Congress notches another conservation bill win

By Anthony Adragna 10/01/2020 05:19 PM EDT

The House passed legislation by voice vote on Thursday authorizing $1.1 billion in conservation programs, including significant investments in the Chesapeake Bay and wetlands conservation.

Passage of the bill, America’s Conservation Enhancement Act S. 3051 (116), marks another significant boost for conservation efforts, which have emerged as a rare source of bipartisan cooperation this Congress despite the rising partisan vitriol. It now heads to the White House for President Donald Trump’s signature.

“The ACE Act could not come at a more necessary time,” Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) said on the floor. “Protecting habitat is one of the most important things we can do for biodiversity and climate resiliency — and this bill accomplishes that in several ways.”

The bill, originally negotiated by the leaders of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee members John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.), cleared that chamber earlier this month.

The details: Provisions in the legislation would reauthorize the Chesapeake Bay restoration program and increase authorizations steadily to $92 million in fiscal 2025. It would also create a $15 million annual landscape protection and restoration grant program for the Chesapeake Bay.

The bill would reauthorize the North American Wetlands Conservation Act at $60 million annually through fiscal 2025. And it bars the EPA from regulating the lead content of sport fishing equipment or their components for five years under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Other components of the legislation establish programs to fight chronic wasting disease and invasive species, while establishing new efforts to protect fish habitats. It also requires federal studies on various aspects of the Endangered Species Act.

How we got here: The Senate and House held an informal conference following initial Senate passage of the bill in January. A House Natural Resources Committee aide said those conversations removed a sense of Congress statement about the Endangered Species Act and capped the prohibition on regulating lead in fishing equipment at five years.

Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.) led a group of three dozen lawmakers urging House leadership to take up that package in a March letter.

Supporters of the bill, which include Ducks Unlimited, the National Wildlife Federation and Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, hailed the measure’s passage as further indication that conservation measures unite the country even in tumultuous times.

“This is a bill that takes on several key priorities that haven’t received enough attention perennially,” Collin O’Mara, the president of the National Wildlife Federation, said in an interview. “It’s a substantive bill that does things and it has absolute bipartisan support that shows conservation is politically potent as well as substantively consensus-driven.”page1image50855936page1image50871488page1image50866688page1image50870336page1image50859584page1image50864576

In a statement after the vote, Barrasso hailed the bill’s passage as “a great example of working across party lines to get something done” and called it the “most significant wildlife conservation and sportsmen’s legislation in decades.”

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