide-ranging bills: a broad energy package and the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which authorizes water infrastructure and ecosystem restoration projects. The energy bill did not cross the finish line, but the WRDA bill (S 612) passed the House and Senate, and has been signed by President Obama. The bill contains important provisions addressing Great Lakes and Everglades restoration, including the key Central Everglades Planning Project to improve water flows, and also included financial assistance for Flint, Michigan and other communities impacted by lead poisoning. However, it also included last-minute harmful language opposed by Audubon that undermines the Endangered Species Act as part of a misguided effort to address the drought in California.
These debates will continue in the next session of Congress, and Audubon will rely on your support as we fight for good policy outcomes for our environment on behalf of birds and people.