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Federal Budget Deal Strips Protection from Water, Wild Lands, Wolves
WASHINGTON, DC, April 12, 2011 (ENS) - Conservationists are angered and disappointed by the deal struck between Congress and the Obama administration to authorize the federal budget for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year. Protection for clean water, for wild lands, and for endangered wolves will be lost if the continuing budget resolution is enacted as it now stands.

Congress will vote this week on the resolution that keeps the federal government in business through September.

Water quality programs under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency account for about 2.6 percent of cuts to the federal budget under the continuing resolution.

"The latest agreement between Congressional leaders and President Obama decimates water protections," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of the nonprofit Food and Water Watch.

The budget agreement for the six month fiscal year 2011 Continuing Resolution announced yesterday includes a $997 million cut to the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds as compared to FY2010, and a $797 million cut as compared to the President's FY2011 request, Hauter explained.

"The ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to help municipalities deliver clean water to U.S. citizens has been seriously threatened with cuts to the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds, the mechanism by which the federal government dispenses funds for the upkeep of our tap water and sewerage systems," Hauter said.

"If Congressional leaders were looking for budget savings, they should have looked elsewhere," said Hauter. "If they were aiming to gut the EPA, they moved a step closer to accomplishing their goal today."

The continuing resolution also includes a provision that bars the Interior Department from spending any money on implementing the Obama administration's Wild Lands policy, announced in December.

Labyrinth Canyon proposed wilderness in Utah (Photo by SUWA)

The resolution would prohibit funds from being spent to implement, administer, or enforce Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's order to designate new federal areas as wild lands.

Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska today said she backs the budget resolution's provision. "Congress has sole authority to create new wilderness areas. Any attempt to try an end run around Congress will get a predictable response," said Murkowski, the ranking Republican on the Senate Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee. "Moving forward, I would encourage the Interior Department to work not around, but with Congress."

But Richard Peterson-Cremer, legislative director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, called the provision, "a stunning show of disrespect for the last remaining magnificent wild lands in Utah and throughout the West."

The Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management had operated under a similar policy for 27 years, says Peterson-Cremer, "until 2003, when the Bush administration signed off on a secret deal that disavowed its authority to protect wilderness-quality lands. After the deal, BLM operated as if there were only one resource it could not manage and protect: wilderness."

"At stake now are millions of acres of Utah's redrock wilderness that the Bush BLM acknowledged contain wilderness values but declined to protect," warned Peterson-Cremer. "Many of these acres were on track to gain increased protections from oil and gas drilling and off-road vehicle damage that had been authorized by the Bush-era BLM. Now, that progress is threatened as Big Oil and other wilderness foes in Congress pressure the White House to trample our wilderness heritage."

Federal endangered species protections for wolves are also swept away by the budget resolution.

Senator Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, and Congressman Mike Simpson, an Idaho Republican, placed a rider on the budget bill that removes wolves in Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Utah from the federal endangered species list and sets the stage for near-term delisting in Wyoming.

Approved by both the Democratic and Republican leadership, the rider bans citizens from challenging the wolf delisting decision in court while preserving anti-wolf litigation brought by the state of Wyoming and others.

Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said, "In the 38-year history of the Endangered Species Act, Congress has never intervened to override the law and remove a plant or animal from federal protection."

"Tester's rider is not only a disaster for wolf recovery, it opens the door for every self-interested politician to try to strip protection away from local endangered species," said Suckling.

"We'll fight this rider to the bitter end, but the chances of killing it are slim, especially since the rejection of our legal settlement with the Department of the Interior took away our only leverage to rally senators against the rider," Suckling said.

On April 9, a federal judge rejected a settlement agreement that would have sidetracked the wolf controversy by staying a previous court order; maintaining protection for wolves in Washington, Oregon and Utah; establishing an independent science panel on wolf recovery in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming; and preserving the right of citizens to challenge future wolf delisting decisions.

The delisting rider would leave the 1,270 wolves in Montana and Idaho without federal protections at the mercy of states that have declared they want to exterminate wolves.

Senator Tester, who chairs the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus, said today, "Right now, Montana's wolf population is out of balance and this provision will get us back on the responsible path with state management. Wolves have recovered in the Northern Rockies. By untying the hands of the Montana biologists who know how to keep the proper balance, we will restore healthy wildlife populations and we will protect livestock. This provision is best for our wildlife, our livestock and for wolves themselves."

But Andrew Wetzler, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Wildlife Conservation Program, is not persuaded. "This is a huge setback for one of America's greatest conservation success stories and a significant blow to the Endangered Species Act," he said today. "Leaders from both parties are completely undercutting the basic principle of American wildlife conservation: that science should dictate which plants and animals will be protected, not the whims of politicians."

"Congressional leaders rightly recognized that the riders undercutting health and environmental protections in the House of Representatives were inappropriate for a budget bill," said Wetzler. "This anti-conservation rider is no different."

Defenders of Wildlife President Rodger Schlickeisen said, "State legislatures in the Northern Rockies continue to prove why state management of wolves is a cause for concern," he said today. "For example, the Idaho legislature has passed a bill authorizing the governor to declare a state of emergency over the presence of wolves, and extremists in that state are calling for law enforcement to find and kill these amazing animals."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.



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