The Republican-majority House of Representatives voted to delay or repeal at least 40 environmental protection measures last year, leading one group to call it “the most anti-environment” Congress in history.
The League of Conservation Voters, the biggest environmental political donor, placed a record 35 House environmental votes on its congressional scorecard released last month, saying that 28 were detrimental to environmental protection.
“To be honest, we had to whittle it down to 35,” Sara Chieffo, legislative director of the group, said in an interview. “We could easily have listed twice as many.”
The Washington-based group also took the unprecedented action of issuing a special report on an omnibus spending bill, opposing 21 amendments on issues including reduced funding for renewable energy and preventing regulation of coal mining.
The House undertook “the most aggressive challenge of environmental regulations in the history of the U.S. Congress,” Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said at a Bloomberg Government breakfast with reporters and editors on March 13. If a Republican candidate wins the presidential election in November, “we would anticipate having to play a lot more defense.”
Democratic leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee tallied up votes in the House since Republicans took majority control in 2010 and say there have been 191 targeting Environmental Protection Agency rules or federal spending on renewable energy.
Those votes include at least 40 on bills or amendments to stop EPA rules or other regulations proposed by the administration of President Barack Obama, and more votes on Democratic amendments to back the EPA or Clean Air Act rules.
Republicans say they are reacting to a string of new regulations affecting a variety of industries, including coal- fired power plants and farms.
“We have seen an unfortunate departure from common sense environmental regulation in recent years,” Michigan Republican Fred Upton said at a Feb. 28 hearing on the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget. “Each dollar EPA spends can end up costing us many more dollars as a consequence of the agency’s ill-advised actions.”
In 2011, the EPA proposed some of the most expensive rules in its history, including a $9.6 billion measure to clean up mercury from coal plants and a $1.5 billion rule affecting boilers used in paper mills and refineries.
“There are many not just in the House but in the Senate who are understandably concerned by the overwhelming number of environmental regulations proposed by this administration,” Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association in Washington, said in an interview. “We believe those concerns are fully justified.”
The number of votes pushing back on environmental regulation is the most since President Richard Nixon signed the order to create the EPA in 1970, said Bob Deans, the associate director for communications at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group in Washington.
“We have never had one party send itself on a mission to dismantle this safety net of the fundamental environmental protections,” Deans, who is writing a book, “Reckless: The Political Assault on the American Environment,” about Republican efforts to target the EPA, said in an interview.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, listed repeal of seven EPA measures on his August agenda of 10 legislative items that would boost job growth. The House ended up passing five of the measures, including one blocking the EPA from moving forward on a regulation on farm dust -- a rule the agency hasn’t proposed.
On Sept. 23 the House voted to kill two air-pollution standards and defer at least 12 others. None of the measures has advanced in the Senate, and the Obama administration opposed each of them. Several amendments, such as one delaying energy-efficiency standards for light bulbs, became law.
The differences between the political parties on environmental regulation show up in public-opinion polls: Half of those surveyed say U.S. environmental laws should be strengthened, while 28 percent of Republicans say they agree, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center conducted from Feb. 8-12. The survey of 1,501 adults has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The partisan divide among voters on the issue has been widening. In a 1995 survey by NBC and the Wall Street Journal, 68 percent of Republicans and 88 percent of Democrats supported strengthening or maintaining environmental regulations. Republican support for such rules dropped 10 percentage points to 58 percent while support among Democrats increased 4 percentage points to 92 percent in the Pew poll in February.
Since 1990 environmental groups have spent $27 million supporting Democrats in political races compared with $2.4 million for Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan group that tracks political donations. In the 2010 election cycle more than 90 percent of their funding went to the Democrats, according to the Washington-based group.
That’s not likely to change in the 2012 election campaign.
“The contrast that will be put before voters this fall is pretty dramatic,” Brune said.