WASHINGTON, June 17, 2015 – Republicans in both the House and Senate have mounted a coordinated and broad attack on President Obama’s environmental policy, including the new Clean Water Act rule. Both the House and Senate versions of the fiscal 2016 Interior-Environment spending bills include a range of similar policy provisions, including a rider that would block the administration from implementing its rule re-defining “waters of the United States” (WOTUS).
Other provisions in both bills would block the Environment Protection Agency from lowering the ozone standard and bar or limit regulations on greenhouse gas emissions from electric utilities. The bills also would continue a prohibition on listing the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and would delist the gray wolf in Wyoming and the Great Lakes area.
The House bill also includes a provision preventing a listing of the northern long-eared bat without further exemptions for industry and additional public review. The Senate text was not released, but Sen. Lisa Murkowski, chairwoman of the Appropriations Interior- Environment subcommittee, said there was no language on the bat.
The House Appropriations Committee approved its bill Tuesday morning, and the Senate Interior-Environment Subcommittee OK’d its version in the afternoon. The full Senate Appropriations Committee will take up that bill Thursday morning. The bills would fund EPA, the Interior Department and the Forest Service.
Murkowski, R-Alaska, said the Senate legislation would roll back “arguably unlawful rulemakings” and “reflects the will of many members to rein in” the EPA.
But the bills face fierce Democratic opposition in the Senate over the policy riders. “These riders don’t belong in the appropriations process,” said the Interior-Environment subcommittee’s top Democrat, Tom Udall of New Mexico. “While many of these provisions are dressed up as funding limitations, what we’re seeing here is nothing less than a backdoor attempt to rewrite the Clean Air Act and other environmental laws.”
And then there’s the huge obstacle of a Democratic filibuster facing all appropriations measures in the Senate. Democrats say that they won’t allow any of the bills to move on the floor unless Republicans agree to increase spending limits. Republicans are insisting on keeping to the caps set by the 2011 budget law.
The Senate subcommittee didn’t consider amendments to its bill; by tradition that is left to Thursday’s full committee stage. But the outcome is likely to be the same as it was in the full House committee Tuesday when Democrats lost a series of party-line votes to strip out various policy riders, including the WOTUS provision and the ESA riders.
Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., won approval of the rider that would prevent EPA from changing its ozone regulations. And another Republican amendment that would prohibit funding for a Bureau of Land Management’s hydraulic fracking rule was also added over Democratic opposition.
The American Farm Bureau Federation released its analysis of the EPA’s final WOTUS rule last week, saying that the rule is “even worse” than the proposed rule released last March. But the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition says the administration made a number of key changes, tightening definitions in the rule that should satisfy farmers’ concerns.
Among the changes NSAC likes is a new definition of “tributary” that omits wetlands. The definition “provides a clearer explanation that wetlands can be jurisdictional if they are adjacent to a jurisdictional water, but not because they are tributaries.” The rule also codifies the definition of “ordinary high water mark,” a key physical feature of tributaries, as NSAC recommended.
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