Funding for the Environmental Protection Agency would be cut, greenhouse-gas regulations delayed and a ban on uranium mining near the Grand Canyon repealed under legislation approved by a U.S. House panel.
The Republican-led House Appropriation Committee approved the fiscal 2012 spending bill yesterday on a 28-18 vote, sending it to the full House of Representatives.
Republicans led by Representative Mike Simpson of Idaho said they introduced the measure to rein in regulatory overreach. Democrats said the bill overturns key environmental safeguards. The bill’s deepest cuts target the EPA, faulted for hurting the economy with new rules including limits on carbon- dioxide emissions blamed for climate change.
“Wherever I go, the biggest complaint I hear about the federal government is about how the EPA is creating economic uncertainty and killing jobs,” Simpson, chairman of the subcommittee on the interior, environment and related agencies, said before the vote.
President Barack Obama’s environmental regulator is “the scariest agency in the federal government” and has “lost its bearings,” he said.
Representative James Moran, a Virginia Democrat, said the Republican measure is a “virtual dump truck” of provisions to protect polluters.
“This bill is too short on needed funds and too long on anti-environmental riders,” Moran said. “It’s not so much a spending bill as a wish list for special interests.”
Under the measure, the EPA’s budget would be cut to $7.1 billion, or 20 percent less than Obama’s request. The measure would fund EPA, Interior Department and related agencies at $27.5 billion in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, which is 12 percent less than Obama’s request to Congress.
EPA Rule Delay
The bill would delay for one year EPA rules limiting greenhouse-gas emissions from industrial polluters such as power plants and oil refineries, and prohibit the agency from regulating such discharges from vehicles after model year 2016.
The measure would overturn the Interior Department’s temporary prohibition on uranium mining near Arizona’s Grand Canyon and prevent the Obama administration from establishing a long-term ban without congressional approval.
Environmentalists say waste from uranium mines threatens the region’s land, wildlife and drinking water.
The House spending measure would expose “the Grand Canyon, and the millions of Americans who depend on the Colorado River for their drinking water, to the long and well-known hazards of uranium mining,” Moran said. “These riders have nothing to do with budget cuts or deficit reduction and everything to do about carrying out an ideological agenda.”
Simpson said the mining provision won’t harm Grand Canyon National Park in northern Arizona.
The bill also would provide $9.9 billion to the Interior Department, about $1.2 billion less than the president requested. The bill increases funding for oil and gas rig inspections and doesn’t include Obama’s proposal to increase offshore oil and gas inspection fees by $55 million.
Proposed funding cuts may hurt offshore oil exploration, according to David Hayes, the deputy U.S. Interior secretary.
“The house budget would likely affect our ability to execute our offshore program across the board, in a negative way” Hayes told reporters in Washington yesterday. He declined to elaborate.
Lawmakers also debated the Endangered Species Act, passed by Congress in 1973 to protect plants and animals. The spending bill would ban all new listings of threatened species and permanently prohibit the courts from reviewing proposals to remove from protection gray wolves in Wyoming and the upper Midwest.
While Democrats and Republicans support the Endangered Species Act, the law needs revision, Simpson said.
Since being enacted, the law has helped in listing 2,018 species with 21 species recovered, Simpson said.
“By any calculation, that’s a pretty poor track record,” he said. “Any other program with such a poor rate of success would have long since been terminated.”
Environmentalists such as Andrew Wetzler of the Natural Resources Defense Council say such provisions will damage already vulnerable animal populations.
“Some in Congress want to yank the last safety net away from wildlife that’s hanging by a thread,” Wetzler, director of the New York-based council’s wildlife and land program, said in an interview. “I guess they weren’t satisfied with making it easier to poison our waters and pump filth into our air, so they figure it was time to take a whack at walruses and wolverines too.”
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