January delivered the transfer of power to a new President, but also a re-set on Capitol Hill with the swearing-in of the 117th Congress. Among 534 lawmakers on Capitol Hill — with a few to depart to serve in the Biden Administration — there are 69 freshmen U.S. Representatives and eight newly elected or appointed U.S. Senators. The Democrats have the narrowest of margins in their favor, yet that advantage allows their Congressional leaders to control the floor agenda in the House and Senate for the first time in more than a decade.
The rhythms of Congress have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but we’re already hard at work advocating for all animals on Capitol Hill. It’s the mark of a civilized society to care for the most vulnerable among us, and not just dogs and cats but horses, farm animals, wildlife, and even our finned friends living in the vast depths of the ocean. We’ve been steadily building the legal framework against animal cruelty, and we intend to build on those successes in 2021 and beyond.
Over the last three years since Animal Wellness Action was founded, we’ve successfully secured six new animal protection laws with the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act, the Pet and Women’s Safety (PAWS) Act, the Parity in Animal Cruelty Enforcement (PACE) Act, the Rescuing Animals With Rewards (RAWR) Act, and Dog and Cat Meat Trade Prohibition Acts. And most recently, the President signed into law the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act to outlaw race-day doping in Thoroughbred horseracing. These wins were especially hard-fought and significant in a divided Congress, during a time of such tumult and polarization, and it took your hard work and that of our team to secure these game-changing outcomes.
But in contrast, the regulatory landscape for animals during the same period was quite the opposite at the Dept. of Interior and Bureau of Land Management, where David Bernhardt and William Perry Pendley catered to oil and gas interests, ranchers, and trophy hunters. As a consequence, we’ve seen unprecedented round-ups of wild horses and burros; delisting attempts for imperiled wolves and grizzly bears: opening up Alaskan wildlife refuges and national preserves to ruthless forms of predator slaughter; and attempts to open up the Tongass National Forest, the largest temperate rainforest in North America, to intensive logging.
There’s also been major backsliding when it comes to the care of domesticated horses and farm animals brought on by former USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue who stood on the sidelines as horse soring ran rampant and slaughterhouse line speeds moved so fast that animals and workers suffered even more as a consequence. Make no mistake: there was no draining of the swamp at DOI and USDA — only the hand-over of our government to administrators who gave some of the worst operators in private industry a clear path to do as they wished under the guise of regulatory reform.
So, what does that mean for animals in a new political environment, with President Biden and Democratic control of both chambers of Congress? In this week’s podcast, Wayne Pacelle and I join host Joseph Grove in looking ahead at the legislative and regulatory portfolio we’re working on in 2021 and beyond: the Bear Protection Act, the Big Cat Public Safety Act, the FDA Modernization Act, Greyhound Protection Act, Animal Cruelty Enforcement Act, Preventing Future Pandemics Act, Restoring Our American Mustangs (ROAM) Act, the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act, the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, and the Safeguard American Food Exports Act. There are also many opportunities to work with the Biden Administration to unwind some of the regulatory wrongs that were imposed during the last four years.
Tune in to today’s podcast and join us as we take the greatest bite at the apple yet: massive new legislation conceived by Wayne Pacelle and headed down the pipeline with the valve on full force! Listen HERE.
Marty Irby is the executive director at Animal Wellness Action, and was named as one of The Hill’s Top Lobbyists for 2019 and 2020 and was recently honored by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, II for his work to protect animals.