House panel approves EPA/Interior spending bill

By Bill Tomson

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WASHINGTON, June 15, 2016 - The House Appropriations Committee today voted 31 to 18 to approve a $32.1 billion spending bill to fund the Interior Department, Environmental Protection Agency and the Forest Service in fiscal year 2017. The bill includes a provision that would block the EPA from implementing its controversial Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule.

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Sparks flew throughout the four-hour markup of the bill as Republicans and Democrats sparred over several issues, but there was no debate on the WOTUS provision. Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., had prepared an amendment that would have removed the WOTUS block from the bill, but a spokeswoman said he decided not to bring it up for a vote.

The Senate Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee passed its FY 2017 spending bill on Tuesday, which also contains a rider to block WOTUS.

Farm groups are virtually united in their disdain for WOTUS, also known as the Clean Water Rule. While a federal judge issued a nationwide stay on the rule in October, some lawmakers fear the stay will eventually be lifted and they are scrambling to get legislation in place to block the EPA rule.

Overall, the spending bill angered some Democrats who complained about funding cuts - the bill is $64 million less than was enacted for FY 2016 and about $1 billion below President Barack Obama's request.

“These programs promote the responsible use of our natural resources, fight devastating wildfires, and improve the quality of life for families across the country,” House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers said. “Further, the bill reins in federal bureaucracy to stop many harmful and unnecessary regulations that destroy economic opportunity and kill jobs.”

One contentious vote during the markup centered around a measure offered by Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., to prohibit the Interior Department from declaring for a year that the sage grouse is “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.

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“This amendment would undermine years of collaboration (and) conservation work with private landowners, states and other stakeholders,” said Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn.

The amendment passed with a 29 to 20 vote.

Meanwhile Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., scored a victory in the markup with passage of an amendment to allow more river water to be diverted into California's Central Valley instead of being washed out into the ocean.

Residents and farmers in his district, which include some of the biggest fruit and vegetable producing operations in the country, are desperate for water, Valadao said during the markup.


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