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EPA Continues to Get a GOP Beating in Interior-Environment Bill

Calls for massive reductions rebuffed, but criticism continues

Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., has had some harsh words for the EPA amid the debate over appropriations for the agency. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., has had some harsh words for the EPA amid the debate over appropriations for the agency. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Although Republicans appeared to have rejected the White House’s call for sharp cuts to the EPA, their disdain for the agency has reappeared as the House debated amendments to the often contentious Interior-Environment spending bill on the House floor last week.

The 80 amendments House lawmakers sifted through consisted of Democrats’ attempts to remove what they described as harmful environmental riders from the measure, and Republicans’ measures to further reduce spending on environmental programs and give the Trump administration more authority to advance its deregulatory agenda. The Democratic amendments were mostly thwarted by the GOP majority.

The $31.5 billion fiscal 2018 Interior-Environment appropriations measure is part of an eight-bill package that House leaders plan to link to a four-bill minibus that passed the House on July 27. House Republicans then plan to pass a 12-bill omnibus and send it to the Senate, where it’s unlikely to pass in its current form.

The bill includes language that would allow the EPA to withdraw the 2015 Clean Water Rule without statutory reviews, a rider that critics fear would remove important checks and balances in the regulatory process.

But Republicans beat back attempts by Virginia Democrat Donald S. Beyer Jr. to strip the measure of that rider. They argued that the rule, also known as Waters of the United States, or WOTUS, was politically driven and based on flawed EPA science.

“The previous administration had an agenda to implement a rule, and they were not going to be told otherwise,” Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Ken Calvert, R-Calif., said on the House floor, even as Beyer argued that language in the bill would set a “radical and dangerous” precedent.

While WOTUS appeared to be one of the most aggressive of the Republican efforts to reduce the EPA’s authority, numerous provisions would also prune the agency in other ways.

Republicans adopted an amendment by Arizona Republican Martha McSally that would increase the National Park Service funding by $9.7 million while cutting the EPA’s budget by $12.1 million.

“I agree wholeheartedly that we should be investing in our national parks, but it shouldn’t be done at the expense of public health,” objected Interior-Environment Subcommittee ranking member Betty McCollum, D-Minn.

The EPA’s budget is down more than 20 percent since 2010 as Republicans have sought to leash an agency they see as overreaching, especially in implementing the Obama administration’s environmental agenda that included tough rules on carbon emissions. Republicans now see an opportunity to undo many of those regulations, buoyed by having an ally in the White House.

Carbon Cost

“We’ve had so many amendments reducing the ability of the EPA to take into account public health,” McCollum complained on Sept. 8 while addressing an amendment to prohibit the agency from using its social-cost-of-carbon calculations in rule-making. She warned that weakening or eliminating the carbon calculation “would ignore the sobering cost” of extreme weather events, intensifying smog and other damages to public health from carbon emissions.

The social-cost metric calculates the projected long-term monetary damage associated with greenhouse gas emissions and measures the climate impacts of agency rules.

Republicans including Rep. Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma, who introduced the amendment, have consistently criticized the system as another Obama administration justification for costly and burdensome regulations. The social cost of carbon, Mullin said, “can be easily manipulated in order to justify” costly regulations. That amendment is among a few that will be voted on this week.

Another Mullin amendment, to prevent the government from implementing Obama administration methane regulations, also awaits a roll call vote. Both enjoy broad support within the Republican majority.

Republicans also voted for an amendment by Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., that would restore funding to 2017 levels, or $32.5 million, for the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation pilot program, while cutting the EPA’s environmental programs and management by the same amount.

Meanwhile, Democrats’ attempts to strip the bill of riders they consider harmful to environmental protections and save EPA funding were repeatedly thwarted.

An amendment by Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., that would have restored funding for the EPA’s environmental justice program was defeated along party lines. A Grijalva amendment that would have cut the Interior Department’s Office of the Secretary funding by $1 million and increase the EPA’s budget by the same amount was also rejected, along with another that would have increased funding for the agency’s Superfund program by $12 million.

Lawmakers also rejected an amendment by Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., that would have eliminated a rider aimed at delaying the implementation of the EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone until 2026.

“We don’t have till 2026 to protect our children’s lungs,” Ellison argued. “When will Congress take people’s health seriously . . . and when will Congress hold companies accountable?”

Still, Democrats and Republicans found a few areas of agreement, including an amendment by Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., that would add $250 million to the Clean Water State Revolving Funds.

Both Calvert and McCollum objected to an amendment that would further cut the EPA’s budget down to the $5.7 billion requested in the Trump administration’s budget outline.

The amendment by Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., would strip proposed funding for the EPA in the bill by a further $1.9 billion.

The administration’s proposed budget for the EPA would come $2.4 billion, or 30 percent, below the $8.1 billion enacted in the fiscal 2017 omnibus.

“I would really like to start tackling Washington’s spending problems now before my 16th grandchild comes in December,” Norman said on the House floor, adding that the EPA’s “overreach and wasteful” spending is endless.

But Calvert urged lawmakers to reject Norman’s amendment, warning that it would hurt critical state programs like radon detection, diesel emissions reduction grants and Superfund programs that clean up hazardous sites.

“I think this amendment just goes too far,” Calvert said. A roll call vote on that amendment is pending.

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