WASHINGTON, June 15, 2016 - Republicans are setting the stage for another fight over the Obama administration’s “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule during budget negotiations with the White House later this year.
The Senate Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee on Tuesday advanced a fiscal 2017 spending bill that includes a provision to stop the rule from being enforced in case a court stay gets lifted. A similar rider is included in the House’s Interior-Environment bill as well as its Energy-Water measure.
“We all want good environmental stewardship,” said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D. “We’ve got to do it in a way that respects private property rights.”
But the WOTUS rider and other environmental provisions ensure that the bill will face broad Democratic opposition if and when Republicans try to move the measure on the Senate floor. “We are not prepared to gut environmental laws as the price to get spending bills passed,” said New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall, the ranking Democrat on the Interior-Environment subcommittee.
House Republicans on Tuesday, meanwhile, released a 57-page economic agenda that includes a call for the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw the WOTUS rule. The plan says the rule “could significantly restrict the ability of landowners to make decisions about their property and the rights of state and local governments to plan for their own development.” House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway was part of the GOP task force that developed the plan, one of six Republicans are releasing on issues such a poverty, national security, the Constitution, and healthcare.
Another provision that Democrats termed a poison pill would override court rulings that require gray wolves in Wyoming and the Great Lakes to remain protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Udall also complains that the bill, which funds the Forest Service, would provide too little money for firefighting. The bill would provide the 10-year rolling average of firefighting costs, or $1.6 billion. That is $661 million less than the Forest Service and Interior Department said they would need for 2017, according to Democrats. Republicans say the bill includes a budget cap adjustment that allows agencies to spend additional money when the appropriated funds run out.
The bill would cut funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund by $50 million, to $400 million for fiscal 2017. The Payment in Lieu of Taxes program, which compensates local governments for revenue they lose because of federal land holdings, would be increased by $28 million in 2017 to $480 million.
The bill also includes a provision, sought by Western ranchers, which would allow the carryover of grazing fee credits from year to year to pay for improvements on federal lands. Hoeven said federal land agencies support the provision.
“This bill strikes a critical balance – directing federal resources where they are needed, while blocking excessive regulations and obstruction that are causing harm and burying us in red tape,” said Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska Republican who chairs the subcommittee.
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