The U.S. House has just returned from recess, and the Tea Party Republicans want to make it their first order of business to resume their assault on the environment. House Republican leaders and their Tea Party colleagues are working to block any effort to update the protections that keep our air and water clean.
GOP forces are fighting this battle largely away from public view. Poll after poll shows that American voters favor public health safeguards, so these lawmakers are slipping their dirty measures into the 2012 spending bills in the form of policy riders.
Spending bills are the one kind of legislation that must be passed, even in this divided Congress. Yet policy riders have nothing to do with saving taxpayer money. They literally do not save a single penny. They are designed instead to dictate major changes in government policy with little public debate or transparency.
GOP leaders used the same tactic a few months ago in the spending bill for this year, known as a Continuing Resolution. While the media and the American people focused on how deep spending cuts would be, Republican lawmakers in the House stuffed 19 anti-environmental riders into the bill.
These provisions would have harmed public health and the environment. For example, they would have stopped the EPA from applying Clean Water Act protections to many waterways threatened with pollution, blocked the implementation of the Supreme Court decision that concluded carbon dioxide is a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, and stopped efforts to restore iconic American ecosystems including the Chesapeake Bay and the San Francisco Bay-Delta.
In the end, opposition from Senate Democratic leaders and the president forced the House to drop the riders, but not until the very last minute as a government shutdown loomed.
We must now raise the alarm again as Congress prepares to pass the spending bills for next year.
The dirty amendments have already started, and the House hasn’t even gotten to the main environmental measures yet. Just a few weeks ago, House Republicans attached a rider to the 2012 spending bill that would force the Agriculture Department to abandon new nutritional guidelines for school meals that are designed to fight childhood obesity and would recommend more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
The amendment would also prevent the Food and Drug Administration from restricting the use of antibiotics in healthy livestock—a practice the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatricians, the Center for Disease Control, and other medical organizations have concluded is contributing to the rise in drug-resistant superbugs endangering human health.
And the House Republicans have resumed their efforts to once again prevent Clean Water Act protections from applying to many wetlands and streams.
We must fight back against this attack on sensible safeguards that protect our health and the environment.
But to succeed, we need the White House and Senate. Several months ago, President Obama and Senate leaders spoke out against riders in the Continuing Resolution that would have blocked the Environmental Protection Agency from updating critical limits on toxic air pollution. Their efforts prevailed; those dirty measures were removed from the final legislation.
But when they refused to stand up for wolf and other wilderness policies, the anti-environmental measures stayed in. Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt spoke eloquently last week about the real and destructive consequences those riders will have on America’s public lands.
We must ensure the latest round of anti-environmental riders fails before they do more harm. We must preserve the safeguards that reduce the pollution that causes asthma attacks, keep toxins out of our drinking water, and protect beloved landscapes for our children.
The fate of these riders will largely determine the fate of public health and environmental quality in the coming years. These riders are bad policy, and they should not be loaded on to spending bills in a attempt to thwart the public will.