This week, Congress reached a bipartisan agreement to fund the government for the remainder of Fiscal 2017 (through the end of September). The deal largely maintains current funding levels for public lands management and environmental programs, despite the funding cuts proposed by the Trump Administration. Whether this deal constitutes “good news” depends a lot on your expectations for how government funding should operate, but either way, the agreement offers some important lessons on how we work to protect the places we care about in the current political environment.
What’s in the deal:
The $1.017 trillion omnibus averts a government shutdown and funds the government through September. If you have a Grand Canyon permit to launch next week—or plans to visit National Parks or other public lands this summer—you no longer have to worry about being turned away at the gate because of a government shutdown.
The deal includes $12.3 billion for the Department of Interior, $42 million above current levels. It also includes $400 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a $50 million cut relative to enacted levels (Congress first “authorizes” a specific spending level, then has to actually appropriate the money in a separate process), but still above where the program has been funded in recent years. The bill will allow agencies to begin work on a suite of LWCF projects, a substantial win for recreation and conservation and an indication of the support this program enjoys outside of a few vocal and extreme members of Congress.
The bill maintains roughly current funding levels for the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, and the National Parks Service. Funding for Forest Planning on National Forests is cut slightly, while the line item for “recreation, heritage, and Wilderness”—an important one for outdoor recreation—receives a slight increase.
While the bill does not address the need for a long-term funding solution for wildfire suppression, it does include an increase of approximately $125 million for Interior fire management over 2016 levels and funds Forest Service fire suppression at the 10-year average.
Finally, the Environmental Protection Agency sees its funding cut by approximately $100 million, or about 1 percent of its budget, and the deal caps the number of EPA employees at 15,000. The cuts are far less deep than those sought by the administration, however. The bill also roughly maintains funding for a number of climate and clean energy programs run through agencies like the Department of Energy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Why this deal is good news for people who love the outdoors:
The agreement is a departure from the deep reductions sought by the Trump Administration (remember that the President only makes suggestions for the budget, and Congress actually controls spending). Congress will now begin work almost immediately on a budget and appropriations bills for Fiscal 2018, which begins in October. The current spending agreement should be taken as a positive sign that Congress is prepared to work independently, outside of the more extreme positions proposed by the administration. While this is a good sign, it shouldn’t be a cause for complacency from the community of people who care about public lands and the environment; rather, read this as an indication that our community’s outreach is effective at protecting our priorities. As things move forward, Outdoor Alliance will keep you up to date about how to keep up pressure on Congress to fund the things that matter, including public lands, the environment, and the agencies responsible for their stewardship.