Many citizens are outraged by how few days Congress is in session. Just last month, Congress took off a full week for Fourth of July and is now in recess for the entire month of August. Me? I am happy when Congress goes home as the Dirty Air Villains who run the place don't seem to do anything good when they are there.
In the week after the Independence Day holiday, Dirty Air Villains brought forward the annual Interior-Environment Appropriations bill, which (under)funds the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Interior (DOI), among other things. While the bill was ultimately pulled from the floor over the confederate flag, pro-pollution Members of Congress had plenty of time to go on record against the environment and public health.
The base bill sent to the House floor was bad to begin with. The bill provided far too little funding for EPA to carry out its work of protecting the environment and public health -- $718 million less than the 2015 enacted level and $1.17 billion less than the President's budget request. The bill also included more than a dozen damaging anti-environment riders (i.e. policy provisions unrelated to the agency's funding level). Among the worst riders were provisions to block both the Clean Power Plan and the Clean Water Rule. As the bill evolved on the floor, it got even worse. Here are a few of the lowlights:
A series of amendments further reduced already-low funding for EPA by a total of about $100 million. The biggest hit to the agency budget came in an amendment from Rep. Paul Gosar that reduced the agency's budget by more than $60 million and was adopted by voice vote.
In addition to the rider blocking the Clean Power Plan in the base bill, a number of amendments also targeted the Clean Air Act .
An amendment from Rep. Diane Black, adopted by voice vote, would weaken proposed standards to make medium- and heavy-duty trucks cleaner. The proposed standards would reduce carbon pollution by 1 billion metric tons and save vehicle owners about $170 billion in fuel costs over the lifetime of the vehicles.
Two amendments targeted efforts to reduce ground level ozone pollution, the principal component of smog. In arguing for his amendment, which was rejected by voice vote, Rep. Ted Yoho made the nonsensical argument that "Ozone by itself is not always bad because it is used industrially" and disputed settled science on the impacts of ozone, saying "Yes, there have been reports of it causing respiratory problems, but that is also associated with spores and molds and things like that." An amendment from Rep. Donna Edwards would have stricken a rider that limited EPA's ability to strengthen ozone standards; it was rejected 180-249.
An amendment from Rep. Bruce Poliquin would block EPA standards to reduce toxic pollution, including mercury, from industrial boilers. The standards are estimated to avoid up to 8,100 premature deaths, 5,100 heart attacks, and 52,000 asthma attacks. The amendment, blocking these benefits, was adopted by voice vote.
Drill, Baby, Drill
Several amendments addressed polluters' desire to increase drilling and mining for fossil fuels -- without a concomitant desire to address safety or fairness for taxpayers.
Rep. Lois Capps, responding to the recent 100,000-gallon oil spill in her district, offered an amendment to increase funding of inland oil spill cleanup. The amendment, which was offset by a reduction in spending for new offshore drilling, was rejected 184-243.
Rep. Raul Grijalva offered an amendment to block a rider aimed at allowing unfettered mountaintop removal mining and the water pollution that sullies nearby streams. The amendment was rejected 189-239. Similarly, an amendment from Rep. Don Beyer aimed to allow EPA to protect drinking water from mining companies that currently dump mining waste in rivers and streams. The Beyer amendment was rejected on voice vote. Rep. Brenda Lawrence offered an amendment that would have undone a rider that aimed to block new safeguards for hydraulic fracturing. The amendment was rejected 179-250.
Finally, two amendments aimed to allow dirty energy companies to continue paying below-market rates for fossil fuels extracted from public lands. An amendment from Rep. Steve Pearce would prohibit any increase in the royalty rates paid for oil and gas. The Pearce amendment was adopted 231-198. An amendment from Rep. Ryan Zinke would have similarly prohibited the closing of a loophole that allows for cheap coal extraction from public lands. If the loophole were to be closed, taxpayers in states like Montana would see millions of additional income. The amendment was not voted upon.
Let Them Go Extinct
A number of amendments targeted DOI's work to protect endangered species. Reps. Kevin Yoder, Glenn Thompson, and Paul Gosar each offered amendments prohibiting DOI from protecting different threatened species, the lesser prairie chicken, the northern long-eared bat and the Sonoran desert tortoise, respectively. All were adopted by voice vote. Rep. Niki Tsongas offered an amendment to block both the new riders and a rider regarding wolves that was included in the underlying bill. Her amendment was rejected 186 - 243.
A Brief Reprieve
While the bill has been pulled from the floor for now, you can bet the Dirty Air Villain leadership is already on the lookout for their next opportunity to enact the Big Polluter Agenda. We'll be watching for these provisions to be slipped into the upcoming continuing resolution or to be used as bargaining chips in the development of an omnibus appropriations bill. With Congress heading off for six weeks of recess, at least we know they can't do any more damage now.