Part of the Stewart B. McKinney wildlife preserve in Connecticut, which will be ineligible for restoration funds under the Sandy relief bill passed this week. (Greg Thompson, US Fish & Wildlife Service.)
After much haggling with conservatives, the Senate finally passed a bill on Monday that provided $50.7 billion in relief to people affected by Hurricane Sandy. President Obama signed it late Tuesday.
That’s certainly a good thing—but along the way, the bill got roughed up a little bit in a couple ways that have irritated environmental groups.
The first was a $150 million cut in the amount of money that was originally headed to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That agency was going to use the money for coastal reconstruction and land acquisition by granting it to Regional Ocean Partnerships, which are multi-state coalitions formed to better manage ocean coasts that touch many different states.
But Regional Ocean Partnerships are an integral part of Obama’s National Ocean Policy, which he created in 2010—much to the dismay of Congressional Republicans and the oil companies who fund them. They hate the policy because, among other reasons, it creates substantial obstacles to offshore oil drilling.
Republicans have repeatedly passed amendments barring any money from going to National Ocean Policy implementation, and when House Republicans saw $150 million going to the Regional Ocean Partnerships in the Sandy relief bill, they axed it—even though it only would have gone to coastline restoration. The money was not restored in the final Senate version, and so NOAA has virtually no money to restore sand dunes, coastal wetlands and other areas damaged by Superstorm Sandy.
The National Resources Defense Council, while applauding passage of the bill, blasted the removal of that money as something that will “impede the protection of our oceans and land.”
House Republicans—specifically, Representative Rob Bishop—also added another provision that could hamstring federal efforts to restore damaged coastline. The Bishop amendment to the Sandy relief bill, which remained in the Senate version, prohibits the federal government from using any of the money to acquire new land.