A Republican Rampage

With the nation challenged by two grinding wars, a struggling economy and mounting debt, House Republicans used their new majority status this week to go on a reckless rampage against essential health and environmental safeguards Americans everywhere both depend on and expect. 

Under the guise of deficit reduction, the GOP launched an unprecedented assault on public health, clean air, fresh water, open space and wildlife. This attack on our environment won't take a nibble out of our deficit, but it will take the teeth out of needed protections.

The winners, instead, are corporate polluters like Big Oil, cement makers and coal companies that blow the tops off of mountains and leave the landscape in ruins. The losers are Americans everywhere who expect responsible leadership from the Congress and a decent modicum of corporate stewardship from industry. What's happened here makes a mockery of both. It's a national disgrace.

The ambush began with the continuing resolution, or CR, House Republicans put forward last week. Needed to fund government operations after March 4, the CR is serious business. Rather than treat it as such, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, allowed his new tea party flank to hijack the resolution and lard it up with irresponsible measures driven by a witches' brew of special interest handouts and ideology gone blind.

The bill would cut funding by about a third for the Environmental Protection Agency. The savings - roughly $3 billion - amount to one-tenth of 1 percent of federal spending. That's penny wise and pound foolish. If enacted, the cuts would prevent the EPA from doing its job enforcing the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and other foundational statutes. Polluters would be allowed to spew mercury into the air we breathe, arsenic into the water we drink and municipal and agricultural waste into the watersheds that nourish our land.

Making a bad start worse, tea party allies then peppered the CR with scores of special interest amendments that have nothing to do with spending and were so extreme they even lost some Republican votes. Most were voted on without hearings, expert testimony, committee discussion or the beneficial judgments, information and perspective that vital process provides. Instead, they received as little as five minutes on the House floor before the final vote, in a "just throw it up there and see what sticks" legislative style that turned the sober business of budget making into a political rodeo.

When the dust settled in the pre-dawn darkness Saturday, the House passed a CR that is less a spending guide than a policy manifesto to gut, dismember, defund or derail protections we've relied upon for years, if not decades. 

The CR would prevent the EPA from enforcing needed safeguards on industries ranging from offshore drillers in the Arctic to Gulf coast refineries and petrochemical plants. Here's a sampling of the damage done by Republican amendments that passed:

  • An amendment sponsored by Rep. David McKinley, R-WV, blocks the EPA from preventing coal-burning utilities from dumping certain types of toxic slurry into rivers and streams. House Republicans want to sacrifice clean water and trout for big coal and fat profits.
  • An amendment sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., bars the EPA from enforcing a clean-up plan for the Chesapeake Bay, the largest natural estuary in the country. House Republicans put fertilizer companies and municipal sewage ahead of the need to clean up the bay.
  • An amendment sponsored by John Carter, R-Tx., prevents the EPA from enforcing new standards to cut air pollution from cement plants. The standards would keep mercury - 16,000 pounds a year of it -  and other poison out of the air we breathe. That would prevent 1,500 heart attacks, 17,000 cases of aggravated asthma and 2,500 premature deaths every year, the EPA says. House Republicans voted to protect cement makers instead.
  • An amendment by Don Young, R-Alaska, restricts EPA oversight of clean air standards on offshore oil drillers in the Arctic. Why? Because the EPA's Environmental Appeals Board recently ruled that a permit issued for Shell Oil Co. to drill in the Arctic did not comply with the Clean Air Act. House Republicans don't want that to happen again. Young, by the way, has received $993,313 in contributions from the oil and gas industry since 1989, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan Washington outfit that tracks influence peddling. 
  • An amendment sponsored by Rep. Ted Poe, R-Tx., gives big polluters a pass on the carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases that are warming our planet and threatening us all. Oil, gas and chemical companies have ponied up $274,250 in contributions to Poe just since 2004, the Center for Responsive Politics reports. 

His district has one of the largest concentrations of refineries and petrochemical plants anywhere in the world and some of the most polluted air anywhere in the country. The Texas Commission for Environmental Quality has put parts of Poe's district on an air pollutant watch list for high levels of benzene, which causes cancer; styrene, a neurotoxin; and sulfur dioxide, which attacks the respiratory system. House Republicans voted to let the rest of the country go the way of Poe's district.

No thanks. We need to call this CR for what it is: a blatant broadside on public health and environmental quality that puts every American everywhere at increased risk of being poisoned by the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. It sacrifices the open spaces we cherish. And it puts polluters for profit ahead of American values and the common good. 

This shameful mandate for public menace now heads to the Senate, which must stave off the damage from the dirty business House Republicans have done. Otherwise they'll leave President Obama no choice but to protect the country from this reckless Republican rampage by vetoing this pernicious bill.