Enviros protest House appropriations bill that contains major cuts to environmental programs

Suzanne O'Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation, speaks to the press Friday at Sunken Gardens Park in Denver as other environmental leaders stand in the background. (Kersgaard)

The U.S. House is expected to vote this week, perhaps today, on a package of cuts to environmental programs that some Coloradans find simply unacceptable. Among the cuts, spending on climate change programs would be cut by more than $80 million or 22 percent. Money for land acquisition would drop by almost a quarter of a billion dollars or nearly 80 percent.

Colorado environmental groups gathered Friday in a Denver park surrounded by for sale signs, each one depicting some natural treasure they say would be at risk if the U.S. House has its way with environmental cuts.

Protection of places like the Grand Canyon would be cut as more land would be opened to uranium mining.

Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation, told reporters on Friday that enough is enough, describing the bill as a “recipe of toxic ingredients for a very foul stew.”

From a press release issued by the House committee running the bill:

In total, the bill includes $27.5 billion in spending – a reduction of $2.1 billion below last year’s level and $3.8 billion below the President’s budget request. Overall, this funding level is $106 million below fiscal year 2009 spending levels. The legislation also includes a total cut to climate change programs of $83 million – or 22% – from last year, and decreases land acquisition funding by $239 million – or 79%.

“This bill would re-open the Grand Canyon to uranium mining. Twenty-five million people live downstream from the Grand Canyon. This is a giveaway of our great outdoors,” said Sinjin Eberle, president of Colorado Trout Unlimited.

He said the uranium industry “does not have a clean record in the West,” and noted that the federal government has already spent hundreds of millions of dollars cleaning waters that had been polluted over the years. “Are we really going down that road again?” he asked.

Ken Strom, interim director of Audubon Colorado, said his real concern is that the two or three billion dollars of cuts proposed to environmental programs will devastate some of those programs but “will have no real effect on spending and will have a huge impact on the quality of life in the West.”

He said spending on programs that promote outdoor recreation have about to a five to one return in terms of generating spending by people who recreate in the West. “We’re just digging the hole deeper economically,” he said.

Gary Wockner, Colorado program director for Clean Water Action, said the appropriations bill would gut funding for both the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act.

The speakers at Friday’s event seemed to take pains not to call any of Colorado’s delegation on the carpet over their votes or statements regarding environmental programs but it is no secret that freshman Reps. Cory Gardner and Scott Tipton have been gunning for the EPA, climate change programs and oil and gas regulations since arriving in Congress less than a year ago.

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