Appropriations Riders Threaten Fundamental Environmental Protections

Republicans in the House are loading the 2012 spending bill for the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with dozens of policy riders that would hamper efforts to protect our health, air, water, and wildlife. This anti-regulatory tsunami has been called "one of the most extreme attacks on our environment and public health in modern history." The appropriations bill, H.R. 2584, would reduce Interior spending by $720 million and cut EPA funding by $1.5 billion, 18 percent below current levels.

About 39 riders accompanied the bill to the floor (one rider prohibiting the addition of plants and animals to the endangered species list was stripped with bipartisan support) and at least 77 additional amendments have been filed during the open floor debate, with more expected. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is keeping a detailed list of the riders and tracking updates.

Many of the provisions would keep EPA from fulfilling its obligations under statutes passed by Congress. For example, a rider offered by Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) would delay EPA from implementing the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), a rule that has already traversed the rulemaking process and will prevent 13,000 to 34,000 premature deaths, 15,000 nonfatal heart attacks, and 400,000 aggravated asthma attacks per year by 2014. EPA finalized the rule July 6 as a court-ordered replacement for a 2005 rule developed under the Bush administration. Lummis' rider would keep the "fatally flawed" 2005 rule in place.

Other riders target potential agency actions that have been attacked by powerful industry groups. Some provisions would block regulations intended to protect streams and communities from mountaintop-removal coal mining, prohibit EPA from regulating coal ash as a hazardous waste, and prevent EPA from limiting toxic air pollutants from a number of sources. A provision offered by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) would not allow EPA to modify the national ambient air quality standard for coarse particulate matter (PM10), even though the Clean Air Act requires EPA to periodically review and update those standards as necessary to ensure that they provide adequate health and environmental protection to our families and communities. Particulate matter has been linked to a broad range of adverse respiratory and cardiovascular health effects, including short-term effects on children with asthma.

The EPA has been a popular target for Republicans in Congress. They have blasted the agency in a slew of hearings over the past few months, and a number of bills have been introduced to strip EPA of its authority under various environmental statutes. The attacks have been justified by dubious claims about the costs of regulations, yet studies continue to show that the benefits of regulation far outweigh the costs. Moreover, regulations save lives, produce health benefits, and can encourage job creation. For example, studies estimate that EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule, another rule threatened by Lummis' policy rider, would create over 100,000 jobs and produce health benefits between $55 billion and $146 billion per year when fully in effect. 

With ample evidence showing that the American people do not have to – and should not be asked to – choose between job creation and protecting public health and the environment, why are members of the House attempting to remove EPA’s authority through such a blatantly inappropriate channel? Though provisions that would weaken public protections are unwarranted, it is especially irresponsible to make substantive policy changes through the appropriations process, where damaging provisions can be slipped in among a flood of amendments, making it more likely that they'll go largely unnoticed. With these relentless policy riders, House Republicans are trying to achieve through the appropriations process what they know they could never achieve through the legislative process that created EPA.

The Coalition for Sensible Safeguards, which OMB Watch co-chairs with Public Citizen, released a statement urging House members to fight back against these attacks. The policy provisions carry "incredibly negative consequences for public health, our families, and our communities," said Public Citizen president Robert Weissman. 

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