A Whirlwind of Policy News You May Have Missed

We're making progress on climate solutions in Congress and challenging new attacks by the administration.

With our nation in turmoil it’s possible you may have missed some good news – a new bipartisan climate solutions bill – and some bad news – administration attacks on birds, the ocean, and public input.

Good News: Bipartisan climate progress

Farmers, ranchers and foresters are too often unsung heroes in the fight against climate change, and that’s why Audubon supported a bipartisan group of senators who introduced the Growing Climate Solutions Act. This bill is a first step in giving them the resources they need to maintain their lands in a way that supports common sense conservation for birds and people, including improve their lands’ ability to reduce carbon emissions.

When Audubon met with Senator Mike Braun(R-IN), the lead sponsor of the bill, last year he told us about hundreds of nest boxes he built on his Indiana property for his favorite bird, the Purple Martin. If we do nothing to address climate change, two-thirds of North American bird species face the risk of extinction. Climate change threatens all of us, and a love of nature transcends party politics.

Attacks on public input, health, wildlife and conservation

A new executive order from President Trump will take the U.S. back 50 years when the public wasn't allowed a voice on the impacts of federal projects, back before we protected species like the Bald Eagle from extinction. Federal agencies have been directed to use their emergency and other authorities to expedite energy, transportation, and other projects, including specifically projects on federal lands, and waive required actions under both the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

These laws require agencies to evaluate potential harm to natural resources, wildlife, and people, and consider ways to address those impacts, including choosing different approaches or measures that would do less harm.

The administration’s bird-killer policy advances

The administration is only accelerating its effort to gut the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a 100-year-old bird protection. With the release of the Department of the Interior’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) it’s clear the ’comment periods’ where the public is supposed to have a say on new regulations like this one have become a cruel joke.

North America has lost a quarter of its bird populations since 1970 - that’s 3 billion birds. Millions of birds die every year from preventable deaths on industrial sites. Up to one million die from landing in oil pits that look like lakes. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act makes sure companies take common-sense action like covering those oils pits – which in that case – reduces bird deaths by half.

But we need Congress to take action and pass the Migratory Bird Protection Act, a bill that would counter this rollback and add new innovations to the century-old law. This January, the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee voted to advance the bill, and it deserves a floor vote soon.

Endangering seabirds and other marine life

On a trip to Maine the president signed an executive order opening up the only marine national monument in the Atlantic Ocean, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, to commercial fishing. The monument is a critical winter home for seabirds, namely Atlantic Puffins. Important forage fish species—small schooling fish that make up the diet of seabirds—spawn in and around the Monument. In fact, it was Audubon’s groundbreaking science on Puffins that helped justify the monument designation.

This change is undermines future protections with almost no immediate benefit because the impacts of this monument to commercial fishermen are so small. For example, from 2014 to 2015, only four vessels relied on the monument for 25 percent of their yearly revenues, and the rest generated less than 5 percent from fishing in the monument.

While the bad news outweighed the good in this update, rest-assured Audubon’s policy team is working hard to challenge these actions as well supporting bipartisan efforts in Congress like the Climate Solutions Act. Everybody wins when we put political differences aside and work together for our common survival.