WASHINGTON, July 14, 2016 – The House of Representatives today approved a 2017 spending bill for EPA and the Interior Department that would block many of the Obama administration’s signature environmental initiatives, such as the Clean Power Plan and the “waters of the U.S.” rule. The measure passed 231-196, with only three Democrats voting yes.
Both of those initiatives have been stayed by the courts, but that didn’t stop the House from including language blocking their implementation in the spending measure, which has drawn a veto threat from the White House.
Speaking on the House floor yesterday, Californian Ken Calvert, the Republican floor manager for the bill, said, “We tried to reverse all of the overreaching agenda that this administration has placed on the American people.”
For some House members, that wasn’t enough, putting Calvert in the unusual position of opposing further cuts to EPA’s budget. Scott Perry, R-Pa., for example, sought to reduce EPA’s budget by 17 percent – the amount he said his constituents’ utility bills would increase because of the Clean Power Plan, whose goal is reduction of carbon emissions.
But Calvert said that while he shared Perry’s frustration, the bill already cuts EPA’s budget significantly.
EPA would receive nearly $8 billion, $164 million less than authorized in this year’s budget, and $291 million less than the president’s budget request.
“The bill denies the Obama administration’s request for additional staff at EPA and keeps the number of EPA personnel at the lowest level since 1989,” Calvert said. “That is when George Herbert Walker Bush was president. I am sure you would like to go back to 1976, but I think we have done a pretty good job of cutting it back to 1989.”
An across-the-board cut would “penalize states by cutting the grants they need,” Calvert said. “It would reduce the funding for the clean water and drinking water grants, which support construction jobs in every district.”
Perry’s amendment failed, but other environmental riders in the bill survived, and more were adopted on the floor.
One of those, introduced by Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., would prevent EPA from “retaliating” against any of the six states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed if they fail to meet pollution-reduction goals set forth in the regional Total Maximum Daily Load for the Bay.
Goodlatte emphasized that his amendment “would not stop the EPA from working with the states to restore the Chesapeake Bay, nor would it undermine the cleanup efforts already underway.” It merely “removes the ability of the EPA to take over a state’s plan, or to take retaliatory actions against a state, if it does not meet EPA mandated goals.” His amendment passed, 231-197.
The bill also would prevent the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from listing the greater sage-grouse and lesser prairie chicken for protection under the Endangered Species Act – both of which USFWS already has declined to list. It also would direct the agency to reissue rules to delist the gray wolf in the Rocky Mountains and Great Lakes regions.
Other amendments approved on the House floor take aim at additional listed species. USFWS would not be allowed to enforce the threatened listing of the Preble's meadow jumping mouse, whose habitat is in Colorado and Wyoming. Another would remove ESA listing protections for the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse.
The House also approved another ESA-related amendment that would prohibit USFWS from implementing or enforcing listings for any species for which the agency has not performed a required five-year status review.
The bill seeks to provide more water to drought-stricken California by including provisions from a bill passed by the House last year – H.R. 2898, the Western Water and American Food Security Act, introduced by Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif. Valadao said the provisions are designed to provide operational flexibility without jeopardizing the threatened delta smelt or salmonids listed under the ESA.
But as with so many provisions in the bill, they are opposed by the Obama administration which says they “would undercut the ESA, preempt California water law, fail to address critical elements of California's complex water challenges and impede an effective and timely response to the continuing drought while providing no additional water to hard hit communities.”
A Senate bill, which also would block WOTUS from moving forward, has cleared the appropriations committee. However, with Congress leaving town for the party conventions and summer recess, the full Senate will not be able to vote on the spending measure until September at the earliest.
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