After months of negotiations, Congress passed a spending bill for the 2018 fiscal year in late March, rejecting proposed budget cuts from the administration and numerous harmful policy riders that threatened vulnerable habitats and species. Instead, the omnibus spending bill increased or maintained funding levels for vital conservation programs that will benefit birds and other wildlife.
The spending bill increased funding for many programs within the Department of the Interior that are vital for birds, including an additional $25 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and increased support for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act. For the first time, it included funds to help restore the Delaware River Basin (see related article). It also included important advancements in western water conservation to benefit the Colorado River Basin, including a more than 40 percent increase for WaterSMART grants that fund projects that help communities conserve and use water more efficiently.
Congress rejected the White House budget proposal to zero out funding for the Environmental Protection Agency's regional ecosystem restoration programs. Instead, the bill provides for continued funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and Chesapeake Bay cleanup, and increases funding for the Long Island Sound and Gulf of Mexico restoration programs. Congress also reversed course on years of declining support for critical conservation programs carried out by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For a decade, Congress has chipped away at programs that help farmers preserve habitat on their lands, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program; the bill passed last month leaves the current funding in place. It also includes $150 million for the USDA's Watershed program to help protect and secure water resources in the West. And at the Department of Energy, the bill increases funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy, with strong increases for the solar energy program.
Critically, the final bill rejected numerous anti-environmental policy riders, including language that would have put the old-growth rainforest of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska at risk of more clearcut logging, rollbacks to the Endangered Species Act and removal of ESA protections for key species, disastrous projects such as the Yazoo Pumps proposal that would have drained 200,000 acres of wetlands in the Mississippi River Delta, and several provisions that weakened the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act.
For more details, read our press release.