The House Record at Recess: Anti-health, anti-environment

As Republican members of the House prepare to march out of town for the August recess, one can only say good riddance to a crew that in recent weeks has repeatedly, and across a broad front, voted to block, delay or weaken the safeguards that we all rely on the protect our health, our air and water, and our families.

Taken as a whole, the House GOP record paints a clear picture of party that is anti-health, anti-environment, anti-community rights, even anti-kids. (How else to interpret a GOP-sponsored rider to block the Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing rules that would limit exposure to lead paint?)

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, the only thing worse than a do-nothing Congress is a do-something-bad Congress.  The silver lining in the gloomy cloud of bad bills is that the Democratic-led Senate and a veto-wielding president should prevent most of the egregious provisions from becoming law. House leaders say these doomed efforts are all about messaging. If so, then its Message: We Don’t Care.

The centerpiece of this reckless assault on our health and pollution laws is the House Appropriations Committee’s fiscal 2014 budget for the Environmental Protection Agency, which cuts the budget by $2.8 billion, to $5.5 billion, 34 percent below the current year level, and caps the agency’s staffing at 1992 levels.

This would drop EPA’s funding in absolute dollars to 1990 levels. Adjusted for inflation, the House’s EPA budget would be the lowest since 1976. That’s when Gerald Ford was president, a movie ticket cost two bucks, and you could buy a new car for $5,500.

The House appropriators make no secret that these draconian cuts aren’t about saving money, they’re an attempt to “rein in” an agency that’s responsible for keeping dangerous pesticides, chemicals and other pollutants out of the air we breathe and the water we drink. The bill would slash funding to repair dilapidated sewage systems which are leaking into our waters, and a rider would ban EPA from cutting the sulfur in gasoline to reduce asthma attacks and other respiratory problems in children.

Other riders would prevent the government from enforcing rules to prevent surface coal mines from polluting streams, permanently block EPA from strengthening oversight of waste water from power plant cooling systems, and limit the government’s ability to add new toxic substances to the list of hazardous waste materials, just to name a few.

This targeting of EPA isn’t an isolated case, it’s the pattern for House Republicans who are pushing their agenda with virtually no Democratic support. Throw a dart at the House legislative calendar and you’ll likely hit another attempt to roll back health and environmental safeguards.

The Judiciary Committee, for instance, went on a “regulatory reform” spree and voted out a passel of bills that would help industry steamroll over environmental reviews and local community concerns in constructing power plants, nuclear waste facilities, oil refineries and other major projects, and also throw roadblocks in front of agencies trying to protect public health, regulate dangerous pollution, prevent food-borne illnesses or stop shoddy lending practices that threaten the entire economy.

Displaying a flair for bills with misleading names, Judiciary also approved the
“Sunshine for Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act,” which gives the executive branch opportunities to ignore Congressional deadlines by allowing polluters to disrupt court proceedings that try to enforce the law.

Republicans on the Agriculture Committee likewise got into the act of kowtowing to industry and threatening public health. After controversially severing the food stamp program from agriculture legislation, House Republicans on a party-line vote passed what may be the worst farm bill ever.  Besides locking in permanent subsidies to profitable agribusinesses, the bill shields pesticide manufacturers from oversight and overturns rules to prevent the spraying of pesticides into lakes and streams.

It also guts important conservation programs and funds for renewable rural energy, which help restore wetlands and prairies, reduce fertilizer and pesticide pollution, and decrease the nation’s reliance on polluting fossil fuels.  For good measure, the House-passed bill also bans states from enacting their own food and farm laws, which could invalidate more than 150 state laws on health, animal welfare, and food safety.   

Back home this month, House GOPers will no doubt tout their record of going after “job killing regulations.” Most people are not being fooled—they understand that GOP’s targets are actually life-saving regulations that make our families and communities safer and stronger. Maybe that’s why a poll last week showed record low approval for Congress and a poll earlier this year found Congress less popular than cockroaches or colonoscopies. It’s what happens when you vote to put the public’s health at risk.