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115th Congress ends without federal budget, LWCF, RAWA
The lame-duck Congress was unable to reach agreement on the federal budget by the Dec. 21 deadline, sending some federal government agencies into a shutdown.
While final budgets for the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1 have been passed for some agencies, others such as the Department of Interior, EPA and the U.S. Forest Service do not have spending bills in place and therefore were closed starting Dec. 22. About 25 percent of the federal government is impacted by the lapse in funding, meaning that about 400,000 federal employees – including most that are responsible for wildlife management and conservation – received furlough notices.
Congress and the administration have disagreed on funding for border security, with President Trump refusing to sign a federal budget that does not include $5 billion for constructing walls along border between the United States and Mexico. The House passed a bill in late December that included such a provision, but the Senate has not.
Some agencies, such as the National Park Service, have been able to keep some sites open or partially open, thanks to funding arrangements with states or by providing only limited services and decreased staffing. Other, such as EPA, were able to operate for at least a short time using funds carried over from last fiscal year. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that all units of the National Wildlife refuge System will be closed during the shutdown.
Congress also did not act to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which expired at the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. Through LWCF, proceeds from offshore and gas drilling on federal lands and waters fund conservation of parks, forests, recreation areas, wildlife habitat and cultural sites around the country. After several attempts to pass stand-alone LWCF reauthorization failed, it was included in a nearly 700-page package of public lands legislation that the Senate debated in late December, but that measure did not come forward for a vote.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) will likely be the next chair of the House Natural Resources Committee and he has indicated that he will introduce legislation to reauthorize LWCF soon after the 116th Congress convenes on Jan. 3.
Congress also failed to act on the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (H.R. 4647/S.3223), which TWS strongly supports and which would provide $1.3 billion in dedicated annual funding to state fish and wildlife agencies. The funding would come from energy and mineral extraction royalties collected by the federal government and would be used mostly to monitor and conserve state-identified at-risk species, known as Species of Greatest Conservation Need.