With the bruising debt ceiling battle barely over, Washington lobbyists are already preparing for a new smackdown in September over environmental regulation.
House Republicans have amassed a Christmas wish list of rules they view as unwarranted expansions of federal power and are trying to stop them cold in the fiscal 2012 appropriations bill for the Interior Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and several smaller agencies. They’ve subtitled the bill the “Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act.”
The ranking Democrat on the subcommittee that crafted the bill, Virginia Rep. Jim Moran, called it “a wish list for special interests.” Environmental groups charge the GOP is trying to gut long-standing environmental protections.
Besides cutting nearly $4 billion from the agencies’ $31.3 billion request–nearly half of it from EPA, an 18% cut–the bill would diminish the agencies’ legal authority in everything from off-shore drilling to coal mining, generating plants to wilderness areas, endangered species to auto exhausts.
The headline-grabber has been uranium mining around the Grand Canyon. That amendment would end a moratorium on new uranium claims on federal lands there. That has raised opposition even among conservatives, with Phoenix’s Arizona Republic newspaper editorializing against it.
But there’s much more.
Idaho Republican Rep. Mike Simpson, the subcommittee chairman who crafted the bill, says it responds to the fiscal crisis and also “shifts the focus away from efforts to grow government and back on proven, core programs.”
The White House says it cuts EPA so much the agency “will be unable to implement its core mission of protecting human health and the environment.”
The administration issued a five-page list of “ideological and political” measures it objects to in the bill, HR 2584, and says the President would veto it. Moreover, most observers say the bill has no chance, as written, in the Senate.
The List Goes On
But neither prospect has daunted House Republicans determined to rein in what they see as out-of-control environmental regulation.
For the power industry, the bill would halt or delay a series of pending EPA rules that everyone agrees would cost billions, especially for companies dependent on older coal plants. Most of the rules have extensive histories in court, and are proceeding on court-ordered deadlines.
Affected rules include: the Maximum Available Control Technology (MACT) rule to limit emissions of mercury and other hazardous pollutants from coal-burning power plants and industrial boilers; the Clean Air Transport Rule to tighten limits on sulfur and nitrogen emissions; tightened National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ozone, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide; reduced limits on particulate matter; restrictions, now in the study stage, on handling of coal ash; river protections that may require large generating plants to add costly cooling towers, and any limits on greenhouse gas emissions from generating plants, refineries, cement kilns, and factory farms.
Going Off Shore
For off-shore drilling, the bill requires the Interior Department to decide on all permits within six months of application, and to report details to Congress if it turns any down.
The bill would expedite exploratory drilling Shell wants to do off Alaska, by limiting EPA to considering air pollution on-shore, not out on drilling rigs. It eliminates authority for EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board to review those permits. That board held up the Shell Alaska permits.
Republican Simpson says the bill includes “increased funding” for new off-shore drill rig inspectors, but the White House objects that it’s less than what’s needed in the wake of last year’s BP Gulf of Mexico disaster. The bill also doesn’t include administration-proposed user fees to make the oil and gas industry pay for rig inspections. The Republican version has taxpayers pick up the tab.
For coal, the bill has several provisions to stop EPA from using clean water law to limit either surface or mountaintop removal coal mining. It specifically blocks a pending EPA redefinition of streams that would expand EPA’s oversight under the Clean Water Act.
The Republican bill blocks EPA from setting vehicle greenhouse gas standards, even though auto manufacturers have already agreed to them, most recently in a July 29 White House deal to achieve 54.5 miles per gallon fleet average by 2025. The bill would also take away California’s long-standing right to set stricter vehicle standards.
Several provisions eliminate long-standing rights of citizens to sue over pollution. Other provisions limit EPA authority in pesticide regulation, wetlands, and runoff into waterways. The Department of the Interior would be restricted in designating new wilderness and off-road areas.
In early debate, the House did reject on a vote of 224-202, a Simpson amendment that would have stopped all additions to the endangered species list.
HR 2584 was in the midst of floor action when the debt ceiling crisis hit, wiping out legislative schedules. The bill is now expected back on the House floor in September.
Photo Caption: (Left – Right) US Rep. Robert Andrews (D-NJ), Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA), Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) listen to testimony during a hearing before the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee February 28, 2011 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The hearing was to focus on the job creation and the nation’s energy future.