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115th Congress In Review: What Did it Mean for Washington’s Wild Places?

The first two years of Trump’s Presidency have just come to a close and with it the end of the two-year 115th Congressional Session. Washington Wild responded to our members who told us that it was confusing and difficult to follow the mounting congressional threats to our national parks forests and other public lands. We tracked all bills introduced in Congress that would negatively impact our public lands or wild places in an easy to read chart. Over the past two years more than 20 bills were introduced which threatened our public lands. While early on a few provisions made it to President Trump’s desk, others were voted down or withdrawn and most did not advance to a committee or floor vote. Considering what is at stake, this outcome is a welcome one and is a direct result of the strong negative reaction to threats to our public lands from Washington State and around the country. 

Let’s take a look at three things: (1) What Did Make it to the President’s Desk (2) What We Were Able to Stop (3) What Never Made it to a Vote

What DID Make It to The President’s Desk

Photo by Ron Sachs-Pool

Three out of four pieces of legislation that did pass under this Congress were part of something called the Congressional Review Act (CRA). The CRA allows 60 legislative days for legislatures to undo regulations enacted by the previous executive branch, in this case attempting to roll back many Obama-Era regulations. The 115th Congress and current Administration repeatedly used the CRA as a tool to attempt to repeal existing environmental regulations, among others. Any of the CRA resolutions that have been signed into law effectively prevent the agency from submitting a similar substantive rule in the future, meaning that no new similar regulation can be put in place. 14 of these resolutions have made their way to the President’s Desk and were signed into law, three of which directly impacted our environment and public lands. Before the Trump administration, the CRA had only been used once.

  1. J. RES 38: Allow Coal Companies to Dump Waste in Streams – A CRA resolution that allows coal companies to dump waste in streams and removed protections for America’s streams and waterways from fossil fuel development. The initial rule passed under the Obama administration  originally had updated outdated mining regulations to reflect advances in science and technology and reduce long term impacts of mining on rivers and streams.
  2. J. RES. 44: Repeal Improved Public Lands Planning Rules – A CRA resolution that repealed the BLM Planning 2.0 Rule. This rule (now repealed) had originally increased transparency and public input in the planning process for the management of BLM Lands. Washington has more than 400,000 acres of BLM lands, including inspiring landscapes like the Juniper Dunes Wilderness, Chopaka Mountain Wilderness Study Area and the Yakima River Canyon.
  3. J.RES.69: Allow Hunting of Wolves and Bears in National Wildlife Refuges – A CRA resolution that repealed existing regulations and removed wildlife protections on National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska. The resolution repealed existing restrictions on aggressive hunting techniques including aerial hunting of wolves and the killing of hibernating bears.
  4. R. 1: Allow Drilling in The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge – The only non-CRA piece of anti-public lands legislation to be signed into law, this bill included an amendment that cleared the way for opening up the Arctic Refuge to drilling by oil and gas companies for the first time in history. This pristine environment provides critical habitat for wolves, endangered polar bears, and almost 200 species of migratory birds.
What We Were Able to Stop

Photo Courtesy of Forrest Ramsay

While the previous four pieces of legislation were able to make it to the President’s Desk, through advocacy efforts there were also four pieces of legislation that were stopped in Congress! Washington Wild, alongside hundreds of organizations nationwide, mobilized our members to take action around this issue, asking them to send letters to elected officials opposing these issues. Our voices were heard in defense of our public lands and together we can make a difference!

  1. J. RES. 36: Allow Oil Companies to Burn Greenhouse Gases: In April, the Senate narrowly voted (51 to 59) to keep a key environmental regulation, H.J. Resolution 36, a BLM Methane and Waste Prevention Rule. If repealed, this would have allowed oil and gas companies to burn methane emissions that contribute to greenhouse gases and endanger our climate, air, and recreation economies. Three Republicans joined every Democrat to secure this environmental victory to preserve the rule.
  2. R. 621: Sell Off 3 Million Acres of Public Lands – After overwhelming opposition from conservationists and sportsmen vowing to fight this legislation, Rep. Jason Chaffetz withdrew this bill. This bill would have sold off 3.3. million acres of public lands in the west, a plot of land roughly the size of Connecticut.
  3. J. RES. 46: Allow Drilling in National Parks – This CRA Resolution would have repealed regulations and allow gas and mining companies to increase drilling in over 40 National Parks. It would have given the National Park Service very little say in how drilling happens. This threatened iconic American places like the Everglades, Grand Teton National Park, and Grand Canyon National Recreation Area. This legislation was unable to make it to a vote before the deadline for the Congressional Repeal Act had passed!
  4. R. 1625: Allow New Road Building in Alaska’s Tongass Roadless Area – The 2018 spending bill originally included a legislative rider that eliminated protections for roadless areas in Alaska. Allowing roadbuilding in Inventoried Roadless Areas sets a dangerous precedent for the future management of the Forest and in Roadless Areas. This puts healthy forests, clean water, outstanding recreation opportunities, and wildlife habitat at risk. After an outpouring of public opposition, the harmful legislative rider was completely stripped from the funding package! Washington Wild, in response to these threats to the 2001 Roadless Rule, coordinated a joint comment letter signed by 152 conservation, recreation and wildlife groups, faith leaders, hunting and fishing organizations, local businesses, and elected officials.
What Never Made it to a Vote

Lastly, there were numerous pieces of legislation that lacked the momentum and support to make it out of the House or the Senate. This demonstrates the general ability of our Congress to recognize and stop harmful legislation from making it to the president’s desk and an overall show of support from our nation to support pro-environment, pro-public lands legislation! Click here to explore each of these more in depth on our 115th Congress Guide to Legislative Threats.

  1. R. 3144: Rollback Protections for Our Wild Salmon
  2. R. 2936:  Lawless Logging Bill
  3. R. 3043: Push Hydropower Projects with No Regard for Rivers, Wildlife
  4. R. 26: Politicize Public Land Management
  5. R. 5: Mandate Zero Value for Public Lands
  6. R. 865: Allow Unlimited Logging on Federal Lands
  7. R. 2613: Mandate Twice as Much Logging on National Forests
  8. R. 622: Weaken Law Enforcement on Federal Lands
  9. R. 232: Sell Off 2 Million Acres of National Forest Lands
  10. S 33/ S 132: Impede National Monument Designation
  11. R. 861:  Abolish the Environmental Protection Agency
  12. R. 1349: Weaken the Wilderness Act
  13. R. 3990: Undermine the Antiquities Act
  14. 1731: Allow Massive Logging Expansions with No Environmental Review

While it may seem that the amount of bad news regarding our wild places and our environment is overwhelming, it is important to remember that by coming together and standing against these attacks we can make a huge impact to protect what matters to us. As we move forward into 2019 and the 116th Congress remember the difference our collective voice made the past two years. Get involved. Raise your voice. Take action.

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