WASHINGTON - The Republican-led House Appropriations Committee has approved a restrictive spending bill for Fiscal Year 2012 that allows uranium mining on public lands adjacent to the Grand Canyon, prohibits funding for the U.S. EPA to set greenhouse gas standards, and exempts oil and utility companies from the Clean Air Act.
In total, the bill includes $27.5 billion in spending - a reduction of $2.1 billion below last year's level and $3.8 billion below President Barack Obama's budget request for the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Forest Service, and other independent and related agencies.
The Republican members of the committee have used the bill to take aim at the EPA in particular.
House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, of Kentucky, said, "This bill sends a strong message that the EPA's 'legislation by regulation' and commandeering of congressional authority is opposed by a strong bi-partisan contingent of lawmakers."
However, the voting record contradicts Rogers' claim of bi-partisanship. The bill passed out of committee by a vote strictly along party lines and now goes to the full House for a vote.
The Appropriations Committee's Ranking Member, Norm Dicks of Washington, said the bill "will devastate the environment and our ongoing efforts to preserve America's natural heritage. Two key examples of this potential damage are that the bill includes the lowest level of spending in the Land and Water Conservation Fund in more than 40 years and funding levels for EPA not seen in more than a decade."
"Overall, the allocation for this bill is seven percent below the amount enacted in the current year - a level that will have a negative impact on our natural resource agencies and on the Environmental Protection Agency. After the EPA took a substantial cut of 16 percent in the current fiscal year, the Republican Majority is now proposing a further reduction in the agency's budget of 18 percent," said Dicks.
"This bill would substantially diminish the capacity of EPA to carry out its responsibilities - which may actually be the goal of some of my colleagues on the other side," Dicks said. "But the repercussions will be felt across the nation, including an ever-growing backlog of water treatment infrastructure projects and a decline in air and water quality."
Chairman Rogers is straightforward about the bill's intent to handcuff the EPA. "The legislation caps EPA personnel and takes explicit action to address EPA's wrong-headed greenhouse gas regulations, its de facto moratorium on mining permits in Appalachia, its attack on the cement and utility industries through unsolicited revisions to the Clean Air Act, and its obstruction of oil and gas permitting in the Outer Continental Shelf," he said Wednesday.
"The actions taken in this funding bill related to the EPA are for good purposes - to rein in excessive spending and stop job-killing regulations," Rogers said. "While the original mission of EPA was to maintain the health of our citizens and prevent future environmental degradation, this agency has become the poster child for this administration's widespread regulatory overreach and is as a result putting mining, manufacturing, and farming families out of business at a time when some Kentucky counties have 18 percent unemployment."
Democratic Congressman Jim Moran of Virginia, ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment, called the bill a "poorly crafted, negligently funded, pre-meditated attack on the health of our people and the environment."
"This legislation should be called the "Pro-Pollution Omnibus Bill," particularly given the 25 policy riders it includes, which read like a wish list for industries looking to ignore the Clean Air and Water Acts," said Moran. "They even go so far as to open up federal lands adjacent to the Grand Canyon for uranium mining."
allows uranium mining on federal lands adjacent to the Grand Canyon by lifting the moratorium on uranium mining along the Colorado River, potentially exposing 17 million people, dependent on the river for drinking water, to radioactive waste.
paves the way for more mountain-top mining by blocking protections against toxic chemicals from mining waste running into our streams.
protects BP and makes schools less safe by rejecting additional funding for the air toxic monitoring at schools or for the Deepwater Horizon litigation.
allows thousands of pounds of pollutants into the air by exempting big oil companies like Shell, Exxon and BP from the Clean Air Act for any new drilling area outside the Gulf of Mexico.
increases the odds of another oil spill by rejecting requested funds for additional staff and funding for increased facility inspections on offshore drilling rigs.
prohibits funding for the Wild Lands Secretarial Order, which Republicans say would negatively impact ranching, energy production, recreation, and other activities on public lands. A similar measure passed the House in the FY 2011 continuing budget resolution.
prohibits funding for the EPA to regulate levels of particulate matter in the air, including farm dust, under the Clean Air Act.
prohibits funding for the EPA to develop additional financial assurance requirements for hard rock mining operations.
prohibits states from receiving EPA Great Lakes funding if they have adopted ballast water requirements that are more stringent than federal requirements.
directs the EPA to do a cumulative assessment of the impacts of EPA regulations.
prohibits funding for the Utility Maximum Achievable Control Technology rule and the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, also called the "Transport" rule, which both require power plants to limit toxic air emissions. Both rules respond to court orders.
The bill is especially damaging to the nation's wildlife says a former head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Jamie Rappaport Clark, now executive vice president of the nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife, headed the Service from 1997 to 2001 in the Clinton administration.
Today, she called the bill "a Frankenstein's monster of wildlife-killing provisions."
"This bill represents an all-out salvo on the natural treasures that are our children's inheritance - and it could be approved before the August congressional recess," warned Clark.
The bill would:
stop new protections for animals at risk of extinction and their habitat. Clark says this could be "disastrous" for species like walruses, which are struggling to survive.
prevent legal action to challenge Wyoming's shoot-on-sight wolf plan.
prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from doing more to protect waters and the wildlife and communities that depend on them. Pesticides are already a major threat to salmon, frogs and other wildlife.
reduce grant programs that provide funding to states to protect declining and imperiled species and to other countries to protect migratory species that live in the United States during parts of the year.
slash funding for national wildlife refuges, habitat restoration and other key conservation spending. The committee approved billions in spending cuts, which would damage already underfunded refuges and undercut environmental protection.
The Republicans say cutting spending is the most important goal.
Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson said, "We are living at a time of record deficits and debt. If there's one thing we should have learned from the last Congress, it's that we can't spend our way to economic recovery."
"At the end of the day, what this Committee is attempting to do in this bill is reduce spending, create more certainty in the marketplace, and promote an economic environment conducive to job growth," said Simpson.
Ranking Member Moran points out that "the vast majority of the EPA's funds pass through to states and localities that are already squeezed by budget cuts. These infrastructure projects create jobs in communities all across the country and provide one of the most basic services taxpayers expect: clean water."
"The Bush administration's EPA administrator estimated that there was a $688 billion nationwide backlog of clean water infrastructure projects, and that total is even larger today," Moran said.
"That backlog will not disappear if we just ignore it but, as we have seen in so many cases this year," said Moran, "the Republican leadership has decided to push this problem farther down the road."
Click here for a list of riders affecting the environment.