WASHINGTON, June 22, 2016 - Having failed time after time to kill the Obama administration’s new air and water rules, congressional Republicans are trying to hit the regulators in the pocketbook. Both the House and the Senate are advancing fiscal 2017 spending bills for the Environmental Protection Agency that would cut its budget for implementing and enforcing regulations, including the Clean Water Act as well as the Clean Power Plan, a key climate change initiative that will force electric utilities to reduce carbon emissions.
“I believe it is more important to provide resources to programs that yield tangible results in improving the environment instead of funding more lawyers and bureaucrats to draft rules of questionable legality and dubious environmental benefit,” said Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who chairs the Senate Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee.
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said the EPA cut softened her concern that the bill didn't have a rider blocking the carbon limits from being implemented.
The Senate’s Interior-Environment spending bill would cut EPA’s spending on “clean air and climate programs” to $245 million in fiscal 2017, down $27 million from the current year. The budget for “water quality” programs would be cut by $19 million to $191 million. The House bill would cut EPA’s regulatory programs by a total of $43 million, including a $25 million reduction in air and climate programs.
The bills, which also fund the Interior Department, also seek to curb the Fish and Wildlife Service’s work on endangered species listings.
Chris Gallegos, a spokesman for the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the EPA cuts are focused on programs or regulations that had “been either stayed by the courts or sources of serious concern among members.” Both the carbon regulations as well as the “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule that redefines what wetlands, ditches and streams are regulated by the Clean Water Act are under court stays.
The top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, says Republicans are trying to enact “deep cuts for core environmental and public health priorities.”
But such budget cuts may have limited impact on specific regulations if they aren’t accompanied by spending prohibitions. The EPA can simply prioritize spending on the rules it considers the most important. The administration has left little doubt that its carbon regulations, for example, fit that description.
“As long as EPA is consistent with the direction provided by the courts on the Clean Power Plan and the ‘waters of the United States,’ EPA can set priorities of how they would spend within those categories” specified by the appropriators, said Arvin Ganesan, a former deputy chief of staff for policy at EPA. “After all, ‘water quality protection’ and ‘clean air and climate’ extend well beyond the WOTUS rule and the Clean Power Plan.”
The House bill contains riders that would prevent EPA from implementing both the Clean Power Plan and the WOTUS rules should the courts lift their stays on them. The Senate bill would block only WOTUS. Appropriators attached similar riders to the fiscal 2016 bills but they were dropped from the final omnibus spending package amid strong resistance from the White House. Standalone efforts to kill the rules also have failed.
EPA continues work on actions related to the Clean Power Plan. The agency last week proposed a Clean Energy Incentive Program, which is designed to help states meet their carbon-reduction targets by making early investments in renewable energy. The agency also plans to finalize sometime this summer model rules for trading carbon emission credits.
Don Parrish, senior director of regulatory relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation, says the WOTUS riders serve to show the courts that a majority in Congress oppose that rule and help “paint a narrative that the agency has overreached.”
He says the spending cuts in the bills send a message to EPA: “The agency should understand that if they want support for different types of proposals, they need to work with the regulated community, and they’re not.”
Here is a look at other provisions in the House and Senate bills:
· Pesticide usage: The House bill would bar the EPA from allowing “designated representatives” of farm workers to demand records from farms on pesticide usage. Farm groups argue that activists could claim status as designated representatives to find out what chemicals farmers are using. According to a letter sent to the House Appropriations Committee in March, growers “have no way of authenticating such designations” and may be legally liable even when the designations are fraudulent.
· BLM planning rule: An amendment to the House bill would require the Bureau of Land Management to provide additional time for public comment on a proposed land management initiative, called “Planning 2.0.” The initiative would increase public involvement in development of resource management plans. In comments to BLM, a coalition of groups representing cattle and sheep producers has complained that the rule would reorient land use plans according to “short-term political expediency and non-stakeholder involvement.” The groups also say that BLM management would no longer have to align with state and local planning. The Senate bill contains report language urging BLM to work with states and local government representatives “to address their concerns with the proposed rule.”
· Lesser Prairie Chicken: Both bills contain language to block the Fish and Wildlife Service from re-listing the bird under the Endangered Species Act.
· Sage grouse: The House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment, 29-20, by Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., that would bar Interior from implementing federal land use policies that differ from a state’s approved sage-grouse management plan. The amendment also would prevent the Fish and Wildlife Service from reviewing the status of the greater sage grouse.
· Gray wolves: Both bills would require the administration to move forward with de-listing gray wolf populations in Wyoming and the Great Lakes region.
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