fresh voices from the front lines of change







House Republican leadership pulled a monstrosity of an appropriations bill from the floor after Democrats attached an amendment that would ban Confederate flags from federal cemeteries. That upset some Republican House members, who then offered an amendment to roll back the new flag restrictions. The ensuing mess has led House Speaker John Boehner to pull the whole bill for now.

But Confederate flags aren’t the only reason this bill is a monstrosity. It will also leave America’s rivers and lakes unprotected, prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon dioxide emissions, and deeply slash funding for Native American education and healthcare.

H.R. 2822, the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2016, cuts $750 million, or 13 percent, from the current Environmental Protection Agency budget. EPA head Gina McCarthy said the cut “definitely impacts our ability – which I think the general public has relied on – to protect their direct public health and the environment.”

In addition to deep funding cuts to EPA programs, the bill contains provisions that prevent the EPA from taking into account the social costs of carbon when making regulations, despite a broad scientific consensus that each ton of CO2 pollution costs society between $40 and $60 in health, extreme weather, and climate mitigation costs. The U.S. sends into the air more than 6.6 billion metric tons of CO2 each year, resulting in damages of somewhere between $250 billion and $400 billion. The bill removes endangered species protections for grey wolves, blocks the EPA from protecting streams from mining pollution, and prohibits public land regulations on the highly controversial hydraulic fracking.

An Office of Management and Budget statement warned President Obama would veto the current bill, which “threatens the health and economic welfare of current and future generations by blocking important standards to reduce carbon pollution from the power sector.”

McCarthy also pointed out a provision in the bill that would delay implementation of the Waters of the United States rule, which clarifies what tributaries and wetlands are covered under the Clean Water Act. Two million streams and 20 million acres of wetlands will remain unprotected as a result, and one in three Americans will continue to receive unprotected drinking water. McCarthy warned “the protection of public health and the environment will be compromised.”

Republicans have long claimed that EPA regulations are costly and job-killing measures. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) asserted that “this administration has been hell-bent on implementing all sorts of regulations that are harmful to both our economy and our energy security,” while Senate Appropriations subcommittee chairwoman Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said the bill “pulls back on EPA’s regulatory overreach.”

This bill reflects an ideology that assumes that a clean environment can only come at the expense of jobs and lost economic growth. Study after study has proven this wrong. A May 2015 report by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that “regulatory requirements to protect the environment, workers, and consumers often lead to innovation, increased productivity, and new businesses and jobs.” It also found that “historically, compliance costs have been less and benefits greater than industry predictions.”

White House Office of Management and Budget head Shaun Donovan also offered a sharp critique of the bill, saying “it would result in terrible, real-world consequences.” He warned of the unnecessary and destructive partisan nature of the bill. “It is becoming increasingly clear that Republicans are attempting to hijack the appropriations process to accomplish unrelated ideological proposals,” Donovan said. “We will not accept Republicans using it that way.”

The Senate Committee on Appropriations also passed a deeply partisan bill that slashes EPA funding by 8 percent. The bill contains many of the same destructive amendments found in the House bill, including attacks on ozone layer protections, clean water, and CO2 regulations.

Fortunately, the Senate bill has little chances of receiving the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster. And even if the appropriations bills manages to advance out of both chambers, President Obama is certain to issue a veto.

Still, it is instructive to know just how little House and Senate Republicans care about providing health care to Native Americans, keeping our rivers safe, and creating green jobs. It is no surprise in a party whose presidential candidates proudly advocate for getting rid of the department altogether.

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