The Republican Blueprint for the Environment

Over the past 3 years, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed literally hundreds of provisions that would roll back laws and standards that protect our climate, our drinking and surface water, our air, and our public lands.  The press has all but ignored this story because the Senate has been a firewall assuring these bills will not become law. But what happens if the Republicans gain control of the Senate? What are their plans should they gain the majority in both bodies?

Senator McConnell has publicly vowed that if he becomes the Senate majority leader, he will follow the same destructive game plan the GOP has followed in the House: Use the appropriations process to undercut environmental protections and effectively repeal laws meant to protect the health and quality of our communities.  McConnell’s plan is to add anti-environmental riders to must-pass funding bills, forcing the president to either veto those bills and force a governmental shutdown or keep the government open by signing bills into law that will cripple environmental protection.

The main beneficiaries of this strategy are companies who believe campaign contributions are cheaper than compliance with health, environmental and safety laws. Losers include the public, competitors that follow the rules, the environment, and our communities. McConnell is clearly eager to force a government shutdown to weaken protections Americans have long taken for granted.  Tom Toles’s September 2nd editorial cartoon sees it clearly.

The Tea Party-approved blueprint of anti-environment riders is already on view in the House Interior and Environment appropriations bill, which features over 30 such riders included in the bill by Subcommittee Chair Ken Calvert (R-CA). Among other things, the riders would:

  • Block EPA from regulating carbon pollution from power plants (sec. 435);
  • Prevent the public from getting information on where massive industrial livestock operations are, how much waste they generate, whether and to what extent they pollute waterways, and if they are complying with the Clean Water Act (sec. 436);
  • Block the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from clarifying which streams and wetlands are protected by the Clean Water Act—waters that supply one in three Americans’ drinking water and trap flood water;
  • Block the EPA from requiring industries with high probability of causing catastrophic damage by releasing toxics into the environment from carrying insurance to cover environmental damages they cause (sec. 434);
  • Exempt livestock grazing permit renewals from environmental review indefinitely (sec. 410);
  • Block the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) from considering additional protections under the Endangered Species Act for all four sage-grouse species found in the West;
  • Block the Fish and Wildlife Service from installing photovoltaic solar arrays (p. 23 of the report);
  • Block current efforts to restrict the trade of illegal elephant ivory (sec. 115);
  • Take away the president’s authority to establish or expand any wildlife refuge (p. 10).

Many more possible riders that McConnell wants in funding bills are available here.

The government must be funded to pay our soldiers, our air traffic controllers, our border guards, the FBI, and to keep our parks open.  Holding funding hostage to promote a narrow destructive agenda of a small slice of the electorate may help Republicans in red states or those threatened by Tea Party members in primaries but undercuts our shared legacy of a clean, healthy environment for all of us and our children.