From Ed Perry:
The House Majority Wants to Gut Environmental Protections
On Feb. 25, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a continuing budget resolution to keep the government operating and cut spending. But most people didn’t notice that it also was intended to gut environmental agencies and regulations that have protected our air, water and land for more than 40 years.
The U.S. Senate wouldn’t go along, but a House majority was willing to trash decades of bipartisan support for our most basic clean water and clean air protections in a full retreat from the fundamental expectation that elected leaders should safeguard our health and natural resources.
Instead of adding earmarks to its first budget resolution, this Congress added “oilmarks.” An oilmark is a prohibition attached to a spending bill that handcuffs regulators, forcing them to look the other way as polluters endanger the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the lands and waters that nurture fish and wildlife.
Oilmarks are like earmarks in that they don’t get debated and scrutinized, so members feel safe in voting for them. Of 51 amendments added to the original House continuing resolution, 14 were oilmarks aimed at letting politics override science and commonsense public-health protections.
Among other things, the oilmarks would have:
- Allowed 5,000 additional tons of hazardous air pollution and mercury emissions.
- Blocked new health standards to reduce soot pollution, which is particularly harmful to the lungs of our children.
- Blocked funding for climate change science and sensible regulations to start reducing carbon dioxide pollution from oil refineries and power plants.
- Blocked science-based restoration of the Chesapeake Bay, Klamath Basin, San Francisco Bay Delta and Florida waters.
- Blocked new rules and guidance to prevent hazardous coal ash from entering water supplies as happened in the 2008 Tennessee disaster.
- Blocked new rules and guidance to protect stream valleys and wetlands from the dumping of waste from mountain top-removal mining and other sources.
The total budget savings for the 14 oilmarks would have been zero dollars. Not one dime would have been shaved from the deficit, which ostensibly was the purpose of this bill.
While adding all kinds of oilmarks to the spending bill, the House rejected the one amendment, offered by Rep. Markey, D-Mass., that would have eliminated billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies to oil companies. Closing a royalty payment loophole for oil companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico could save taxpayers $53 billion in the coming years, but the amendment was defeated.
At least Congressmen Glenn Thompson and Bill Shuster were consistent. They voted for every one of these oilmarks and then voted against the only amendment that would have reduced the deficit; the one that would have cut taxpayer subsidies to the oil companies.
The sheer audacity and scope of the assault on environmental protection makes you wonder if these folks are out of touch with their constituents. Poll after poll shows Americans want Congress to protect air and water regulations and take action on climate change.
A national survey found that two thirds of Americans — including 54 percent of Republicans and 59 percent of Independents — said the EPA should “reduce carbon pollution without delay.” One poll question revealed particularly strong support for clean air updates the EPA is putting forward: 66 percent of Americans — including 54 percent of Republicans and 61 percent of Independents — favor stricter limits on the release of toxic chemicals such as mercury, lead, and arsenic from coal-fired power plants and other industrial facilities.
Our representatives may say they don’t want a bunch of unelected bureaucrats setting carbon limits for the United States; they want Congress to do it. But what they really mean is that they don’t want any limits at all.
Last year, Congress had an opportunity to pass clean energy legislation to reduce carbon emissions and virtually every representative who voted for the oilmarks voted against the bill. They continue to vote against clean energy legislation, yet they have no alternatives.
Is this what Americans want this new Congress to do? Assault the agency that has effectively reduced air and water pollution and set environmental standards that make our country’s quality of life the envy of the world?
You know, not long ago our government reflected Americans’ strong environmental values. The Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act were passed with bipartisan support in the 1970s, with Republican representatives and senators leading the way. And when Congress updated the Clean Air Act in 1990 to protect thousands of lives and curb acid rain, the House passed the legislation with an overwhelming vote of 401-25. Now it appears all of that has changed.
Fortunately, the U.S. Senate refused to go along with the House oilmarks in last month’s temporary budget resolution. But with another resolution coming soon, let’s hope the Senate — with the help of Pennsylvania Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey — stands firm again and continues to support the EPA and its efforts to protect our air, land and water.
– Ed Perry, PA Outreach Coordinator, National Wildlife Federation