WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Tuesday, May 16, 2023, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held a hearing on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) proposed budget for fiscal year 2024. 

Below is the opening statement of Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:

“Today, we are here to discuss President Biden’s fiscal year 2024 budget proposal for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. To help inform our discussion, we again welcome Martha Williams, Director of the Service, before our committee. Director Williams, thank you for joining us today.

“The President’s budget request includes just over $2 billion for the Fish and Wildlife Service, an 18 percent increase in funding over 2023 enacted levels. This increase would provide much-needed resources at a time when we are asking the agency to do more—especially to permit infrastructure projects efficiently.

“First, as habitat loss and climate change continue to drive biodiversity loss in our country and around the world, the Service’s mission of conserving, protecting, and enhancing our nation’s wildlife and habitats has never been more critical. In addition, the agency’s role in the federal permitting process is especially important given the historic passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS & Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act.

“We know that the resulting investments from these laws are already starting to drive a revolution in clean energy development, infrastructure improvement, and climate adaptation. But, as part of its mission and congressionally mandated responsibilities, the Service must consult with other agencies to ensure that we are deploying these investments—and permitting projects—in a way that does not jeopardize species. 

“However, neither the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law nor the Inflation Reduction Act, included direct funding for the Service’s responsibilities related to permitting. So, in other words, Congress has increased the number of environmental reviews the Service must complete, but has not yet provided the resources the Service needs to meet this workload. We have an obligation to do something about that.

“I have heard some of our colleagues raise concerns about the Service’s Endangered Species Act consultation process leading to delays and backlogs in the permitting process. Well, lack of agency capacity is a major contributing factor to bottlenecks. The President’s 2024 budget would provide the agency with adequate resources to improve efficiencies in the environmental review process, while also protecting species. We can—and must—do both.

“The President’s budget request also includes a $50 million increase for planning and consultation activities, which would support an additional 225 full-time employees for this work. With this increase, the Service expects to be able to complete more than 280 additional formal consultations and 3,100 additional informal consultations annually. Make no mistake—that will make a real difference.

“Some of our colleagues have also suggested that Congress should just consider bypassing the Service’s role in permitting. But, it is my strongly held belief—a belief held by most of the people that we represent—that we have a moral imperative to protect the species with which we share our one and only planet.

“And, what a lot of people might be surprised to learn is that preserving biodiversity has clear economic benefits. According to a 2022 report by J.P. Morgan, recent biodiversity losses have cost up to $20 trillion per year in lost ecosystem services. These services include protecting our food supply and providing clean air and water. 

“For example, our food production relies on biodiversity for pest control, pollination, and soil fertility. Healthy and biodiverse forests and oceans absorb more carbon dioxide. And, we all rely on biodiverse ecosystems to provide clean water. When we lose biodiversity, nature stops providing these precious services.

“While global biodiversity loss presents a real threat to our economy and environment, the good news is that our nation’s strong environmental laws help preserve biodiversity. The President’s budget enables the Service to fulfill its responsibilities under these laws, which include the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Lacey Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

“The Service also manages over 850 million acres of lands and waters through the National Wildlife Refuge System. The fiscal year 2024 budget would address the major staffing shortage experienced across our refuge system over the last decade by providing funding for an additional 168 full-time employees—such as refuge managers, law enforcement, and visitor services specialists.

“In Delaware, we are proud of our two national wildlife refuges—Bombay Hook and Prime Hook. I visit our refuges often, and in fact, am looking forward to visiting Prime Hook next week to see our world-famous red knots. These tiny birds stop on our beaches to feast on horseshoe crab eggs during their famous migration journey from the southern tip of South America to the tundra of the Northern Arctic. Bombay Hook and Prime Hook are major destinations for birdwatchers, meaning they support our ecotourism industry in Delaware, as well. Yet, both have been short staffed for the last few years. We need to address this shortfall—for our refuges in Delaware and across our country.

“Let me conclude by saying that when Congress tasks an agency with an important mission and an increased workload, we must in turn provide sufficient funding so that they can get the job done. The budget we are discussing today recognizes this responsibility and the opportunity ahead of us.

“With that, we look forward to hearing more from Director Williams today on how the President’s 2024 budget would support the important work she oversees at the Fish and Wildlife Service.”