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House Republicans: Riding Roughshod Over America's Air, Water, Land, Wildlife, and Public Health in the 113th Congress

Scott Slesinger

Posted August 8, 2013 in Curbing Pollution, Health and the Environment, U.S. Law and Policy

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What’s worse than a do-nothing Congress? It’s a do-something-bad Congress. That’s what we see today from the House GOP majority.

While much media attention has focused this year on congressional gridlock—how Congress hasn’t been able to pass a Farm Bill, immigration reform or budget measures—the problem, in fact, is the Republican-controlled House. The Senate has passed bipartisan bills on a number of major issues.

House Republicans, meanwhile, have pushed forward more than 60 anti-government, anti-health and anti-environment initiatives you’ll see below.

They’re picking up where they left off in the 112th Congress when they earned the title of the most anti-environment House in history.

During this August recess, when members of Congress are back in their states meeting with the public, we hope you’ll take a look at the tally below and consider asking them: What are your goals? Whose side are you on? What will you accomplish?

Just look at what they do.

Before the current recess, they pulled off the floor a major transportation bill aiming to fix our decaying infrastructure. Instead, they voted on a bill that would keep any new health or environmental standards from going into effect, and another one doubling down to ensure that Environmental Protection Agency rules addressing the for oil and coal industries would die before the first bill killed them.

In many other ways, House Republicans have tried to repeal, roll back or throw up roadblocks to fundamental protections. Their plans would leave our health jeopardized, our rivers and streams polluted, our air dirty, our wildlife depleted and our lands developed with a Wild West mentality.

The House rank-and-file Republican membership is so zealous that their own leaders haven’t been able to get them to go along with some of their own proposals.

These House GOP ideologues don’t vote for “less regulation.”  They vote literally for no safeguards at all.  They like to characterize their proposals as simply adhering to mainstream conservative ideals. But they actually are far more radical than that. Just some examples:

  • Republican measures to “reform” regulation are not some middle-ground effort to limit the burden on companies.  Instead, they would literally tear apart the system that has protected Americans since the early 20th Century, making it next to impossible to put in place any new protection for air, water, food, and land – while giving competitive benefit to recalcitrant companies. (See REINS and RAA below.)

  • The Republican efforts to promote offshore drilling don’t just make it easier to get permits for drilling.  Instead, they require that half the available territory for drilling be put out to lease each and every year, until every last piece is leased, regardless of any concerns about that pace or where it may be dangerous to local recreation and fishing industries or the number of inspectors available to act as a deterrent from unsafe practices.

  • The Republicans have not just tried to “slow down” EPA or make it look more closely at regulations, as they sometimes claim.  Instead, they have pushed to permanently block EPA from protecting waters, from basing air pollution limits on health concerns, and from doing anything at all to address climate change, including reining in carbon pollution from older power plants, which kick out 40 percent of the nation’s carbon pollution and today face no limits.

  • They have not just tried to “trim” the federal budget or limit new federal spending.  Instead, they have taken a cleaver to agencies that provide basic protections – a one-third cut in EPA in one year, and an even greater cut on all research to move us forward on renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Significantly, House Republicans are using their majority to muscle these initiatives through, ignoring the public support for basic safeguards. With a handful of exceptions—such as an anti-climate amendment, a bill clipping EPA’s regulatory power, a pro-offshore drilling measure, and harsh spending cuts in an energy and water bill, which each drew between eight and 16 Democratic votes on the floor— most measures have garnered scant or no Democratic support.

In the 112th Congress, House Republicans were just as reckless. They held about one anti-environment vote for every day the House was gaveled into session, according to Democratic staffers on the Energy and Environment Committee. The total, 317 votes, you can see here.

That was why Rep. Henry Waxman, (D-CA,) a member of the environment committee, and then-Rep. Edward Markey, (D-MA,) a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, called it the most anti-environment House in history.

This House GOP crusade has yielded nothing for the American people.  Fortunately, the U.S. Senate and the White House have stood up to their industry giveaways, favors and backroom deals.

Have they gotten the message? No.

While accumulating a skimpy record of 22 bills signed into law—on such issues as precious-metal blanks and naming a bridge for Stan Musial—House Republicans have spent most of their time trying to ride roughshod over our air, land, water, wildlife and public health in the first months of the 113th Congress.

Following is a partial list of their efforts contained in pending legislation, or measures approved by committee or passed by the full House.

Individually, these measures represent caving to industry lobbyists or blind adherence to rigid ideological positions. But like a painting made of many brush strokes, together they reveal an unrelenting House Republican agenda that is anti-health, anti-community rights, anti-environment and, in total, against the broad interests of the American public.

infographic for reckless 113th congress.jpg

 

Hobbling Federal Agencies That Protect the Public and Fight Pollution

1.  The Interior and Environment Appropriations bill would cut the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by 34 percent, down to the levels not seen since 1990 (and, adjusted for inflation, to the level in 1976); making it next to impossible for the agency to enforce the environmental laws Congress has passed to protect our health, our lands, our air and our water. Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.

2.   Included in the EPA spending bill is a provision to slash funding for rehabilitating and repairing the nation’s aging sewage systems to just $250 million from $1.44 billion previously. Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.

 

overflowing sewer one culvert Public domain.jpg                                              photo credit: public domain
                 

3.   A rider in the Interior and Environment appropriation (Sec. 435) would permanently block EPA from clarifying which streams and wetlands are protected by the Clean Water Act. This would deny Clean Water Act protection for countless streams and wetlands, many of which are sources of drinking water and help with flood control. Identical language appears in the Energy and Water appropriation. Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.


4.   The Energy Consumers Relief Act would subject any significant rule affecting an energy industry issued by EPA to a veto by the Energy Department, an agency with a wholly different mission from EPA’s, which is to protect public health, fight pollution and mitigate climate change. This would allow vital health and environmental safeguards to be nullified. Passed by the House.

5.   A rider in the Interior and Environment appropriation (Sec. 436) would block the Department of Interior (DOI) from enforcing safeguards designed to protect streams from pollution from surface coal mining. Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.

6.   A rider in the Interior and Environment appropriation (Sec. 437) would require a 90-day review by Congress before EPA could strengthen limitations on pollution from urban storm water systems. Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.


trash in river used in SS blog Image courtesy of artur84 FreeDigitalPhotos dot net.jpg

                                   Image courtesy of Artur84 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

7.  A rider in the Interior and Environment appropriation (Sec. 439) would prevent implementation of the National Ocean Policy (NOP), a landmark policy designed to safeguard our oceans and coasts. That rider also requires a report on all FY2011, FY2012, and FY2013 spending on the NOP and requires the President's budget proposal for FY 2015 to identify all proposed funding for NOP. Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.

8.  A rider in the Interior and Environment appropriation (Sec. 443) would block the EPA from enforcing rules to limit exposure to lead paint. Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.

9.  A rider in the Interior and Environment appropriation (Sec. 444) would repeal for the length of the appropriation EPA’s ability to require any industries with high probability of polluting to carry insurance to cover environmental damages they cause. This amendment would allow these risky industries to pass off the damages they cause to the public. Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.

10.  A rider in the Interior and Environment appropriation (Sec. 448) would permanently block the EPA from setting standards to require the recycling of water used by power plants for cooling. Many older power plants use enormous amounts of coolant water, killing millions of fish in the process and then discharging the hot water. Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.

11.  A rider in the Interior and Environment appropriation (Sec. 450) would prevent EPA from publicly disclosing “personally identifiable” information about livestock facilities, including the location of factory farms. A similar provision is in the Farm Bill. Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.

12.  A rider in the Interior and Environment appropriation (Sec. 452) would permanently block the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from limiting pollution from storm water runoff from a wide variety of  logging operations. The Farm Bill (Sec. 11323) has a similar provision. Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.

13.  A rider in the Interior and Environment appropriation (Sec. 455) would prevent the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management from protecting waters from pollution when utilized for hydraulic fracturing operations on public lands and from managing water resources in order to benefit fish and wildlife populations.  Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.

14.  A rider in the Interior and Environment appropriation (Sec. 456) would prevent EPA from updating the definition of “fill material” allowing the mining industry to continue dumping toxic waste from mountaintop removal activities into mountain streams. A similar provision is in the Energy and Water appropriations bill. Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.

 

Coal mine Wyoming Bureau of Land Management resized.jpg                                       photo credit: Bureau of Land Management

15.  A rider in the Interior and Environment appropriation (Sec. 457) would block EPA from enforcing particulate matter standards from applying to metal casting facilities which use furnaces to reprocess industrial sand. Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.

16.  The REINS Act (Regulations from the Executive In Need of Scrutiny), a broad-based attack on regulation, would allow a single house of Congress to block any major agency-proposed regulation affecting health, safety, the environment or the economy. Passed by the House.

17.  The Regulatory Accountability Act would slow or block the adoption of new health and environmental safeguards by imposing on EPA and other agencies an ornate and overly complex process for rulemaking and giving regulated industries many more ways to tie up new rules in court. Passed by full committee.

18.  The RAPID Act (Responsibly and Professionally Invigorating Development) -- designed to ram through construction of major projects, such as oil refineries, power plants, nuclear waste dumps, big flood control projects and the like -- would place arbitrary, and short, time limits on environmental reviews, severely limiting consideration of less harmful alternatives and reducing all-important public participation. Passed by full committee.

 

Highway Construction by franky242.jpg

                                  Image courtesy of franky242 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

 

19.  The Sunshine for Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act would give the executive branch opportunities to ignore Congressional deadlines by allowing polluters to disrupt court proceedings that try to enforce the law. Passed by full committee.

20.  The Regulatory Flexibility Improvements Act would have the effect of bogging down new and existing regulations with cumbersome and superfluous reviews. Passed by full committee.

21.  The 2013 Farm Bill would prevent the EPA from restricting pesticide use near certain fisheries until there is a new study by the National Research Council (NRC) of the underlying science that informs the limitation. Passed by the House.

22.  The Farm Bill contains a provision that would prohibit EPA from modifying, canceling, or suspending a pesticide registration on the basis of a biological opinion issued by NOAA Fisheries Service or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service until the completion of an independent study on the opinions. Passed by the House.

23.  In the Farm Bill is a provision that would bar states from enacting or enforcing their own food and farm laws, which could invalidate more than 150 state laws that currently protect health, animal welfare, and food safety. Passed by the House.

Cows in stalls.jpg

                      Image courtesy of graur razvan ionut / FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

 

24.  The Offshore Energy and Jobs act would prevent the Interior Department from conducting thorough environmental and safety reviews of offshore oil leases, including oil spill response capacity, as called for under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Passed by the House.

Oil platform resized.jpeg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

25.   The Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act aims to undermine meaningful public participation and environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act by setting an arbitrary deadline for reviews of the “siting, construction, expansion, or operation of any natural gas pipeline projects.”  If deadlines are not met, they permit or license “shall go into effect.”  Passed by full committee.

Endangering Wildlife and Public Lands

26.  The House Appropriations bill for the Interior Department cuts the Fish and Wildlife Service budget by 27 percent and, for the first time in many years, provides no money for new land acquisition through the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.

27.  A rider in the Interior and Environment appropriation would block funding for Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs), a network of public-private partnerships that provide shared science to ensure the sustainability of America's land, water, wildlife and cultural resources. Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.

28.  A rider in the Interior and Environment appropriation would prohibit funding to create or expand wildlife refuges. Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.

wildlife refuge1.jpg

29.  A rider in the Interior and Environment appropriation would prohibit researching endangered species on private property. Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.

30.  A rider in the Interior and Environment appropriation (Section 114) severely limits the public’s right to address decisions made by the Bureau of Land Management that favor industry, leading to decisions that will further harm essential federal ecological resources and wildlife. Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.

31.  A rider in the Interior and Environment appropriation (Sec. 118) would block funding to implement the “Wild Lands” initiative of Interior Secretary Salazar in 2010. Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.

32.  A rider in the Interior and Environment appropriation (Sec. 119) by would exempt the trailing of livestock across public lands and the implementation of trailing practices by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). It also precludes trailing decisions from be being protested by stakeholders. (Trailing is the practice of deliberately moving herds of sheep or cows across miles of federal lands where they could interact with, and possibly infect, endangered wild species). Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.

33.  A rider in the Interior and Environment appropriation (Sec. 120) would prohibit the listing of the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act. Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.

sage grouse public domain resized.jpg

34.  A rider in the Interior and Environment appropriation (Sec. 407) would allow the Secretary of Agriculture to rely on outdated forest plans, ignoring the reality that national forests are quickly changing in the face of climate change. Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.

Yellowstone dying forests Skoglund.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                     Photo credit: Matt Skoglund (NRDC)

35.  A rider in the Interior and Environment appropriation (Sec. 409) would prohibit funds from being used for the taking land by eminent domain without congressional approval, with the exception of Federal assistance to Florida for Everglades restoration. Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.

36.  A rider in the Interior and Environment appropriation (Sec. 411) would exempt grazing permits from environmental reviews indefinitely. Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.

37.  A rider in the Interior and Environment appropriation (Sec. 410) sets a minimum size of Alaskan timber sales in Region 10, an area that includes the Tongass and Chugach national forests. These timber sales can include exports of red and yellow cedar. Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.

38.  A rider in the Interior and Environment appropriation (Sec. 432) would limit Forest Service review and appeals processes. Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.

39.  A rider in the Interior and Environment appropriation (Sec. 434) would increase the maximum authorized term of grazing permits issued for domestic livestock on public lands  from 10 to 20 years. Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.

40.  A rider in the Interior and Environment appropriation (Sec. 438) would block any limits on the use or access to federal land for hunting, fishing, or recreational shooting if those activities were allowed as of January 1, 2013. Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.

41.  A rider in the Interior and Environment appropriation (Sec. 453) would exempt from environmental review grazing allotments assigned to permittees and lessees to replace ones made unusable by drought or wildfire. Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.

42.  A rider in the Interior and Environment appropriation (Sec. 454) would enable wholly unrestricted off-road vehicle use on National Forest System land. Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.

43.  The Protecting States’ Rights to Promote American Energy Security Act would block the federal government from regulating the controversial oil and gas drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on most federal lands, and instead relinquish control to the states, no matter how weak their oversight. Passed by full committee.

44.  Under the guise of mitigating future fire risks, the Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention Act would undermine the protections of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which call for public comment and thorough review, by fast-tracking the opening of federal lands to grazing and logging for 10 and 20 year terms respectively. Introduced in committee.

felled logs.jpg

                     Image courtesy of Dr. Joseph Valks / FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

45.  The Federal Lands Jobs and Energy Security Act seeks to throw open public lands to widespread oil and gas drilling by, among other means, cutting short public input and charging a $5,000 “documentation fee”  to citizens who exercise their rights under law to challenge the environmental soundness of a lease.  Passed by full committee.

46.  The National Petroleum Reserve Alaska Access Act aims to rush through oil drilling approval in the Alaskan reserve by setting impossibly short deadlines on the Interior Department review mandated under the National Environmental Policy Act. Passed by full committee.

47.  The  National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act would give agencies the discretion simply to declare that a mineral exploration or mining permit would not constitute “a major federal action” and thus prevent the application (and protection) of  the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Passed by full committee.

Blocking Efforts to Combat Climate Change

48.  The Energy and Water appropriations bill cuts nearly a billion dollars, a 50 percent reduction, from renewable energy projects and research at the Department of Energy. This includes slashing funds for the popular ARPA-E research agency by 81 percent and reducing funds by $220 million for the Office of Science, which supports much of the critical basic research that drives our innovation economy. Passed by the House.

49.  A rider in the Interior and Environment appropriation (Sec. 445) would block EPA from limiting carbon pollution from power plants. Passed by subcommittee, pending in committee. 

power plant pollution courtesty of njaj free digital photos.jpg

                               Image courtesy of njaj / FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

 

50.  An amendment to the Energy Consumers Relief Act bars EPA from attributing any benefits to reductions in carbon emissions. This would prevent EPA from implementing any energy efficiency rules and essentially denies that climate change is having any adverse impact on public safety, health, agriculture or the economy through sea-level rise, drought, super-storms, heat waves and other extreme weather. Passed by the House. 

51.  A provision in the Interior and Environment appropriation (Sec. 419) would require the President to submit a report to the House and Senate appropriations committees on “all Federal agency funding, domestic and international, for climate change programs, projects and activities in fiscal years 2011, 2012, and 2013.” Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.

52.  A rider in the Interior and Environment appropriation (Sec. 420) would prevent the EPA from limiting pollution from livestock production under the Clean Air Act. Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.

53.  A rider in the Interior and Environment appropriation (Sec. 421) would prevent the EPA from requiring the reporting of greenhouse gas emissions from manure management systems. Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.

54.  The 2013 Farm Bill would cut all funding for rural renewable energy and efficiency development, including solar and wind, which help decrease reliance on polluting fossil fuels. Passed by the House.

 

 solar panels Image courtesy of franky242 FreeDigitalPhotos.net.jpg

                                  Image courtesy of franky242 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


55.  A provision in the Interior appropriations bill would rescind $1.3 billion from the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Loan Program and transfer $285.6 million to wildfire suppression operations. Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.

Undermining Public Health

56.  A rider in the Interior and Environment appropriation would limit the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry's ability to add new toxic substances to the list of waste materials considered hazardous. Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.

57.  A rider in the Interior and Environment appropriation (Sec. 451) would permanently prevent EPA from updating standards for cleaning up gasoline and cutting smog-forming pollution from cars and light trucks (Tier 3). Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.

58.  Section 442 of the Interior and Environment appropriation would create confusion and uncertainty by exempting certain storm water discharges from coverage in municipalities' Clean Water Act discharge permits. This exemption would lead to endless factual disputes over the source and destination of individual sites' runoff, and it would prohibit permit requirements for those pollution sources, allowing them to continue degrading local water bodies without consequences. Passed by subcommittee, pending in full committee.

59.  The Farm Bill would sharply reduce, then end, funding for conservation programs, which help restore wetlands and prairies and reduce fertilizer and pesticide pollution that poison our rivers and drinking water. Passed by the House.

60.  The Farm Bill would gut all Clean Water Act restrictions on spraying pesticides into certain bodies of water, reversing a 2009 court decision. Passed by the House.

61.  The Farm Bill loosens the oil spill prevention obligations of certain agricultural operations, even though oil spills from a farm are just as harmful as those from industry. Passed by the House.

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Comments

Michael BerndtsonAug 8 2013 01:14 PM

Wow! This was wonderful. Now I have to take every negative comment I've ever made about NRDC on Switchboard. Some comments will stay.

I've seen these workarounds and rollbacks of environmental protection legislation since the around the late 1980s. Early on it seemed like a pragmatic thing to do. Some environmental legislations and applied regulations were cumbersome. Not necessarily in the practice of environmental protection and remediation measures. Mostly it always seemed that legal ramifications bothered industry and development. After 25 years, this anti-environmental movement in congress just continues to the point of messianic.

I'd put some blame on pragmatic democrats as well. Politicians like Clinton used environmental as a bargaining chip when dealing with the Gingrich house in the 1990s. And the practice continues to this day with dems offering up environmental protection for the purpose of getting something done. I'm not sure what got done and why the land, water and air and us has to suffer.

Nicely done. I'll do my best to get this info out there in the electronic ether.

Jim JonesAug 10 2013 11:37 PM

NEPA is just so perfect as is isn't it? That the transcontinental railroad builders could build 10 miles of track in one day while a public mass transit agency can't even build 10 miles in a decade.

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