Democrats blast GOP on environment rollbacks
House Republicans have hitched dozens of policy riders to the 2012 interior and environment spending bill, a move Democrats contend is hostile to environmental regulation.
Seattle Times Washington bureau
WASHINGTON — Permit mining for nuclear fuel near the Grand Canyon?
Block further additions to the endangered-species list?
Give tax breaks to big mining companies?
House Republicans have hitched these and 36 other policy riders to the 2012 interior and environment spending bill that was brought to the House floor Monday — a slew of amendments that Democrats contend are hostile to environmental regulations.
"This legislation is so bad that it's toxic," said Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee.
Markey and two other leading House Democrats appeared at a news conference Monday to deplore Republican efforts to insert what they consider anti-environment provisions into an appropriations bill that already has been slashed by billions of dollars from previous years' budgets.
Rep. Norm Dicks of Bremerton, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, called it perhaps the worst such legislation he's seen since entering Congress in 1977.
Among other things, Dicks said, the bill would roll back the budget for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to where it was more than a decade ago and slash money for the Land and Conservation Fund to a 40-year low.
House Republicans are proposing $27.47 billion for interior and environment spending for the upcoming fiscal year, or 7 percent below current levels and 13 percent less than what President Obama had requested.
Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky, the Republican chairman of the appropriations panel, denied the budget cuts are too much too fast and defended the riders as a necessary antidote to overzealous regulators.
"The reductions and provisions in this bill were made with very good reason — to rein in unparalleled, out-of-control spending and job-killing over-regulation," Rogers said in a statement. As for the EPA, "this agency has lost grips with economic reality and has become the epitome of the continued and damaging regulatory overreach of this Administration."
Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho, the Republican chair of the Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, said the bill cuts spending where warranted while ensuring ample funding for key programs such as national parks and fighting wildfires.
In addition to the spending cuts, Democrats are lashing out at the dozens of riders supported by the tea-party caucus that have been attached to the spending bill. Republicans have deployed the riders, or specific legislative clauses, during other budget battles, including attempts to defund Planned Parenthood and to undo last year's health-care law.
Yet among the 12 individual spending bills that Congress hammers out annually, none has attracted as many riders as the one for interior and environment. They include an amendment to block the Interior Department from putting the Grand Canyon off-limits to new mining claims for uranium, a radioactive metal; limiting EPA's regulation of greenhouse gases; and waiving permit requirements on farms and chemical companies that discharge pesticides into waterways.
To Dicks, the riders represent an ideological fusillade stemming from "pent up" zeal among conservatives that was left over from the epic battle over the 2011 federal budget.
"It is a veritable wish list of largely ideological authorizing provisions that will handcuff the EPA and the Department of the Interior," Dicks said. He vowed to persist in stripping some of the riders during the floor debate, perhaps with support from a few Republicans.
Markey said he sees nothing reasonable about some Republicans' opposition to higher fuel-efficiency standards or curbing regulation of greenhouse gases.
Standing next to a U.S. map depicting last Friday's blistering temperatures in alarming hues of red, Markey held up a copy of the spending bill swathed in yellow crime-scene tape.
"This should be called, 'Are We Living on the Same Planet Act?'" Markey declared. Or, better yet, the "Have You Been Outside? Act."
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