What Does the New Congress Mean for America’s National Wildlife Refuges?

We at the National Wildlife Refuge Association congratulate the winners of the November 4 elections, and while there will be a change in leadership in the U.S. Senate and possible changes in some leadership positions in the House of Representatives, the implications for our nation’s Refuge System – and wildlife conservation in general – are unclear.

But while everyone is analyzing the results of the congressional elections, I think it’s important to look at what voters supported in state and local ballot initiatives as an indicator of where they stand on conservation.

According to the Trust for Public Land, nearly $13 billion in conservation measures was approved in state and local ballot initiatives, sending a clear message that conservation is a bipartisan issue that shares strong support nationwide.

Here are a few examples:

  • Florida — $18 billion to protect land in the Everglades over 20 years, a set-aside from real estate transaction taxes.
  • New Jersey — $2 billion from corporate taxes for land conservation.
  • California — $7.5 billion for water infrastructure projects to address the state’s serious drought.
  • Maine — a $10 million bond to protect water resources and wildlife habitat, half of which will help reconnect fragmented habitat.
  • Rhode Island – $53 million in bonds for environmental projects, including coastal resiliency.
  • Portland, Oregon; Missoula County, Montana; Bernalillo County, New Mexico; Benton County, Washington; and Larimer County, Colorado — bonds to bolster parks, open space or other public lands.

What the Congressional Elections Mean for Refuges

It’s still too early to know what specific issues will become high priority for the next Congress. However, I expect we’ll see action on a few refuge-related bills either in the “lame duck” Congress that convenes Nov. 12, or in the new Congress, including ones to —

  • Curtail the executive branch’s existing authority to expand refuges or create new refuges;
  • Expand or allow resource extraction, like oil and gas, on public lands;
  • Limit agency actions under the Endangered Species Act; and
  • Increase the value of the Duck Stamp.

How the New Congress Will Impact the Refuge System

When the 114th Congress convenes in January, Republicans will control the U.S. Senate and continue to lead the House of Representatives. Many observers believe that to move legislation in the next Congress, compromise will be the order of the day. A Presidential veto is a powerful tool and neither chamber has the necessary two-thirds majority votes to over-ride such an action. To govern, the GOP-led Congress and the White House will have to work together.

The Breakdown

As of today, in the U.S. Senate, Republicans will hold at least 52 seats and Democrats will hold at least 43 seats, with Independents, who will caucus with Democrats, holding two seats. Virginia and Alaska races are not officially called and Louisiana will go to a run off election on December 6.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, Republicans will hold at least 243 seats and Democrats will hold at least 179 seats (13 races have not been called). The majority party sets the agenda of the full House and Senate, the committees and subcommittees. In the 114th Congress, Republicans will chair all committees.

Leadership Changes

While committee assignments for the next Congress are not yet made, we’re looking closely at who gets selected to lead key committees, since these are the men and women with the most influence in Congress over issues related to the Refuge System.

Here are my predictions about who will control the key committees:

In the Senate

Appropriations Committeesets spending levels for all federal Departments, including the Department of the Interior. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is part of the Department of the Interior.

  • Thad Cochran, R-MS, may chair the Appropriations Committee.
  • Barbara Mikulski, D-MD, will likely be the ranking Democrat.

Interior Appropriations Subcommitteehas jurisdiction over spending for all Interior agencies, including the Fish and Wildlife Service.

  • Lisa Murkowski, R-AK, is expected to chair the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee.
  • Jack Reed, D-RI, will likely be the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee.

Environment and Public Works Committeeresponsible for legislation addressing the Refuge System, air and water pollution, fisheries and wildlife, toxic substances and waste disposal, among other issues.

  • James Inhofe, R-OK, is expected to chair the committee.
  • Barbara Boxer, D-CA, will likely be the ranking Democrat.

Energy and Natural Resources Committeehas jurisdiction over most energy policy and public lands issues; can review Fish and Wildlife Service issues.

  • Murkowski is expected to also chair this committee.
  • If Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-LA, is re-elected in a December 6 runoff, she is likely to be the ranking Democrat. Should she lose, the next-highest ranking Democrat on the committee is Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-WA.

In the House of Representatives:

Appropriations Committeesets spending levels for all federal Departments, including the Department of the Interior. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is part of the Department of the Interior.

  • Hal Rogers, R-KY, will continue to chair the Appropriations Committee.
  • Nita Lowey, D-NY, will continue as the ranking Democrat.

Appropriations Subcommittee on Interiorhas jurisdiction over spending for all Interior agencies, including the Fish and Wildlife Service.

  • Ken Calvert, R-CA, is expected to continue to chair the subcommittee on Interior appropriations.
  • Betty McCollum, D-MN, will likely be the new ranking Democrat.

Natural Resources Committeehas jurisdiction over wildlife refuges, national parks, and other public lands; fisheries, wildlife, forest reserves, Native Americans and related policies.

  • Rob Bishop, R-UT, is likely to move into the chairmanship.
  • Raul Grijalva, D-AZ, may become the ranking Democrat; although I hear that others including Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-CA, may have interest in the slot.

Transportation and Infrastructurehas jurisdiction over all transportation funding and policy, including programs that fund Refuge System roads, bridges and trails.

  • Rep Bill Shuster, R-PA, is expected to continue as chairman.
  • Peter DeFazio, D-OR, is expected to serve as the ranking member.

Your members of Congress need to hear from you on important wildlife refuge issues. If you aren’t already a member of our Refuge Action Network, please click here to sign up now! We’ll send you action alerts when we need you to speak up on behalf of America’s wildlife refuges!

Permanent link to this article: https://www.refugeassociation.org/2014/11/what-does-the-new-congress-mean-for-americas-national-wildlife-refuges/

1 comment

  1. RCS Optics says:

    The Refuge Action Network makes it easy and painless to let your position be known on critical refuge funding. Join today.

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