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Interior-Environment Funding Bill Passed by House

Democrats cry foul over EPA cuts, weakened environmental regulations

California Rep. Ken Calvert said the Interior-Environment measure takes aim at the “unnecessary and dangerous overreach” of the Obama administration. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
California Rep. Ken Calvert said the Interior-Environment measure takes aim at the “unnecessary and dangerous overreach” of the Obama administration. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The House voted, 231-196, mostly along party lines on Thursday to advance the $32.1 billion fiscal 2017 Interior-Environment spending bill, marking the first time that the spending measure has made it out of the chamber since 2009.  

The package (HR 5538) takes aim at the Obama administration’s environment and climate change agenda and would cut by $64 million the budget for the EPA, the Interior Department and other covered agencies. Total funding is $1 billion below the administration’s budget request.  

California Republican Rep. Ken Calvert, chairman of the Interior-Environment Appropriations subcommittee, said on the House floor Tuesday that the House GOP is concerned about a great deal of “unnecessary and dangerous overreach” by the Obama administration.  

Among the environmental rollbacks in the bill is a provision that would block Interior from enforcing its Stream Protection Rule aimed at protecting water sources from contamination from coal mining operations, and the Waters of the United States rule, or WOTUS, which expanded the federal government’s authority over streams and waterways. Ohio GOP Rep. Bob Gibbs said Tuesday that “WOTUS is nothing but a power grab.”    

The Interior-Environment measure has become one of the most contentious of the 12 spending bills that Congress tries to pass every year with Republicans viewing it as a way to withhold funding for policies they say are costly and unconstitutional. Democrats have rallied to try protect President Barack Obama’s agenda.  

“To cater to right-wing ideologues and polluters’ special interests, Republicans loaded up this bill with damaging cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency and harmful riders that undo environmental regulations,” Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum, the ranking Democrat on the Interior-Environment Appropriations subcommittee, said in a statement after the vote. “Sadly, Republicans even bragged about how deep they cut the agency that is responsible for ensuring that our air and water is clean.  

The White House has already threatened to veto the bill, and lawmakers will likely have to agree to fund its accounts through a continuing resolution or an omnibus spending bill.  

Still, the House pushed the bill through to establish the GOP’s position on funding for the administration’s climate change and environmental policies ahead of anticipated negotiations on an omnibus later this year.  

The completion of the Interior-Environment spending bill came after three days of late-night debates on more than 130 proposed amendments. A structured rule approved by the House Rules Committee on Monday limited debate time, helping pave the way for a quicker vote before the summer recess.

Amendment marathon

Over the last three days, lawmakers passed mostly Republican amendments, that aimed at blocking, among other things, the White House from implementing and forcing rules to control hydraulic fracturing on public and Native American lands, from designating the Mexican gray wolf, the sage grouse or the jumping mouse as endangered species, and from allowing the EPA to enforce some of its air pollution polices.  

The bill would cut funding for the EPA to $7.98 billion, a reduction of $164 million from fiscal 2016 levels and $291 million below the White House’s request for the agency.  

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin said in a statement that the bill addresses real issues facing Americans “in a conservative, fiscally responsible way” and puts an end to what he described as the EPA’s radical agenda.   

“This bill will stop the bureaucratic, regulatory overreach that harms businesses, in turn boosting economic growth and creating more American jobs — all while saving taxpayer dollars,” Ryan said.  

While lawmakers rejected early attempts to add funding to help Flint, Michigan, rebuild its drinking water infrastructure after a lead poisoning crisis, the bill includes an amendment by Michigan Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee which would allow states dealing with such emergencies to tap into their Drinking Water Revolving Funds to resolve the issues.   

It also includes additional funding to control and combat wildfires.  

“This is a balanced bill that invests in federal programs to help address critical current needs and to guarantee a brighter future for our nation, and I’m proud that the House approved it today,” said House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers of Kentucky. “It will rein in the federal bureaucracy to stop many harmful and unnecessary regulations that destroy economic opportunity and kill jobs.”  

The environmental advocacy group EDF Action said the House voted to take a big step backwards.  

“Rather than acting to reduce the dangerous impacts of air pollution and climate change, the House of Representatives voted to put American families at risk by slashing critical funding for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Interior,” said Elizabeth Thompson, the president of EDF Action, the legislative arm of the Environmental Defense Fund.

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