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Congressional Republicans attack clean air, water and wildlife protections in budget process

Congressional Republicans are waging an all-out assault on U.S. environmental policy, using the budget process to attack regulations and orders intended to protect air, land, water and wild America.

“Equipped with spending cuts and policy riders, House Republican leadership has presented a vision for an impotent Environmental Protection Agency unable to defend public health or the environment from corporate polluters,” said Lukas Ross of the grassroots environmental group Friends of the Earth. “They are doing this by taking aim at 40 years’ worth of bipartisan environmental protection. Attacks against the EPA are attacks on the American people and the clean air and clean water we need to survive.”

The GOP campaign in the U.S. Capitol resembles the campaign waged against the environment by Wisconsin Republicans in Madison. The tactic is to change policies and weaken regulations in the budget process.

Republicans in the U.S. House attached about 20 anti-environment riders to the Interior and Environment appropriations bill, which already included a 9 percent cut to the EPA’s 2016 budget.

The House was set to vote on the spending bill on July 9 and then July 10, but the measure was pulled from debate after the introduction of a Republican amendment intended to protect the display and sale of Confederate flags in some federal cemeteries.

It was unclear as of July 15 when the House would take up the massive spending measure on the floor.

“Republican amendments to this bill would gut virtually every conservation, environmental, safety and health advance,” said David Goldston, director of government affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy and watchdog group.

The NRDC, earlier this summer, released a thorough analysis of riders that Republicans attached to the Interior bill and other spending measures for the new fiscal year, which begins on Oct. 1. 

In the House’s Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Act, riders would block the EPA from finalizing the first-ever carbon pollution standards for new and existing fossil fuel power plants, as well as bar the government from assessing and weighing the full costs of extreme weather or other climate impacts caused by pollution.

Another rider would treat biomass burned for electricity production as zero-carbon pollution despite the fact that emissions from wood biomass are often higher than those from coal.

Additional riders would prevent the EPA from limiting pollution from livestock production under the Clean Air Act or require the reporting of greenhouse gas emissions from manure management systems.

Republicans also want to take away the EPA’s authority to set standards curtailing use of super-polluting hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants and foam blowing agents, which harm the ozone layer and are potent greenhouse gases.

Additional riders would permanently prohibit the EPA from clarifying which streams and wetlands are protected by the Clean Water Act and block the Department of Interior from developing or implementing safeguards designed to protect streams from pollution from surface coal mining.

Another rider would impede the Department of Interior and the U.S. Forest Service from using the Land and Water Conservation Fund to acquire lands and waters to conserve critical habitat and expand recreation.

More than a dozen other riders were attached to the Interior spending bill, among them provisions weakening endangered species protections.

Republicans also have worked to weaken environmental policy and regulations with riders to:

• The House Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill, including one to essentially repeal the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by prohibiting civil and criminal enforcement and another to undermine the recoveries of fish population, including salmon and steelhead.

• The House State and Foreign Operations appropriations bill, including a push to reverse the president’s policy of not backing funding for most new overseas coal plants. 

• The House Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill, including a provision to prohibit paying a salary to the assistant to the president for energy and climate change. 

• The House Energy and Water appropriations bill, including provisions to prevent the Department of Energy from providing any funds to the Cape Wind Project off the coast of Massachusetts, prevent the government from shutting down the proposed nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada and blocking enforcement of certain energy efficient standards in homes.

One rider to the energy bill would prevent the Army Corps of Engineers from updating the definition of “fill material,” which would allow the mining industry to continue dumping toxic waste into mountain streams.

• The House Transportation appropriations bill, including a provision to block work on the California High-Speed Rail Program and another to block the implementation of federal energy efficiency requirements in housing assistance through HUD.

Goldston said, “These measures would not only damage the environment, they make it ever more likely that there will be a counterproductive showdown this fall, perhaps leading to another costly government shutdown. This is not what the public wants from Congress.”

Both Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy protested the Republican riders and the cut.

Donovan has called them “irresponsible” and said the Republicans are using the appropriations process to try “to jam through unrelated, ideological riders that undercut health, safety and environmental protections.”

McCarthy, in a press call, said, “Those provisions are very problematic and we strenuously object to inclusion of such restraints on the agency’s ability to carry out its mission as guided by science and the law.”

See also Republican senators seek to roll back auto, rail safety regulations.

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