POLITICS

Environmentalists Aren't Sorry Confederate Flag Debate Threatens Bill To Cut EPA Funding

WASHINGTON -- Here's one group that's not very disappointed that a major House appropriations bill has gotten bogged down in a fight over the Confederate flag: environmental advocates.

The bill, which would appropriate funding for the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency, was pulled from the floor Thursday morning after Republicans added an amendment protecting the display of the Confederate flag at National Park Service sites.

Democrats protested the addition, which came after other amendments limiting the display of the Confederate flag had already been approved. The fight sparked impassioned debate on the House floor Thursday.

Environmental groups have been strongly critical of the underlying bill, which cuts funding to the EPA by $718 million -- a 9 percent reduction from 2015 funding levels -- and includes a number of policy riders barring the EPA from working on ozone and greenhouse gas pollution rules, among other regulations.

Such provisions would constrain the agency's "ability to carry out its mission as guided by science and the law," said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy earlier this week.

The bill also cuts funding to the Department of the Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service, delays work on Endangered Species Act protections for the sage grouse, and bars the agency from working on additional regulations on the sale and import of ivory.

"This spending bill is finally drowning under the weight of its own extremism," Lukas Ross, a campaigner for Friends of the Earth Climate and Energy, said in a statement. "Apparently the only thing that matters more to House Republican leadership than sacrificing Americans' air and water is defending the legacy of slavery. We can only hope that this bill stays dead and buried."

"In addition to the many other problems being reported with it, the bill and its amendments represent the worst attack we have seen on the Endangered Species Act and America’s imperiled wildlife in a single bill since the landmark law was passed more than 40 years ago," Mary Beth Beetham, director of legislative affairs at Defenders of Wildlife, said via email.

The League of Conservation Voters called on Republican leaders "to go back to the drawing board" on the bill, which they said "threatens to roll back the clock on the American people, back to a time when polluters could threaten our clean air and water with impunity."

The bill remained shelved as of Thursday afternoon while leadership worked out a resolution on the flag issue.

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