Today, both houses of Congress passed a transportation bill which contains several significant provisions that will impact America’s natural resources. The bill is expected to be signed into law by President Barack Obama.
“This transportation bill, including several major additions and amendments, has some very good things in it for the care and conservation of our nation’s lands and waters,” said The Nature Conservancy’s Director of Government Relations, Bob Bendick. “Funds for much-needed and large-scale Gulf of Mexico restoration, important flood insurance reforms, and measures to help alleviate the Asian carp problem in the Great Lakes region are all wonderful news for America’s natural resources. We greatly appreciate the work of many champions in Congress who fought so hard for the important environmental considerations in this bill. Their success is a testament to their commitment, which, we believe reflects the overwhelming support of the American people for conservation of natural resources.”
“We are, however, deeply disappointed that $1.4 billion in funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was stripped from the bill, so there is certainly more work to be done. We will continue to advocate for this important program until our federal policy catches up to the strong support the Fund receives from citizens across the nation,” Bendick continued.
The five areas of the transportation bill that have been of most concern to The Nature Conservancy include:
The RESTORE Act dedicates 80 percent of the Clean Water Act fines that may be imposed on the parties responsible for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill to restoring the Gulf Coast environment and economy.
“The Gulf of Mexico is a national treasure—a valuable economic and ecological resource that benefits all Americans. By voting today to rightfully ensure that the region impacted by the oil spill will receive the fines, Congress has affirmed the nation-wide support and interest in restoring and revitalizing the ecosystems, communities and economies in the Gulf states,” said Cindy Brown, Director of the Gulf of Mexico Program for The Nature Conservancy.
The Senate version of the Transportation Bill would have provided $700 million per year for two years to address the huge demand for LWCF-funded projects from across the country, and would have reauthorized the program until 2022. This provision was dropped from the final version of the bill.
“LWCF funding was stripped from the final version of the bill despite strong support from the Senate and from many House members of both parties. Polls consistently show broad and deep public approval of this program, and recent studies demonstrate the importance of farm and forest land and outdoor recreation to the American economy,” stated Bendick. “It is deeply disappointing to see this successful, cost-effective program pushed aside despite its tangible benefits.
The transportation bill included reforms to the Federal Flood Insurance Program that will discourage and guide development away from freshwater and coastal floodplains. Provisions in the bill will better inform the public about the dangers to people and properties of flood risk and allow informed decisions to avoid building in areas of high flood risk.
“Many provisions in the bill recognize the flood protection value of our nation’s floodplains and will help to preserve these important natural systems that also deliver additional public benefits such as improving water quality, providing spawning areas for fish and habitat for other plants and animals, and providing recreational opportunities. And for the first time, when mapping flood risk areas, the bill requires the consideration of our changing climate and the accompanying processes such as sea level rise and changing precipitation patters which are affecting flooding occurrences around the country,” said Sarah Murdock, The Nature Conservancy’s Acting Director of Climate Change Adaptation Policy.
The transportation bill clarifies that states may advance funds for conservation projects to offset the impacts of future highway construction. In addition, some parts of the bill encourage protection of water resources in highway construction.
Unfortunately, other provisions in the bill weaken important environmental review processes for transportation projects, which are currently in place to protect people and nature.
The bill states that the Army Corps of Engineers will complete a study in 18 months on the feasibility of full separation between the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes, in order to prevent Asian Carp from migrating to the lakes. The secretary of the Army would have 90 days to submit to Congress milestones for completing such a plan and an outline of the funding necessary for the study.
“Asian Carp would be highly destructive to the Great Lakes,” said Helen Taylor, the Conservancy’s Michigan State Director. “We are encouraged by this legislation to help prevent this from happening.”
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.