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Legislative Watch October 20, 2011

Legislative Watch

Posted October 19, 2011 in U.S. Law and Policy

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The House of Representatives has been voting virtually every week on proposals to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from strengthening health standards, and is likely to continue this trend throughout the fall. The Senate is beginning to consider spending bills for the fiscal year that began 10/1, including those that fund environmental agencies.

Appropriations

The House and Senate passed, and President Obama signed, a Continuing Resolution (H.R. 2608) to keep the government funded until 11/18. But the process took longer than expected because the House tried to pay for emergency hurricane relief by cutting $1.5 billion from the Department of Energy's Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program, which provides loans to car and part makers that modernize their plants for the production of more efficient vehicles. The House also tried to cut $100 million from a program that helps secure loans for alternative energy companies -- the program that has come under attack because of the failure of the solar firm Solyndra. The Senate refused to go along with the cuts, and in the final bill the emergency spending was not offset with any spending cuts.

Air

The House has passed three bills so far this fall to undermine the Clean Air Act; all three were part of Majority Leader Cantor's (R- VA) “Jobs Agenda.” On 9/23, by a vote of 249-169, the House passed the Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation (TRAIN) Act (H.R. 2401), which would block limits on mercury and other toxic emissions from power plants as well as limits on power plant emissions of smog and soot that cross state lines. The bill, offered by Rep. Sullivan (R-OK), would also remove deadlines for issuing standards from the underlying law, meaning that the EPA could never be required to limit the pollutants. The bill was amended on the House floor to make it much more damaging, most notably by an amendment offered by Rep. Latta (R-OH) that would fundamentally alter the Clean Air Act by requiring that standards for widespread pollutants be based on economics and not just on health. (The law already allows costs to be taken into account in deciding how to meet the standard.) The amendment passed 227-192.

On 10/6, by a vote of 262-161, the House passed the Cement Sector Regulatory Relief Act (H.R. 2681), introduced by Rep. Sullivan. The bill would repeal limits that went into effect in September 2010 on mercury and other toxic emissions from cement kilns. The bill also would change the underlying law by eliminating any deadlines for compliance with any new standards that are issued.

On 10/13, by a vote of 275-142, the House passed the EPA Regulatory Relief Act (H.R. 2250), introduced by Rep. Griffith (R-VA). This bill would prevent the EPA from proposing new limits on mercury and other toxic pollution from industrial boilers and incinerators for 15 months. The bill would also change the underlying law by eliminating any deadlines for compliance with new standards once they are issued.

It is unclear whether the Senate will consider any of the above bills, which could be offered as amendments to other measures. The Obama administration has indicated that the president would veto the three bills if they reached his desk. In addition, Sen. Paul (R-KY) has introduced a bill to repeal limits on smog and soot crossing state lines under the Congressional Review Act, which mandates that a bill get a vote if its sponsor wants one.

On 10/6, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) prevented the Senate from taking up an amendment to block another Clean Air Act safeguard by changing the Senate rules governing when amendments are in order. The amendments would have been offered to an unrelated bill on Chinese currency manipulation. Among the blocked amendments was one by Sen. Johanns (R-NE) that would have prevented the EPA from studying the science on soot pollution, known as PM10, or coarse particles. Sen. Johanns claims that the EPA would use soot limits to try to cut down on "farm dust," a charge the EPA has repeatedly denied.

Coal Waste

On 10/14, the House passed the Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act (H.R. 2273), introduced by Rep. McKinley (R-WV), by a 267-144 vote. The bill would block the EPA from strengthening standards that govern the disposal of coal ash, which contains arsenic, lead, mercury and other toxic chemicals. In 2008, a dam holding back coal ash in Tennessee failed, spilling almost a billion gallons of ash, threatening communities' health and despoiling a river.

Transportation

On 10/12, President Obama's American Jobs Act failed to get the 60 votes in the Senate needed to break a filibuster, killing the bill (the vote on the motion to proceed with the bill was 50-49). The American Jobs Act is a $447 billion package that includes approximately $60 billion for transportation infrastructure, including funding for an infrastructure bank. The Senate may consider individual aspects of the bill separately later in the fall.

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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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