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Legislative Watch December 1, 2011

Legislative Watch

Posted November 30, 2011 in U.S. Law and Policy

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During the past two weeks, Congress finally passed and sent to President Obama the first three spending bills for the fiscal year that began October 1, even as the Supercommittee's efforts to come up with a long-range budget fell apart. Nine bills remain to be passed to fund the government in fiscal 2012; the current stopgap Continuing Resolution, which keeps the government funded at last year's levels, expires 12/16. Also during these two weeks, the Senate took some key votes defending environmental protections, while House committees advanced legislation that could harm the environment.

Budget/Appropriations

On 11/17 both the House of Representatives and the Senate voted to approve the conference version of H.R. 2112, the $182 billion appropriations measure that rolls together the three FY2012 spending bills covering the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Justice and Transportation, as well as several science agencies. The original Senate version of the bill included a rider, inserted by Sen. Nelson (D-NE), that would have exempted the rebuilding of roads, highways and bridges damaged by natural disasters from a variety of environmental reviews, but this provision was removed from the final version. President Obama has signed the bill into law.

Also on 11/17 Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NM) set aside consideration of H.R. 2354, the FY2012 spending bill for the Energy Department and Army Corps of Engineers water projects. Sen. Reid put off debate on the bill after he and Republican leaders were unable to agree on limits on the number of amendments; Republicans had filed numerous amendments, including several that would have blocked environmental measures. The bill may still come before the Senate, but more likely will be rolled into an “omnibus” vehicle along with the rest of the remaining spending bills for the year.

On 11/18 the House of Representatives rejected a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. The measure, H.J.Res.2, would have required a supermajority vote for any deficit spending. The vote was 261-165, well short of the two-thirds majority needed to forward it on to the Senate and the states. Experts projected the amendment would have required the equivalent of a 17.3 percent cut in all programs by 2018.

On 11/23 the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, also known as the “Supercommittee,” was dissolved by law after failing to meet its statutory deadline for producing a plan for at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction. Unless Congress acts, the Budget Control Act signed into law this summer will trigger across-the-board cuts to agency budgets in January 2013, including funding for environmental and conservation programs. The cuts could be as high as nine percent.

Air

On 11/10 the Senate defeated an effort to repeal limits on power plant emissions of smog and soot that cross state lines. Specifically, Sen. Paul (R-KY) proposed S.J.Res. 27 to overturn the Environmental Protection Agency's Cross-State Air Pollution Rule using the Congressional Review Act, which provides expedited procedures for blocking pending regulations. The vote was 41-56 with two Democrats, Sen. Manchin (WV) and Sen. Nelson (NE), voting in favor. In the strongest environmental showing this year, six Republicans voted against the resolution: Sens. Alexander (TN), Ayotte (NH), Brown (MA) Collins (ME), Kirk (IL) and Snowe (ME). The Obama administration had threatened to veto the legislation.

Environmental Justice

On 11/17 the House Judiciary Committee approved a substantially amended version of H.R. 1996, the Government Litigation Savings Act, a bill introduced by Rep. Lummis (R-WY). While modified from its original version, the bill would still prevent environmental non-governmental organizations, such as NRDC, from recovering legal fees for successful lawsuits against the government under the Equal Access to Justice Act and other environmental statutes, including the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The committee voted to approve the measure along party lines, 19-14.

Environmental Regulations

On 11/10 the Senate rejected the “Jobs Through Growth Act” (S. 1720), which was offered by Sen. McCain (R-AZ) as an amendment to an unrelated bill, H.R. 674. The amendment brought together many proposals to make it much harder to enact regulations, including those to protect health and the environment. Specifically, the bill would have prohibited the EPA from issuing standards for greenhouse gases and toxic soot. Additionally, the amendment contained the REINS Act, a bill requiring congressional approval of any major rule, making it nearly impossible to implement new safeguards. The amendment was defeated 40-56, with no Democrats supporting the motion and four Republicans, Sens. Brown (MA), Collins (R-ME) Murkowski (AK) and Snowe (ME), voting against it.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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