Bipartisan senators on Wednesday called on Congress to approve billions of dollars in new funding for states to run wildlife restoration work.
At a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, Senator Martin Heinrich, DN.M. and Roy Blunt, Republic of Missouri. law Project This year they came to help protect 1,600 threatened species, ease the burden on state wildlife agencies and spare private landowners from having to contend with federal regulations regarding the Endangered Species Act.
The bill would provide $1.3 billion annually for states, tribes, and territories to undertake species conservation work. It will be paid for from revenue from enforcement actions against those who violate environmental regulations.
Representatives introduced Debbie Dingell, D-Mitch, and Jeff Fortenberry, Republican of Neb. accompanying legislation at home.
Heinrich and Blunt garnered bipartisan support for the bill, although senators on both sides warned Wednesday that the source of revenue was too unexpected — and perhaps too frivolous.
Heinrich said the additional federal funds for state and local efforts would add an important tool for species recovery. He said numbers of endangered species have continued to increase, despite the successes of state programs and protection measures under the federal Endangered Species Act.
“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change this paradigm and save thousands of species with a solution commensurate with the challenge,” he said.
Sarah Parker-Powley, director of the Missouri Department of Environmental Conservation, told the committee that the bill would help states complete federally mandated conservation plans. She said the current funding only enables 5% of the actions required across the state’s plans.
“The states have done their part, really without funding,” she said. We’ve got a mandate. Funding didn’t come with it.”
While strengthening federal funds for wildlife conservation, the bill also aims to take away federal involvement in species management, in part by keeping species off the Endangered Species Act list.
“A big part of the goal here is to work with these government agencies so that the federal government is never involved in putting the endangered species,” Blunt said.
Colin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation advocacy group, told the committee that Endangered Species Act designations that would result from no action would be much more costly to the federal government and the private sector.
“Imagine if the monarch butterfly ended up on the list. The impact on farms across the country is massive,” O’Mara said, referring to the insect best known for its wide range in the Western Hemisphere.
“I am convinced that we can save most species through proactive and collaborative action and save hundreds of billions of dollars in private sector cost.”
O’Mara said the funding would help prevent species numbers from reaching critically low levels. Working to protect the species before it reaches endangered status is more cost-effective and gives the species a greater chance of survival.
Financing of fines and penalties
The bill would use funds raised through criminal fines and penalties from violations of natural resource and environmental laws.
Committee leaders, Committee Chair Thomas E. Carper, Democrat of Dell, and Republican Grand Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, raised concerns that the bill’s funding source could be too unstable to support ambitious spending.
“As worded, the legislation identifies a source of funding that may not be reliable or pay in full to spend the bill,” Karber said.
“As I understand it, the bill will still lead to $14 billion in direct mandatory spending over 10 years,” Capito said. “This is an issue that we need to look at against the backdrop of our debt and deficit growth during this pandemic.”
Blunt said he and Heinrich “found a source of funding that we think is working.”
Carper also said he wants to see more funding for federal agencies, including the Fish and Wildlife Service.
“While we must absolutely address the financing needs of our nations and tribes, we cannot ignore the legitimate needs of our federal agencies and other partners,” he said.
In addition to Blunt and Heinrich, 16 Democrats and 15 Republican senators co-sponsored the bill, though neither Carper nor Capito attached their names.
Capito said on Wednesday she was “excited” to work with Heinrich and Blunt to improve the law and hoped the bill would move forward.