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House Guts Environmental Programs, Restricts Clean Water Protections

(Beyond Pesticides, July 29, 2011) With the nation’s attention diverted by the drama over the debt ceiling, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are loading up an appropriations bill with over 70 amendments (riders) to significantly curtail environmental regulation in the 2012 Department of the Interior and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) spending bill (H.R. 2584), in one of the most extreme attacks on the environment and public health in modern history. The debate began on Tuesday for this House spending bill, which determines the funding for the Department of Interior, EPA, Forest Service, and other environment-related federal agencies.

Among restrictions is one that would restrict EPA’s ability to act in several key areas, including pesticide suspensions and cancellations related to endangered species protections, pesticide product brand names, and Clean Water Act (CWA) permits for pesticide use on or near water. It includes language that would amend the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide & Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the CWA to exempt FIFRA-compliant pesticides from requiring a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit under the CWA. The appropriations includes bill language that is essentially the same as that contained in stand-alone legislation (H.R. 872) approved by the House and reported out of the Senate Agriculture Committee. U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) have placed a hold on H.R. 872 in the Senate. Just last week, the House passed the Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011, H.R. 2018, that would prevent EPA from stepping in to enforce clean water standards when it deemed that a state agency was not effectively enforcing the law, and also prevents EPA from refining its existing water standards to reflect the latest science without first getting approval from a state agency. Take Action: Tell your Senator to oppose HR 872.

As of July 27, 77 amendments and anti-environmental riders have been filed, and House leaders have said they are expecting about 200 total amendments to be filed throughout the bill’s floor debate. Before the bill came to the House floor Tuesday morning, it already had 38 anti-environmental policy riders unrelated to spending that attack clean air, clean water, endangered species, and iconic places. One measure -to forbid the Fish and Wildlife Service to list any new plants or animals as endangered- was so extreme that 37 Republicans broke ranks and voted to strip it from the bill. Many believe the legislation is essentially a targeted attack on some of President Obama’s signature items: tackling climate change, regulating fossil-fuel pollution, and protecting public lands and waters.

Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), the ranking member on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, said that while the bill has been put on the back burner while lawmakers and the media focus on the debt ceiling issue, “it is boiling over” with threats to the environment.

Although inserting policy changes into appropriations bills is a common strategy when government is divided as it is now, no one can remember such an aggressive use of the tactic against natural resources. Environmental groups worry that more than a few of these so-called riders could stick when both sides negotiate and leverage budget concessions in the fall.

The Interior and Environment spending bill would provide EPA with $7.1 billion for fiscal 2012, about $1.5 billion below this year’s spending levels and $1.8 billion less than President Obama requested. Interior would receive $9.9 billion, which is $720 million below the agency’s current budget and $1.2 billion below the president’s request. It would slice spending on climate-change programs, slash money for the federal government to acquire new public lands, and effectively gut the nation’s land and water conservation fund, with a cut of more than 90 percent. The legislation is also laden with dozens of policy riders that would do everything from block EPA from regulating power plants’ greenhouse-gas emissions to allow uranium mining around the Grand Canyon.

Among the original 38 riders in the bill are provisions to:

-Ban EPA from all work to reduce the climate change pollution of power plants, refineries, and other major polluters for one full year, and allow major new sources of carbon pollution to be built without any controls.

-Mandate that California’s National Forests allow off-road vehicles in places where they cause harm and raise significant safety concerns.

-Leave millions of acres of wilderness-quality lands open to drilling, mining, and off-road vehicles.

-Prohibit EPA from ensuring that hardrock mining companies –not American taxpayers– are responsible for footing the bills of costly environmental cleanups at their mine sites.

For more on the riders, visit Earthjustice.

Take Action:

U.S. House of Representatives:
Call or email your Representative today and demand a stop to attacks of environmental protections and programs. Find your Representative here.

U.S. Senate: Tell your Senator to oppose HR 872.

Sources: Earthjustice, NYTimes


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