Trout Unlimited statement on bipartisan infrastructure agreement


July 30, 2021
Contact:            Steve Moyer, Vice President for Government Affairs, Trout Unlimited
                   ; (571) 274-0593

Sweeping infrastructure legislation introduced, headed for consideration on Senate floor

New bill includes many provisions that will help coldwater conservation, but omits critical provisions championed by Trout Unlimited, including failure to support Rep. Simpson’s Snake River salmon restoration proposal.

—A massive package of legislation, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, has been unveiled in the U.S. Senate. If enacted this bill would make essential investments of remarkable size and scope to help the nation address the impacts of climate change, including some of the worst impacts of the rapidly warming climate on trout and salmon.

Trout Unlimited (TU) lauded major titles and provisions of this legislative package that offer solutions to critical challenges to watersheds and communities across the country, including abandoned mine restoration, removal of obsolete dams, forest and watershed restoration, replacement of old culverts and fish passage barriers, and increased efficiency of water management and transport systems. TU has been working on these and other causes of pollution and blockage of rivers and streams for more than two decades and the bipartisan infrastructure agreement, if enacted, would be the single largest investment in the nation’s use and restoration of waterways during that time.

“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.”

Our nation’s infrastructure needs help, including both man-made (roads, culverts, and irrigation ditches), as well as natural infrastructure, like healthy, functional watersheds. And the infrastructure agreement provides it—in billions of dollars for new and improved structures and systems which influence every part of watersheds. If enacted, the agreement would be a once in a generation investment in the health of America’s watersheds.

But the bill is also a lost opportunity. For example, it fails to provide any direct funding for Rep. Mike Simpson’s (R-ID) historic plan to remove four dams on the lower Snake River and invest in regional infrastructure alternatives. After more than 30 years and $17 billion in mitigation, policy makers have failed to prevent the continued steep decline of what was once one of the most prolific salmon and steelhead producing rivers on the West Coast and what could be the largest wild salmon and steelhead stronghold in the continental United States. TU, regional Tribes, and other stakeholders have advocated strongly for congressional support of Rep. Simpson’s proposal, and the agreement’s complete lack of such support is a major disappointment. Numerous scientific studies affirm that the only way to recover Snake River salmon and steelhead is to remove the four dams.

A closer look at the infrastructure agreement shows how some of TU’s highest priorities for improvements in federal policy and funding are core components of essential infrastructure investment.

Abandoned mine remediation. The agreement would reauthorize the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund, the principal source of funding for cleaning up old coal mines dribbling toxic waste into trout streams across the East, for another 13 years and provide several billions of new funding for on the ground projects. In addition, a new and exciting element of the BIF would be establishment of a new hardrock Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) fund, providing $3 billion to federal land management agencies, states and Tribes to help address the tens of thousands of abandoned hardrock mines that currently pollute western watersheds.

US Forest Service Legacy Roads and Trails program. This program provides dedicated funding for repairing, upgrading, and sometimes removing the more than 375,000 miles of roads, 12,000 bridges and 143,000 miles of trails managed by the Forest Service. Rehabilitating and right-sizing the Forest Service’s transportation infrastructure is a high priority for TU due to the widespread adverse impacts of poorly maintained roads and trails on trout and salmon streams.

Transportation culvert program. The agreement would establish a new $1 billion grant program within the Department of Transportation for removal and replacement of obsolete road culverts to benefit sea-run fisheries nationwide.

Regional restoration programs. Existing and proven regional restoration programs which help TU and other restoration experts plan and implement vital projects which repair and improve habitat, water quality and watershed function and which support local economies through hiring of local contractors and consultants would receive substantial increases, including those dedicated to restoration of the Klamath River and Delaware Rivers, the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, Puget Sound and Lake Champlain.

Barrier removal and ecosystem restoration. Elements of the infrastructure agreement would support fish passage barrier removal and watershed restoration, such as removal of obsolete dams and habitat improvements, across several agencies, including NOAA, the Forest Service, and the Fish and Wildlife Service. Additionally, several provisions direct funding to help make forests and watersheds more resilient to the effects of climate change and uncharacteristic wildfire.

Western water infrastructure. The agreement recognizes the foundational role of water infrastructure and watersheds in preparing for water security as climate change continues to make conditions hotter and drier. Among other provisions TU supports, it would invest $400 million in the WaterSMART program, including $100 million for projects that would improve the condition of “a natural feature or a nature-based feature.” It would further invest $100 million for watershed management projects; $250 million for aquatic ecosystem restoration and protection projects; $300 million to implement the Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan; and $1 billion for water reuse and recycling.

Climate change and greenhouse gas reductions. The agreement provides substantial new funds for improvement of renewable energy technology, expansion of the use of electric vehicles, improvement of supply chains for critical minerals, and upgrading of the nation’s power grid. A major shift to renewable energy is urgently needed to begin to reduce greenhouse gas emissions—and their impacts on trout and salmon, which require cold, clean water to thrive.

The infrastructure agreement is a high priority for the current administration, and for TU. TU will continue to work with our restoration and water partners across the country to make sure our nation’s infrastructure contributes to clean and healthy trout and salmon streams—and that the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will deliver the urgently-needed funding and policy guidance to make that possible.

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