Most Anti-Environment House of Representatives in History Tries to Do More Damage

Tea Party leaders in the House have dramatically stepped up their assault on America’s environmental and public health safeguards. Last week alone they used about 50 floor votes and more than 30 policy riders on spending bills to undermine the protections that keep our air safe, our water clean, and our public lands intact.

Another barrage of anti-environment bills is on its way. The upcoming debate in the full House on funding for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department will likely feature votes on even more policy riders designed to prevent the government from upholding basic environmental standards.

These attacks could continue into the fall unless Americans put a stop to it.

Public outcry has helped contain some of damage, but we must raise our voices even louder in the coming weeks. We must tell lawmakers they cannot repeal the safeguards that protect our families and favorite places.

And we must do it now before more damage is done. For never in my 40 years as an environmental advocate have I seen such a concerted effort to undermine bedrock environmental laws.

Not even Newt Gingrich’s 1995 campaign against the environment can match it. Back then, conservative leaders proposed 17 policy riders designed to handcuff the Environmental Protection Agency. This year, the House has added more than 20 riders that tie the EPA’s hands, with at least another 10 targeting other environmental agencies.

And this time around, the scale is even broader: everything from smog standards to wildlife protections to clean water rules is fair game.

Last week’s House activity reveals how far-ranging the attacks are.

On Monday, Representative Joe Barton (R-TX) brought his BULB Act to a vote. The bill would repeal the national energy efficiency standards for light bulbs enacted in 2007 by President Bush—standards that provide consumers with a wide choice of incandescent and compact florescent bulbs and will save $12.5 billion every year on energy costs.

Barton’s bill would have taken those savings away. It would have also represented one of the first times lawmakers repealed a standard that is already in effect and that manufacturers support.

Like many of the current attacks on environmental protections, Barton’s bill was rushed to a vote without hearings, a tacit admission that such bills wouldn’t survive scrutiny. NRDC and our allies helped counteract the Tea Party’s haste with data on cost savings and testimonials from manufactures and business leaders.  Once lawmakers understood the facts about Barton’s bill, it failed to get the required two-thirds vote. But some representatives introduced a one-year delay in lighting standards that was approved later in the week as part of the Energy and Water appropriations.

The attacks on standards and protections continued throughout the week. On Tuesday, the House Committee on Appropriations passed a budget for the Interior Department loaded down with more than 30 anti-environment policy riders.

These riders don’t reduce spending by one penny, but they do block the government from following environmental laws. One provision would permanently weaken air pollution standards from offshore oil and gas drilling and make some sources of air pollution exempt from the Clean Air Act. Another would block the Department of Interior from enforcing safeguards designed to protect streams from coal mining pollution.

Anti-environment lawmakers didn’t stop there. On Wednesday, the House passed a bill that would gut the Clean Water Act, and once again, the extent of the attack is almost unprecedented. Instead of repealing a couple of regulations they don’t like, Congressman John Mica (R-FL) and Nick Rahall (D-WV) are trying to rewrite fundamental legal principles that have held firm for four decades.  Their bill would allow states to veto federal water quality decisions even if a waterway is severely polluted.

The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service wrote about the bill: “it is highly unusual for Congress to advance legislation that would broadly alter the federal-state partnership in order to address dissatisfaction with specific actions by EPA or another agency.”

So far, we have managed to limit the damage. The BULB bill failed, the most destructive policy riders in the budget are unlikely to pass in the Senate, and the effort to dismantle the Clean Water Act has already drawn a strong veto threat from President Obama.

But make no mistake; the assaults will keep coming. The only way to assure that they won’t succeed is for Americans to make their voices heard.

In 1995, Gingrich and his allies started their barrage on environmental safeguards with an attack on the Clean Water Act in May. By July, their efforts had so outraged the public that the House GOP leadership lost its first vote on anti-environment bills and lawmakers started shying away from attacking safeguards.

We must turn the tide once again. The next big vote will be on the rider-laden EPA spending bill, which could come before the House next week. Click here to tell your lawmakers to stop these attacks on the protections that have made our families safer, our water cleaner, and our natural heritage better preserved.

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