On Tuesday, the House Committee on Appropriations marked up the Interior and Environment Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2015. While the committee’s primary responsibility was designating funding levels for agencies and activities relating to the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it quickly devolved into a forum for the conservative fringe to express their disdain for the EPA and climate change science.
The proposed bill will cut funding for the EPA by an estimated $717 million, or 9 percent, from the previous year’s already frugal allotment, thereby undermining the agency’s ability to do its job protecting public health. Unfortunately, this is exactly what the bill’s proponents are hoping for—to strike a blow to the EPA’s ability to do its job. In addition, the committee continues to chop away at the Land and Water Conservation Fund’s (LWCF) budget, cutting it in half from an already cash-strapped allowance for fiscal year 2014. While the committee’s partial funding of the program is preferable to last year’s approach when it attempted to completely zero out the fund, it continues to drastically underfund this beneficial program.
Alongside funding cuts, the bill is loaded with anti-environment policy riders that would severely jeopardize America’s future environmental and public health by greatly restricting the EPA’s ability to protect our clean air and clean water. Perhaps most notably the bill seeks to strip the EPA of its authority to set commonsense limits on carbon pollution. Among the bill’s other harmful policy riders are provisions that would bar the EPA from creating mandatory greenhouse gas reporting requirements for industry, eliminate the EPA’s greenhouse gas permit system, and block the agency’s Clean Water Rule aimed at strengthening protections for waters that feed the drinking water of 117 million Americans.
Thinly veiled as budgetary legislation, the House’s version of the bill is undoubtedly an attack on recent, commonsense efforts to address climate change by reducing carbon emissions in the US. While many of the Republicans supporting this attack will admit as much, some have attempted to shield themselves by insisting that the rising threat of wildfires required this redirection of funds. Although this threat is very real, it is little more than a convenient scapegoat for the conservative fringe. By undermining attempts to reduce carbon pollution, this group has again shown its willingness to ignore the scientific evidence surrounding climate change—namely, that carbon pollution has helped contribute to this recent spike in wildfires.
Furthermore, the need for additional wildfire funding stems from Congress’ failure to pass the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, a bipartisan proposal which would allow the most extreme and expensive wildfires to be addressed using funds reserved for other natural disasters such as floods, tornadoes and hurricanes. Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) offered an amendment that would have allowed the committee to make this change and, therefore, prevent dramatic spending increases directed at fighting fires from crowding out other important programs such as the LWCF. As it stands, an astonishing 14 percent of the bill’s budget is devoted to dealing with wildfires. Unfortunately, the amendment failed after receiving ardent opposition from Republicans on the committee, who argued, in extremely ironic fashion given the policy riders contained in the bill, that it was not the Appropriations Committee’s role to legislate.
Additionally, compared with fiscal year 2014, the bill proposes to cut funding for the LWCF in half for this upcoming fiscal year to $152 million. While this cut in itself is significant and unwarranted, the inadequacy of the figure is better understood when compared with the $900 million that our nation’s premier conservation program is authorized to receive and which the administration requested in its budget proposal. These deep cuts to the LWCF are particularly startling considering LWCF’s strong bipartisan support. Republicans who recently reaffirmed their support of the fund include Rep. Mike Simpson (ID), Rep. Chris Gibson (NY), Rep. Frank LoBiondo, and 25 others.
Such a meager allocation will make it extremely difficult for the LWCF to continue to provide a growing population with the places we need to get outdoors. Despite its bipartisan status, conversation about the LWCF shortfall was nonexistent in the markup. In a similarly troubling move, the bill also impedes the Fish and Wildlife Service from protecting the iconic sage grouse bird in the West.
If these policy riders and imprudent cuts stand, Congress will sacrifice America’s opportunity for a cleaner, more prosperous future while simultaneously undermining our ability to preserve public lands. LCV is counting on our allies in both chambers to fight to pass a spending bill free of anti-environmental policy riders that gives our environmental agencies the resources they need to protect public health and our environment.
(Photograph found on the Flickr account of Robert S. Donovan)