Audubon Analysis: House Spending Bills Address Conservation Needs for Birds, People, and Places

The appropriations bills wending through Congress will help communities and birds everywhere through increases in important programs.

Over the coming weeks the House will be voting on spending bills for the next fiscal year, including appropriations for the Departments of the Interior, Energy, and Commerce, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). If the full House approves the spending packages (which we expect), then the FY21 appropriations process will be one of the most important efforts to fund conservation programs and improve environmental stewardship across the country. Speaking on one of the twelve bills, Chairwoman of the Energy and Water subcommittee Marcy Kaptur remarked that this will be “the most important climate change bill that Congress will pass this year."

Birds are telling us that we must do more, not less, to protect the places all of us need to thrive. If we do not address climate change, two-thirds of North America’s bird species will face the threat of extinction.

The National Audubon Society advocates for federal funding to address climate change, protect birds and their habitats, and defend bedrock conservation programs; these priorities were unveiled in our inaugural Bird Budget earlier this year. In February, Audubon testified to Congress, highlighting the urgent need to invest in critical conservation programs to ensure the survival of birds and to protect the environment we share.

From restoring natural ecosystems in the Great Lakes to funding smart water conservation in the West, the federal budget is an opportunity to address national priorities through local change. It is also an opportunity to fund programs that employ people, conserve water, reduce emissions, and also save birds.

If passed by the House, these spending bills will be sent to the Senate, which has not yet begun public hearings for its FY21 appropriations process. It will be a challenge for Congress to pass spending bills by September 30th, when the current fiscal year ends, so a continuing resolution may be needed to fund the government through the election at past years’ levels. But because there are so many opportunities to increase funding for key conservation programs, we will continue to push that these items are funded and that Congress pass appropriations bills before the end of its session.

Outlined below are few areas where the House spending bills reflect the conservation priorities Audubon highlighted earlier this year. 

Department of the Interior

  • As part of the Bureau of Land Management, the House bill provides $72 million for Sage Grouse conservation, $8 million more than proposed in Audubon’s Bird Budget.
  • As part of the US Fish and Wildlife service, spending for programs under the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act and the North American Wetlands Conservation Act is maintained despite proposed decreases in the President’s budget proposal.
  • Funding would be increased for the National Wildlife Refuge system, the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program, and State and Tribal Wildlife Grants.
  • USFWS would also have to report quarterly on the number of enforcement actions taken under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, comparing costs and cases with the previous five years.
  • The bill includes a prohibition on the construction of forest development roads in the Tongass National Forest.

Environmental Protection Agency

  • As part of the Interior, EPA and Related Agencies bill, funding for the geographic programs housed within the EPA, which restore and protect critical watersheds, would increase from previous allocations. These programs include the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Chesapeake Bay, San Francisco Bay, South Florida, Puget Sound, and Long Island Sound.
  • The Interior bill also includes significant increases for the EPA’s Core Science programs, Environmental Justice programs, and clean water programs.

Department of Energy

  • The Energy and Water Development bill includes some of the largest funding increases for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs.
  • Almost every DOE program highlighted in our Bird Budget will see level or increased funding in the House bill, including key programs housed in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy that support research and development of solar, wind, and carbon capture.
  • The bill includes a modest increase of $10 million for ARPA-E, the Department of Energy’s advanced research division, bringing total funding to $435 million.

Bureau of Reclamation

  • The Energy and Water appropriations bill includes important funding for the Bureau of Reclamation, including projects and programs addressing drought and western water issues. The bill includes an increase in drought response funding and funding for WaterSMART grants along with report language that directs Reclamation to ensure these grants support water conservation efforts.
  • The bill includes $4.25 million for Cooperative Watershed Management Act, which is nearly double the amount the program received last year.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

  • The Energy and Water appropriations bill includes record funding for restoration of America’s Everglades. On the 20th anniversary of the passage of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, the bill allocates $250 million for construction of restoration projects, giving a boost of momentum to the program.
  • The bill also includes funding for other Army Corps ecosystem restoration projects across the U.S., including along the Mississippi River.  

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Department of Commerce)

  • The Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies bill includes major funding increases for ocean and coastal science and research.
  • Every single one of NAS’s NOAA priorities sees an increase in funding, including:
    • Coastal Zone Management and Services
    • Coastal Management Grants
    • National Oceans and Coastal Security Fund (Title IX Fund)
    • National Estuaries Research Reserve System
    • Sanctuaries and Marine Protected Areas
    • National Marine Fisheries Service
    • Habitat Conservation and Restoration 
    • Climate Research 

International Priorities

  • The House bills clearly state that the United States remains committed to stopping the harmful effects of climate change at home and abroad, despite the Administration’s reluctance to support climate change mitigation strategies at the international level.
  • In the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS) bill, the Global Environment Facility, which funds conservation projects in South America, secured funding at previous year’s levels of $139 million while the Inter-American Foundation receives an increase of about $4 million.
  • The Global Climate fund, which assists developing countries to reduce greenhouse gasses, will receive $500 million.
  • Finally, report language for the SFOPS bill directs the US Fish and Wildlife Service to spend $1.5 million on migratory bird conservation efforts.

The 12 appropriations bills include many additional funding wins for the environment and conservation not listed here. These measures and others closely resemble our bird budget priorities and the efforts of National Audubon Society, among a cohort of other environmental groups, to prioritize conservation and to ensure birds, people, and the places we share prosper, today and tomorrow.


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