Infrastructure week, as it’s called by those who closely follow Congress, is an old and overused term. The number of self-professed “infrastructure weeks” in the last 20 years would surprise you–and is a running joke amongst policy-wonks. Infrastructure week, however, is here, and the current Senate-passed package contains many provisions that would improve fishing and conservation.
Earlier this week, the United States Senate passed the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act through a 69-30 vote. The nearly $1 trillion legislation will address the nations’ hard infrastructure (roads and bridges) and soft infrastructure (broadband access, public transit, and other public works systems). But, the bill also includes numerous natural-infrastructure provisions: making forests more resilient to wildfire, improving watersheds, and restoring coastal habitats.
Undoubtedly, certain members of both political parties–both in and out of Congress–are frustrated with the contents of the expansive bill, but that’s the nature of a bipartisan compromise. The bill is now headed to the House of Representatives, where its future is, well, complicated and fluid.
In any event, here are some of the ways the infrastructure package will benefit fishing, conservation, and the outdoors. According to a White House fact sheet, “The bill is the largest investment in the resilience of physical and natural systems in American history.”
- $11.29 billion for the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund
- $3 Billion for a new abandoned hardrock mine reclamation program that will restore water quality for fish, wildlife and local communities
- $350 million to create a pilot program that will help fund wildlife-friendly roadway crossings
- $14.65 billion for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund Program, to improve water quality and fish habitat through estuary restoration and stormwater management
- $250 million for aquatic ecosystem restoration and protection projects
- $400 million for WaterSMART grants, including $100 million for projects that would improve the condition of “a natural feature or a nature-based feature,” i.e. natural infrastructure
- $491 million in funding to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for restoring marine, estuarine, coastal or Great Lakes ecosystem habitats
- $494 million for NOAA’s National Coastal Resilience Fund, which restores and strengthens natural infrastructure to improve coastal communities and habitats alike
- Removing obsolete dams and a $1 billion grant program to replace out-dated culverts and fish passage barriers, benefiting migratory fish species
- Reauthorizes the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, which funds conservation, access improvements, and angler recruitment
Overall, the reception from the conservation community has been incredibly positive, but acknowledging some notable missed opportunities. Full funding for Everglades restoration was absent, as was funding for Congressman Simpson’s plan to remove the four lower Snake River Dams.
“This infrastructure legislation is potentially transformational,” said Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “It reflects the understanding—which TU has championed for years—that our landscapes and waterways are as much as fundamental part of the nation’s infrastructure as bridges and dams. And it directly tackles some of the biggest challenges to our infrastructure posed by climate change.”
“At a time when our fisheries are struggling due to the impacts of habitat loss and nutrient pollution, the Senate has made a down payment on clean water, healthy habitats and coastal resilience,” said Jim McDuffie, BTT President and CEO. “This funding has the potential to make a real difference for our flats fisheries, and BTT looks forward to working with the House of Representatives and the Biden Administration to ensure that infrastructure legislation with robust ecosystem restoration funding is signed into law.”
“Making this commitment to habitat restoration, water quality, climate resilience, wildlife crossings, and road access on our public lands signals that Senate lawmakers understand the job-creating power of conservation and the foundational importance of outdoor recreation and natural resources in America,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
“This infrastructure package is a huge deal for public lands, public waters and public wildlife,” said BHA President and CEO Land Tawney. “The Senate deserves high praise – and we urge the House to follow their lead.”
Keep an eye out for updates, as the House takes up this historic legislation and investments into our terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
Cover picture courtesy of Flylords’ Food Editor, Kirk Marks.