Congressional Republicans Attack the Environment—Once Again

Until recently, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has tried to act as if he’s the soul of reason, the man who, as he sees it, could get the Senate to work again. Exhibit A was supposed to be the must-pass spending bills. And the Senate was actually making progress, passing bills with unusual bipartisan majoritiesuntil environmental funding came up in the queue.

On June 16, the appropriation for environmental agencies was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on a party-line vote. The bill is rife with anti-environmental provisions. Now, the Senate again looks like the House, which has been hacking through spending bills with its usual partisan fervor.

It seems that, when it comes to attacking environmental protections, the Republican leadership just can’t help itself—or hold back its troops. 

Both the House and Senate spending bills continue to slash the EPA budget, which is already 20 percent below 2010 spending levels—and that’s not just in real (inflation-adjusted) terms but in actual current dollars. And the situation is even worse because most of the hits have been in regulation and enforcement, while grant programs have remained more or less intact.

But that’s not even the worst of it. Both bills are laden once again with anti-environmental riders—provisions that block environmental progress but have no impact on the spending levels in the bill. Republican leaders are continuing their “just say no” environmental policy—trying to block every advance proposed by the Obama Administration, but offering no solutions of their own.

This is not just bad environmental policy, it’s destructive, counter-productive fiscal policy, and it’s futile. 

Why?  It’s clear what will happen now. The environmental spending bills—and maybe others—won’t be resolved until long after the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1. Instead, they will be put off to a post-election, lame duck session, where Republicans will have to threaten to shut down the government to have any leverage with the Obama Administration, which has repeatedly stood up to riders and has triumphed time and time again. The Administration is likely to be even more protective of its important initiatives when its final legacy is at stake. 

As well it should be. The initiatives the appropriations bill attack would give us cleaner water, more wildlife and better conserved lands. 

The Senate did leave at least one past rider out—one that would kill the Clean Power Plan, which will reduce carbon pollution from power plants. They did this either because even they saw the folly of taking on the President’s marquee environmental initiative—and one that is widely favored by the public—or because the court-imposed stay on the plan may keep it from moving forward most of the next fiscal year anyway. Regardless, the House has not been so circumspect. 

But leaving out that one rider does not mean the Senate bill is more acceptable or that the bill’s authors have changed their anti-environmental tune.

A lot about the political situation this fall is still unclear. But it’s safe to predict now that, come November, we’ll have yet another avoidable fiscal showdown, especially about the environment, and it would be foolish to assume that the President won’t win it again.

Here are some of the anti-environmental riders in the Senate bill:

  • Clean Water. Halts implementation of protections for the nation’s streams and wetlands that have the greatest impact on our nation’s surface and drinking water quality.
  • Hazardous Waste Cleanup. Blocks a provision in the Superfund law that requires industries that have a history of creating Superfund sites to carry insurance to cover potential future hazardous waste contamination. Requiring insurance would save taxpayers billions of dollars.
  • Stream Buffer.  Blocks the Interior Department from developing a rule to strengthen the stream protection requirements associated with mountain top removal.
  • Alaska Refuge Wildlife Management. Includes new language to block U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rules that prohibit certain aggressive hunting practices on predator species, such as bears and wolves, on National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska.
  • Forestry Reforms. Weakens the process to ensure that environmental concerns are considered when making forestry policy, particularly concerning wildland firefighting and set new requirements for the Forest Service logging program on the Tongass National Forest.
  • Endangered Species. Includes new language that overrides court rulings and excludes from Endangered Species protections for gray wolves in the Great Lakes Region and Wyoming. Also, includes language that requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ignore the science and the Service’s responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act with regard to the Lesser Prairie Chicken. The provision would set a dangerous precedent of allowing members of Congress and the lobbyists who support them to determine which species can survive.

A more complete list is available here.