Senate Currency Bill Saddled with Unrelated Anti-Regulatory Amendments

Some members of the Senate used floor consideration of the Currency Exchange Rate Oversight Reform Act of 2011, S. 1619, to push anti-regulatory measures through last-minute amendments. The bill was introduced to curb Chinese currency manipulation, yet it could now be tagged by amendments aimed at delaying or preventing environmental safeguards and obstructing the regulatory process.

Some observers expected voting to begin soon after a cloture vote on Oct. 6, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says consideration will be delayed until Oct. 11. The unrelated (non-germane) amendments that are now expected to go to a vote include:

  • An amendment by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), entitled the "Cement Sector Regulatory Relief Act of 2011," that would halt long-awaited clean air rules and make substantial alterations to both the Clean Air Act and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) long-standing practice for establishing emissions standards for hazardous air pollutants. The House passed the companion bill, H.R. 2681, Oct.6, but Barrasso’s bill has not been the subject of hearings or debate since it was submitted to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee two weeks ago.
  • An amendment by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) that would amend the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Clean Water Act (CWA) to prohibit EPA from requiring permits for discharges of pesticides. As the result of a court decision, discharges to waters of the U.S. of pesticides or the application of pesticides will require National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits beginning Oct. 31. Under Roberts’ amendment, any pesticide that is approved for sale, distribution, or use under FIFRA can be discharged into waterways without complying with CWA permit provisions.
  • Another amendment by Barrasso, #671, would require all federal agencies to prepare a Jobs Impact Statement for "every recommendation or report on proposals for legislation and other major Federal actions with potentially significant effects on jobs and job opportunities." What constitutes "potentially significant effects" is not defined. In preparing the Jobs Impact Statement, agencies are to consider the cumulative impacts of other pending actions that affect a particular industry. This would require agencies to make highly speculative determinations about a near-endless list of "pending actions" and would likely ignore the benefits, including job creation and quality-of-life improvements, that public protections bring to the country. Moreover, the Jobs Impact Statement would be required even for non-regulatory actions.
  • An amendment by Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE), the "Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act of 2011," that would limit the federal regulation of nuisance dust and establish a temporary prohibition against revising any national ambient air quality standard applicable to coarse particulate matter.

These represent only a few of the amendments submitted. Sens. James Inhofe (R-OK), Susan Collins (R-ME), and David Vitter (R-LA) also submitted anti-regulatory and anti-environment amendments to the currency bill, but Reid invoked cloture, preventing the amendments from moving to a vote. Inhofe targeted specific Clean Air Act rules that would limit toxic emissions from boilers, and Vitter’s amendment directed the approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Collins submitted the broader "Regulatory Time-Out" bill, which would place a one-year moratorium on new standards and safeguards that would help protect the American people from pollution, foodborne illnesses, workplace injuries, and unscrupulous financial institutions.

This is not the first time members of the 112th Congress have used last-minute amendments to quash protections unpopular with industry and special interest groups. On Sept. 27, OMB Watch wrote about similar tactics used in the House to push some of the same anti-environment provisions floated as amendments to the Senate currency exchange bill. Unfortunately, what appears to be a concerted effort to weaken standards and environmental protections by whatever means available has crossed over into the Senate. "Senate Republican aides said Republican senators are adamant that they get votes on at least the amendments targeting specific air pollutant rules governing cement plants and other industries in exchange for allowing the broader currency bill to go forward," BNA reported Oct. 6.

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