Policies to Rebuild Better for Birds and People Dominate the Week in Congress

As Congress prepared for its July 4th recess lawmakers advanced several important proposals for Audubon’s policy agenda.

A busy summer in Congress is producing a lot of critically important policies for birds, people, and the places we need. Separate studies published in the last year have revealed that North America has lost nearly 3 billion birds since 1970 and two-thirds of our bird species are threatened by climate change. Birds are the canary in the coal mine for dangers our planet faces and they are telling us to act.

We have an opportunity to secure major victories in the coming months, but it will take a vocal and sustained push to turn these proposals into law. Audubon staff will be mobilizing our members and chapters on these issues and more. If you haven’t already, take a moment to make sure you are signed up for our Action Network or become a full Audubon member.

Climate Change

On Tuesday the majority members of the U.S. House Select Committee on Climate Change released its long-awaited report providing Congress with over 500 pages of blueprints for addressing 12 “pillars” of responses to climate change. The report was originally expected way back in March, but as with so many other things, COVID-19 derailed those plans, and required some fundamental restructuring of the report itself.

Among other items, this version of the report featured an emphasis on investing in clean energy to help rebuild the country in the wake of the pandemic. Major provisions focus attention on protecting vulnerable communities from the effects of climate change, which disproportionately affect low-income communities and communities of color.  The report also recommends the passage of the Migratory Bird Protection Act, a bill familiar to many Audubon members following our efforts to reinstate the 100-year-old protections gutted by the administration.

While the report was primarily authored by Democratic members of the committee, Audubon looks forward to working with both sides of the aisle to avert the worst impacts of climate change.  In fact, a companion bill for the Audubon-supported and bipartisan Growing Climate Solutions Act was introduced in the House. The bill, introduced in Senate in June by Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN) with bipartisan cosponsors, would be a significant step in the fight against climate. It provides technical assistance for the agriculture and forestry sectors to improve their ability to reduce air pollution and remove carbon from the atmosphere through natural processes, such as storing it in the soil.

Coastal Resilience

Speaking of bipartisan solutions, on Wednesday morning Rep. Mucarsel-Powell (D-FL) and Rep. Don Young (R-AK) introduced a bill to provide $3 billion in funding to support vital projects to protect and restore coastal ecosystems and communities, including vulnerable frontline communities. Investments in coastal restoration are critical to provide spaces for coastal birds to nest, forage, and raise their young, as well as to mitigate against the effects of climate change.

Coastal birds are in steep decline due to climate change, development, overfishing, and pollution. Coastal ecosystems like wetlands and beaches provide natural flood protections for communities and reduce property damage and loss of life during extreme weather events, by absorbing floodwaters and breaking down the wind and waves of hurricanes and tropical storms.

Rebuilding Better

Late Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed the Moving Forward Act, a massive infrastructure bill with more than $1 trillion in investments in highways, schools, clean energy, and coastal resilience. It’s not an understatement to say this legislation is full of priorities Audubon and its members have been advocating hard to secure.

If it were to be enacted in total, it would represent major progress for our work on water conservation, wetlands restoration, coastal resilience, public lands, climate change, and bird and wildlife protection. Moreover, it would demonstrate how we can rebuild better for humans and birds alike. You can read more about how it would impact our work in a blog I wrote earlier this week on the bill.

For birds specifically, the bill included the Bird-Safe Buildings Act, a bipartisan bill Audubon has advocated for consistently for years. Bright lights and glass on buildings big and small can prove fatal to birds and the guidelines established by this bill will help save many of the up to one billion birds killed each year by crashing against buildings. The Bird-Safe Buildings Act will make new federal buildings safer for birds and can increase energy efficiency, all at little to no extra cost to taxpayers.

State wildlife agencies scored a major victory as well with the inclusion of another bipartisan proposal, the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act. Last October, Marnie Urso, policy director for Audubon Great Lakes praised the law to members of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife. The legislation would provide significant benefits for birds by providing dedicated funding to help state wildlife agencies proactively conserve vulnerable species before there are listed as Endangered.

Unfortunately, despite the many bi-partisan proposals it included, the bill ultimately passed on party lines. As the leaders in the Senate and the White House consider whether or not to seize this opportunity to build a better brighter future, I think Audubon’s president, David Yarnold, said it best, “Americans want economic growth with environmental and social benefits and this legislation checks all those boxes.”

We’re continuing to fight against rollbacks of critical protections for birds, the environment, and public health, including a lawsuit we filed today to protect coastal areas from sand mining, but this was largely a week of positive momentum.

As Congress comes back from its July recess Audubon will be working hard to advance these others policies and I look forward to sharing more good news with you soon.