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NRDC's Legislative Watch

Congress, particularly the House of Representatives, cast many major environmental votes during July.

Most significantly, spending bills have become vehicles for an unprecedented number of anti-environment policy riders -- provisions that block environmental protections without reducing federal spending at all. After passing the debt limit agreement in early August, Congress recessed until after Labor Day.

Appropriations
On 7/15, the House of Representatives voted 219-196 to approve the fiscal year 2012 Energy and Water Appropriations bill (H.R. 2354). The bill would dramatically cut funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy research programs, as well as several other innovation programs. The bill also includes policy changes, including a rider that would block the Army Corps of Engineers from clarifying which smaller streams and wetlands are covered by Clean Water Act protections.

On 7/19, the House of Representatives introduced its FY12 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill (H.R. 2584), which was loaded with more than 38 anti-environment riders, including one that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from limiting carbon pollution from power plants and another that would allow uranium mining near the Grand Canyon. The House began voting on amendments to the bill, but did not complete consideration before leaving for recess.

Debt Limit/Environmental Funding
The House and Senate, on 8/1 and 8/2 respectively, approved an agreement to raise the nation's debt limit (S. 365), and President Obama immediately signed it. The legislation commits Congress to cutting about $3 trillion in spending over 10 years. The first $1 trillion will be decided through the usual legislative process; the remainder will be proposed by a 12-member super-committee (three Democrats and three Republicans from each chamber) appointed by House and Senate leaders. The full House and Senate will then have to approve the entire package proposed by the super-committee, or deep cuts will automatically be made in every program. The agreement could have a major impact on environmental funding in the coming years. At least $500 billion in cuts, and probably much more, will be achieved by reducing domestic discretionary spending -- non-security programs that Congress funds each year -- a category that includes virtually all environmental spending.

Energy
On 7/12, the House of Representatives defeated an attempt to repeal federal efficiency standards for incandescent light bulbs. The vote came on the "Better Use of Light Bulbs" or "BULB" Act (H.R. 2417), introduced by Rep. Barton (R-TX). It failed by a vote of 233-193 (the bill was brought up under a procedure that requires a two-thirds vote for a bill to pass).

Water
On 7/13, the House of Representatives voted 239-184 to weaken important provisions of the Clean Water Act by passing the Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act (H.R. 2018), co-sponsored by Rep. Rahall (D-WV) and Rep. Mica (R-FL). The bill would prevent the EPA from ever overruling state decisions on clean water. The bill is designed specifically to reverse EPA decisions limiting mountaintop mining and agricultural runoff.

On 7/21, Sen. Landrieu (D-LA) introduced a bill to dedicate fines resulting from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico to restoration of that area. The Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States or “RESTORE” Act (S. 1400) would direct 80 percent of the fines levied under the Clean Water Act as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster to the Gulf states for ecosystem restoration and economic development. Sen. Boxer, chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has committed to consider the bill in her committee as soon as possible.

Wildlife
On 7/27, the House voted to eliminate a rider from the FY12 Interior Appropriations and Environment bill (H.R. 2584) that would have made it difficult to protect additional endangered species. The amendment to strike the rider was sponsored by Reps. Dicks (D-WA), Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Thompson (D-CA) and Hanabusa (D-HI), and attracted 37 Republicans as well as all but two Democrats.

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