December 10, 2014 / 10:09 PM / 5 years ago

U.S. spending bill blocks potential protections for sage-grouse

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In a victory for oil and gas industry advocates, a $1.1 trillion spending bill to fund the U.S. government most of next year would block the Obama administration from protecting several species of birds found in western states.The proposed compromise spending bill would prohibit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from listing the greater sage-grouse as endangered or threatened and stop the service from working to implement protections for the Gunnison sage-grouse, which the agency listed as threatened last month.

Republicans successfully negotiated a number of policy provisions into the measure, which aims to avoid a government shutdown at midnight on Thursday. It is expected to be put to a House of Representatives vote on Thursday, while Senate passage would follow by a day or two, congressional aides said.

Oil industry groups and some western state governors have fought a potential listing for the sage-grouse, arguing that enacting federal protections for the birds’ expansive territory would severely curtail oil and gas drilling in these areas.

The greater sage-grouse inhabits 186 million acres in nearly a dozen states, according to the Western Energy Alliance, which opposes a federal listing for the bird. The group says industry and local governments are already working to protect the species.

But environmentalists say greater sage-grouse populations have fallen sharply in the past 50 years. Green groups have sued the service to force it to take action on the bird.

A court-approved settlement had set a September 2015 deadline for the agency to issue a decision on listing the sage-grouse. In anticipation of that, western state officials and developers had been working on voluntary conservation plans in an effort to stave off federal intervention.

“This rider makes it all the more essential that we dig in and get good conservation in place, fast,” said Eric Holst, senior director of the working lands at the Environmental Defense Fund. “Time is one thing the greater sage grouse does not have.”

Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Alan Crosby

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