The worlds eyes may understandably be on the White Houses efforts to reach agreement with Congress on raising the US debt ceiling, but another partisan row over the future direction of America is also intensifying this week as House Republicans prepare to table a highly controversial new bill designed to roll back environmental protections.
The House of Representatives yesterday debated the GOPs Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Related Agencies spending bill, known as H.R. 2584, which marks the latest attempt by Republicans to slash funding to the EPA and axe a raft of environmental regulations, ranging from emissions and pesticide rules to protection for endangered species.
The bill, which will move to a vote later this week and is widely expected to pass through the Republican-controlled House, proposes deep budget cuts for federal agencies and environmental spending, as well as a host of "riders" designed to overturn specific green regulations.
Overall, the bill proposes a budget cut of around seven per cent for the affected departments and agencies, but it is the EPA that faces the deepest cuts with the bill proposing that its budget is slashed by 18 per cent from $8.65bn this year to $7.15bn next.
Republicans said the cuts were necessary to help tackle the US deficit, noting that the EPA faced the deepest cuts because it had benefited from significant increases in funding over the past two years as a result of stimulus cash.
However, during the debate, GOP Representatives also made it clear the cuts were part of the Republicans wider strategy to rein in the EPA, which they have consistently accused of regulatory over reach.
"The EPAs unrestrained effort to regulate greenhouse gases and the pursuit of an overly aggressive regulatory agenda are signs of an agency that has lost its bearing," said Representative Mike Simpson, who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment. "Wherever I go, the biggest complaint I hear about the federal government is about how the EPA is creating economic uncertainty and killing jobs."
The bill drew a furious response from Democrats, although the bulk of their ire was focused not on the proposed budget cuts, but instead at the 39 policy riders, which were widely characterised as an "assault on the environment".
The riders include long-standing Republican efforts to delay the EPAs rules governing greenhouse gas emissions from power stations and industrial plants, relax permits for controversial mountaintop mining projects, make it easier for uranium mining to proceed near the Grand Canyon National Park, and tighten the rules on adding to the Endangered Species List.
"This is the most anti-environmental House in history," House Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Henry Waxman told the House. "The new Republican majority seems intent on restoring the robber-baron era where there were no controls on pollution from power plants and oil refineries and factories."
His comments were echoed by minority whip Steny H. Hoyer, who accused the GOP of defying the wishes of voters. "I got no message from any voter that I ought to come to Congress and undermine the air, water and land that they survive on, recreate on and rely on for the quality of their lives," he said. "Not one constituent, whether they voted for me or against me, said undermine the protections of our land and water and air. Not one."
House Democrats remain hopeful they can overturn some of the riders, but the bill is expected to pass largely intact when the House moves to a vote later this week.
It will have a much tougher time passing through the Democrat-controlled Senate and the White House has already signaled that it will veto the bill in its current form.
However, green businesses and environmental groups remain deeply concerned that some of the policy riders could yet appear in the final spending bill.
A number of the measures contained in the bill, including proposals to delay or water-down the EPAs emissions rules, have secured support from coal state Democrats in the past and there are fears that a compromise reached in the Senate could still result in deep cuts to green spending and a relaxation of key environmental regulations.
Moreover, in an echo of the ongoing row over the debt ceiling, there are concerns that continued uncertainty over the future direction of US environmental regulation.
source: apec-vc Korea