Environmental conservation-focused legislation targeted in Congress' $2.3T spending bill

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Environmental conservation-focused legislation targeted in Congress' $2.3T spending bill

By Cara MacDonald, KSL.com Contributor | Posted - Dec. 23, 2020 at 12:14 p.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — The $2.3 trillion spending bill passed by Congress this week included conservation and environmental protection in addition to providing economic support to Americans impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The massive pandemic relief bill passed by Congress on Monday — providing $892 billion for COVID-19 relief and another $1.4 trillion in omnibus spending — will provide assistance to Americans and businesses negatively impacted by the pandemic, according to the Associated Press. It still needs final approval from President Donald Trump to become law.

However, the bill does a lot more than provide pandemic relief funding. The funding package targets many other things, including environmental conservation-focused legislation that several conservation groups mostly lauded this week.

Among the packages in the omnibus bill are provisions providing tax relief to support renewable energy development, funding for clean energy progress, the Water Resources Development Act and legislation to assist water conservation programs, according to the National Audubon Society. The Water Resources Development Act of 2020 supports a variety of restoration projects for ecosystems and provides funding for research studies in places like the Great Lakes.

It would also provide $180 billion in funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, which is the second-most funding that agency has ever received, according to the Sierra Club.

"This bill advances many critical programs that will help protect and restore the places and resources birds need the most," Sarah Greenberger, interim chief conservation officer and senior vice president of Conservation Policy, said in a statement provided by the National Audubon Society.

The bill also addresses "significant climate and energy provisions," according to the Sierra Club. Those include the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act, which seeks to phase out atmospheric pollutants like hydrofluorocarbons and chlorofluorocarbons by 40% by 2024 and 85% before 2036. The atmospheric pollutants are believed to be thousands of times more "potent" than carbon dioxide as greenhouse gases, according to the University of Hawaii.

"This bill represents one of the strongest actions that Congress has taken to directly address climate change," Michael Obeiter, National Audubon Society's senior director of federal climate strategy, said in a statement by the National Audubon Society. "The fact that this legislation has the support of both the industrial and environmental communities is a welcome sign of a greener future for both people and wildlife."

Also notable was the passage of the Navajo-Utah Water Rights Settlement, which gives the Navajo Nation the right to access water from sources in or adjacent to Utah.

"The Navajo-Utah Water Rights Settlement affirms the tribe's right to 81,500 acre-feet of water per year and provides $210 million in federal funding for clean water access for communities on the Navajo Nation," fishing conservation group Trout Unlimited wrote.

Additionally, the Bureau of Reclamation added a pilot program to promote ecological health funded by The Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration provision, according to Trout Unlimited. The provision funds improvements to fish passage and looks to improve aquatic health.

Still, groups like the National Audubon Society and Sierra Club were disappointed that the omnibus motion didn't address protection for the endangered greater sage-grouse.

"It is deeply disappointing that Congress continues to include short-sighted directives that prohibit the greater sage-grouse from being listed under the Endangered Species Act," Greenberger said in a National Audubon Society statement.

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Nonetheless, it appeared conservation groups are pleased with the bill.

"(Trout Unlimited) applauds the bipartisan work by legislators to find common ground on critical western water issues in the passage of this suite of bills," Steve Moyer, Trout Unlimited vice-president for government affairs, told KSL.com in a statement. "(Trout Unlimited) works to build solutions to difficult water resource problems that work for everyone and we appreciate the support of House and Senate leadership in recognizing the hard work that has gone into developing a 'win-win' path forward provided by these bills."

The text of the omnibus bill, which awaits Trump's approval, can be found at Congress.gov.

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Cara MacDonald

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