A one-year ban on new Endangered Species Act protections for sage grouse in this year's $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill is a foreshadowing of partisan wildlife battles to come when Republicans take over the Senate.
The rider, pushed by Republicans at the behest of grazing, mining, and oil and gas interests, passed the House last night in H.R. 83, which squeaked by 219-206 and is expected to clear the Senate by the weekend.
It sparked an outcry from environmentalists, who accused Congress of blocking crucial protections for Western rangelands, among other environmental safeguards.
Republicans and their allies said next September's court-imposed listing deadline for greater sage grouse was arbitrary -- it was set in 2011 settlements between the Obama administration and green groups, including CBD -- and will ultimately harm the bird. More time is needed to ensure that state conservation plans can bear fruit, they said.
This is not the first time Congress has intervened in a major wildlife battle -- it stepped in to delist the gray wolf in the northern Rocky Mountains in 2011 -- but it's a preview of battles next Congress when Republicans legislate with a unified voice.
President Obama has pledged to block GOP attempts to dismantle his climate change agenda, but the White House's support for the omnibus bill yesterday proves that wildlife and their habitat are bargaining chips in spending fights.
If Democratic appropriators could not stop a sage grouse rider when they controlled the upper chamber, there's almost no chance they'll be able to defeat it when they're in the minority.
"Once a rider is into an appropriations bill, it is very hard to get out," said one conservation lobbyist.
In its policy statement on the omnibus bill, the White House said it "objects to the inclusion of ideological and special interest riders," but said it supports passage of the bill.
Its main beef with the bill was policy riders increasing the amount of money individuals can donate to political party committees and relaxing banking regulations from the Dodd-Frank law. But there was no mention of sage grouse.
The Interior Department has blasted the sage grouse rider, but the truth is it had limited sway in the high-level spending negotiations between the White House and House and Senate leaders.