House Republicans are moving to derail the administration’s “ecogrief” training for federal employees, attaching language to a spending bill that would bar the Interior Department from offering the classes to its employees.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, one of the department’s agencies, had been conducting the employee training, drawing rebukes from Congress and scorn from some inside the agency who say it is a bizarre way to spend scarce resources.
The new ban, as proposed by Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee, would cover FWS and apply to the entire department.
Ecogrief is part of a family of new terms, along with “climate grief” or “eco-anxiety,” to describe the distress, but the concept has struck Republican lawmakers as ludicrous — and the training classes as a “colossal waste of taxpayer money.”
“We and many of our constituents are appalled to see our tax dollars funding ‘ecogrief’ workshops instead of science-based, environmentally-sound policies,” Rep. Bruce Westerman, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said in a letter to FWS Director Martha Williams this spring.
The new ban is part of the spending bill that would fund environmental policy and the Interior Department.
The legislation reads: “None of the funds made available by this or any other Act may be obligated or expended to carry out the program for Federal employees at the Department of the Interior entitled ‘’Acknowledging Ecogrief and Developing Resistance’’ or any counseling sessions, workshop, or any other meeting pertaining to ecological grief, ecogrief, or eco-resilience.”
The bill has cleared a subcommittee and is slated for action in the full committee on Wednesday. The Senate has not yet announced its version of the bill, and it’s not clear what the chances are for the provision to make it into law.
The Fish and Wildlife Service declined to comment on the legislation and did not answer questions about the current status of the training.
The Interior Department also declined to say what other agencies hold similar training.
“We have nothing to contribute,” said Melissa Schwartz, the department’s communications director.
The Washington Times first reported on the classes earlier this year, sparking outrage among members of Congress.
The agency at that time said employees had asked for the training. Each session was open to 35 people and lasted four hours.
In March, officials told Congress four or five sessions had been held in different regions of the country, at a total cost of about $10,000.
It sounded like attendance wasn’t great. Officials were pleading with employees to sign up for the March session, run by the service’s Albuquerque region.
The GOP spending bill trims spending at the Interior Department and Environmental Protection Agency, with the EPA in particular seeing a $4 billion cut. The Smithsonian Institution, the Council on Environmental Quality, the FWS and the Bureau of Land Management also see double-digit percentage cuts, said Rep. Mike Simpson, the Idaho Republican who serves as chairman of the subcommittee that wrote the bill.
“Cutting funding is never easy and can often be an ugly process. But with the national debt in excess of $32 trillion and inflation at an unacceptable level, we must do our jobs to rein in unnecessary federal spending,” Mr. Simpson said.
Democrats said the reductions are unacceptable.
“The cuts in this bill are so severe that even agencies that usually enjoy bipartisan support are targeted for damaging reductions,” said Rep. Chellie Pingree, Maine Democrat.
She said Park Service employees would be fired and wildland firefighters would lose pay raises.
The bill also settled some GOP policy scores.
The legislation would unravel new regulations governing environmental protection for tenuously defined “waters,” would revoke an attempt to withdraw hundreds of thousands of acres of federal land in Minnesota from being available for energy exploration, and would thwart attempts to build a National Museum of the American Latino.
The bill also contains a general prohibition on spending money on advancing the president’s diversity, equity and inclusion agenda.
Some FWS employees said that agenda has sent their agency off the deep end, taking federal employees whose jobs are to protect endangered species and turning them into culture warriors.
FWS is currently engaged in a multimillion-dollar “Values Journey” effort, with a particular focus on LGBT matters. That includes a first-ever “Transgender Day of Visibility summit,” and a new policy granting employees nearly unlimited time off to take part in diversity or equity organizations and events.
In documents seen by The Times, FWS leaders described the diversity and equity push as Ms. Williams’ top priority.
Some of those activities would be curtailed if the bill becomes law.
In particular, the legislation bans flying gay rights or other trendy non-governmental flags at department facilities.
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