Holding the Government Hostage to Force Environmental Rollbacks

The House and Senate Republican leadership are using must-pass spending bills to launch a sweeping attack on environmental progress. They are trying to block every significant move to improve protection of our health and environment, and they are working to undermine laws responsible for more than 40 years of progress.

This Big Polluter Agenda underscores the lack of any Republican proposals to clean up our air and water, safeguard our lands and oceans, save species, or address climate disruption. Just saying "no" is all they have to offer.

And they are saying "no" in the most dangerous and least straightforward way when they use spending bills to further their agenda. That's because they are setting up a confrontation with the White House that could easily lead to another destructive government shutdown - that's what happens when spending bills don't get signed into law by Sept. 30, the start of the new fiscal year.

There's no good reason to push this negative and backward-looking agenda through spending bills. Doing so amounts to hostage taking. These anti-environmental provisions don't affect the level of government spending by one cent; these bills are used to play a game of "chicken" with the President, and to make it easier to slip unpopular measures through the Congress.

It shouldn't work, and it won't. The President has repeatedly stood up to this maneuver. But it wastes time and threatens the economy. And the riders do showcase the bankruptcy of the Republican Leadership approach on these issues.

To understand the breadth and seriousness of previous attacks, see our tally from the 2014 appropriations process here or this year's federal budget process here. We have already seen policy riders to prevent government from protecting the country against climate change, ensuring clean water, preserving federal lands, limiting exposure to toxic substances, and protecting threatened and endangered species. Our running tally of this year's policy riders can be found here.

Congress has enough fights just over spending levels themselves, where Republican Leaders are seeking to starve agencies that protect the environment, especially the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It's irresponsible to make resolving the disputes over spending even more intractable by adding these riders to the mix.

Congress ought to provide enough money to agencies to do their job of protecting the public. If Republican Leaders have nothing better to offer than standing in the way of environmental progress, they can pursue that agenda through free-standing bills that allow for full debate, where the public can clearly see what they're up to and where the President can exercise his Constitutional prerogative to veto without threatening normal government operations.

But that's no doubt hoping for too much. We will see months more of jockeying as the Republicans pursue their agenda to block environmental progress, despite public support for moving forward. They will lose in the end.