Last night the House of Representatives passed a payroll tax bill, but at the same time they took Americans’ health and safety hostage. They used a bill Congress feels it must pass to jam through two riders that would weaken protections against polluters.

One rider would allow industrial facilities to release more mercury, lead, and other toxins into the air we breathe. The other would enable the Keystone XL pipeline to go through the American Heartland without the environmental and safety review the White House deemed necessary.

Neither of these efforts would likely succeed via normal legislative processes and they would get far more public scrutiny. That’s why the House Republican leadership is taking advantage of the urgent need to pass payroll tax credits, extend unemployment benefits, and allow doctors to be reimbursed adequately through Medicare-measures which millions of Americans are counting on-to push through riders that benefit polluters and appease extremists.

NRDC objects to both of these dirty riders and the political gamesmanship of adding anti-environmental riders.

Blocking new limits on pollution from boilers would expose families to pollution that causes respiratory illness, cardiac disease, and cancer. In fact, the rider would cause up to 28,350 premature deaths, 150,000 asthma attacks, and nearly 19,000 hospital and emergency room visits over three and a half years, the minimum period the rider would delay pollution limits..

The rider to require President Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline within 60 days would threaten communities with the risk of oil spills, water contamination, and other lapses in safety.

Republicans claim the pipeline will create “tens of thousands” of jobs. You could call that wishful thinking, but I think it is cruel to mislead people about job opportunities in times of record unemployment. Even TransCanada, the company proposing the pipeline and the one with the most to gain, says the project will only generate “hundreds” of permanent jobs. In fact, the State Department has said only 20 permanent jobs will be created by the pipeline.

But none of these Republican riders are about jobs. They are really about scoring ideological points.

And that’s why NRDC doesn’t just oppose these two riders on the tax bill. We oppose all anti-environmental riders attached to tax and spending bills. These riders don’t affect taxes or spending one bit. These bills are being used to force through measures that would cause environmental harm.

Congress is already three months late delivering a bill to fund the government-the new fiscal year began back October 1. The way Congress can finally get its work done is to say no to riders. Period. No anti-environmental riders-which make up the bulk of those proposed by the GOP-and no other policy riders.

But the House leadership has been deaf to this clear message. The release of the omnibus spending bill has been slowed down because GOP lawmakers keep trying to tack on more riders. The latest effort would block the Department of Energy from issuing efficiency standards for light bulbs. The lighting industry and consumer groups support the standards-they would save about $12 billion on energy bills-but House Republicans want to arrest progress.

We have reached the eleventh hour for this funding bill, yet Republicans are willing to hold up the process even further to prevent Americans from saving money on their utility bills.

This is hostage taking for purely ideological reasons, and it has to stop.

Fortunately, the White House has broadcast its opposition to these anti-environmental riders, issuing one of its most strongly worded veto threats for the riders-laden tax bill in particular. The Congressional Democratic leadership has also stood strong against these attacks on environmental and public health safeguards.

Frances Beinecke is the President of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), New York City, where she has worked since 1973. She originally published this article here on the NRDC Switchboard blog.

Photo Caption: US Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) (second from the right) speaks as (Left-Right) Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), and House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) listen during a media availability after a Republican Conference meeting December 13, 2011 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The House is scheduled to vote on a bill today that combines the Keystone XL oil pipeline, year-end payroll tax holiday and unemployment insurance in the final passage, which President Barack Obama has threatened that he will veto.