Lawmakers in both chambers of Congress have decided to take aim against the greater sage grouse, introducing amendments to two appropriations bills that would prevent federal regulators from enacting conservation plans to protect the bird or list it as an endangered species.
On Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee released a draft version of a $30.17 billion spending bill to fund the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Interior (DOI), including its Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The fiscal year (FY) 2016 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill is $245 million below FY 2015 funding, and $3 billion below President Obama's request.
In a statement Tuesday, the committee said the $1.4 billion earmarked for the FWS "prioritizes funding for programs such as those to conserve sage grouse," but it also said it would continue "a one-year delay on any further Endangered Species Act (ESA) rulemaking for the sage grouse."
Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), chairman of the House Appropriation Committee, said the spending bill "makes responsible investments in programs that care for our public lands, promote domestic energy independence, fight devastating wildfires, and that provide good stewardship of our nation's vast resources to encourage prosperity for years to come.
"Just as importantly, this legislation stops the abuse of power by over-zealous bureaucratic agencies in Washington -- including the EPA -- that seek to impose unnecessary regulations that kill jobs and hinder growth."
Meanwhile, nine Republican senators introduced an amendment to HR 1735, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY 2016, to delay listing the sage grouse on the ESA for an unspecified amount of time. The amendment also proposes delaying listing the Lesser Prairie Chicken for at least five years.
"All three branches of our nation's armed services have told us that a listing of the greater sage grouse would negatively impact their training, readiness, operations, and costs," said Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT). "Western states have a well established and exemplary record of implementing their own sage grouse conservation plans and there is zero need for other federal agencies to get involved."
Sens. Dean Heller (R-NV), Steve Daines (R-MT), James Inhofe (R-OK), James Lankford (R-OK), Jerry Moran (R-KS), James Risch (R-ID), Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) also support the amendment.
The oil and gas industry is opposed to some sage grouse protection plans because they could interfere with their operations. Lawmakers in both houses of Congress must eventually agree to compromise spending bills. The White House has already threatened to veto the House version of the NDAA.
Last month, the Senate Committee on Armed Services voted to advance the NDAA without any riders explicitly barring the sage grouse from being added to the ESA (see Daily GPI, May 15). The full House, along mostly partisan lines, had already passed its own version of the NDAA with language barring the FWS from making any decision on whether to add the bird to the ESA until Sept. 30, 2025.
Also last month, the BLM and the Department of Agriculture's U.S. Forest Service released 14 final environmental impact statements for proposed land use plans on public lands in 10 Western states designed to conserve the greater sage grouse's habitat (see Daily GPI, May 28).
In 2010, then-DOI Secretary Ken Salazar said FWS scientists concluded that the sage grouse deserved to be included on the ESA but declined to do so because other species faced more imminent threats (see Daily GPI, March 8, 2010). After a court settlement in 2011, the BLM agreed to not make a decision on whether to list the bird as threatened or endangered before Sept. 30 (see Daily GPI, Dec. 30, 2011).