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House panel approves $30.17B bill cutting EPA funds, blocking rules

The Hill logo The Hill 6/16/2015 Devin Henry
House panel approves $30.17B bill to cut EPA funds, block rules © Provided by The Hill House panel approves $30.17B bill to cut EPA funds, block rules

The House Appropriations committee approved a $30.17 billion Interior and Environment spending bill on Tuesday that cuts Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funding by 9 percent and blocks key Obama administration climate rules. 

Lawmakers approved the bill on a mostly partyline vote, and much of the debate centered on measures in the bill targeting EPA policies. Republicans said the measures are necessary to rein in what committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) called an “unnecessary, job-killing regulatory agenda.”

“This administration has been hell-bent on implementing all sorts of regulations that are harmful to both our economy and our energy security,” Rogers said. “Bill-wide, we have included several important policy provisions aimed to stop this sort of overzealous bureaucratic red tape.” 

Democrats slammed the bill for both the EPA funding levels — it cuts the agency’s funding by $718 million — and provisions blocking its rule-making, including a water oversight rule and forthcoming greenhouse gas regulations for power plants. 

Republicans also approved an amendment to the bill Tuesday stopping an upcoming EPA smog rule. They also approved a provision blocking funding for a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rule banning hydraulic fracturing on federal lands.

“The air every American breaths, the water every American drinks, are all at risk because of the funding cuts and policy attacks in this bill,” said Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations interior and environment subcommittee. 

Republicans defeated her amendment to undo the riders, which she called “veto-bait” for President Obama, and a handful of other Democratic attempts to change the bill’s policy provisions.

“This administration’s appetite for new regulations and disregard for Congress has left us little choice but to block the president’s overzealous regulatory agenda in this bill,” Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), the chairman of the Appropriations Committee’s interior and environment subcommittee, said. 

Shaun Donovan, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, said Monday that the White House opposed the bill. He cited the riders, as well as funding levels below those Obama proposed for most programs in the budget. 

“These riders stand in the way of meeting these responsibilities - hamstringing permitting and future regulatory work, and creating significant ambiguity regarding existing regulations and guidance,” Donovan wrote in a letter to lawmakers.

Overall, the GOP's bill spends $30.17 billion next fiscal year, $246 million less than current levels and $3 billion less than what Obama requested in his budget.

The bill increases funding for wildfire prevention and some Native American programs. It includes small cuts to the U.S. Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service, and provisions blocking Endangered Species Act listings for certain animals, something Democrats fought on Tuesday.

The bill, as with all other appropriations measures this session, turned into a proxy for the broader fight over top-line government spending levels. Republicans wrote the bill so it conforms to the sequestration spending caps, and Calvert said they made a “sincere effort to prioritize needs” within those caps. 

In his 2016 budget proposal, Obama undid those caps and looked to increase funding for most of the provisions in the Interior and Environment budget. In his letter, Donovan wrote that the administration opposes funding levels below what he had proposed. 

Appropriations ranking member Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said the caps “led to a bill that severely underfunds far too many priorities.”

But Republicans defended the budget and the provisions within it. 

“This bill makes great strides to budget responsibly, investing in proven programs while making cutbacks were we can,” Rogers said. “The EPA is one such agency that can certainly make do with less.”

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