Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 231-190 to pass bipartisan legislation that would make significant new investments in wildlife and habitat conservation.
Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (H.R. 2773), sponsored by Representatives Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), has 194 bipartisan co-sponsors in the House. The bill originally included $1.3 billion annually for state fish and wildlife agencies and an additional $97.5 million each year for tribal governments to implement their plans to conserve, restore, and protect wildlife and habitat. The House eventually passed an amended version that would expand eligibility for funding for the first four years. States would not initially get the full $1.3 billion in funding—a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation competitive grant program and several Fish and Wildlife Service consultation, partnership, and conservation agreement programs would share in that funding for the first four years.
The bill lost some early Republican supporters because of its unresolved source of funding. The House-passed version would draw funding from the U.S. Treasury, with states required to provide at least 25 percent in matching funds. Negotiators have not been able to identify any funding offsets so far for the federal share. As a result, only 16 Republicans joined Democrats in voting for the package, despite the bill initially having 42 GOP co-sponsors.
Representative Bruce Westerman (R-AR), Ranking Member of the House Natural Resources Committee, argued that while “the goal of the bill is commendable,” the proposed mandatory spending without offsets would “only add” to the country’s debt. He indicated that as a “reluctant opponent” he will remain at the table, adding that the “regrettably flawed bill” represents “a lost opportunity to forge significant bipartisan compromise.”
In the Senate, a slightly different companion bill (S. 2372), sponsored by Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), has 35 co-sponsors. The Senate bill, which was advanced earlier this year by the Environment and Public Works Committee, identifies the funding source as penalties and fines paid by polluters, which would at least partially offset the bill’s funding. Although this was enough to get the bill approved in committee, it will likely not be enough to secure passage by the full Senate. “I believe that more work will be needed to offset the cost of this bill … before it is considered on the floor,” said Senate Environment and Public Works Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV).
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