House mulls enviro amendments, avoids monuments fight

Source: George Cahlink, Kellie Lunney and Ariel Wittenberg, E&E News reporters • Posted: Thursday, September 7, 2017

The House is set to vote on dozens of energy and environment amendments to a massive spending package before the end of the week, but lawmakers will avoid wading into the controversy over the administration’s review of national monuments.

The House Rules Committee met for a second day yesterday and paved the way for the chamber to consider 224 more amendments to an eight-bill omnibus that covers U.S. EPA, and the departments of the Interior, Commerce, Labor and Justice (E&E Daily, Sept. 5). In all, the House will process more than 300 proposals.

As has become custom, Democrats moved to strip the spending package of Republican policy riders, and GOP members are pushing to scrap remnants of President Obama’s environmental legacy. But now that President Trump has been in office for more than six months, both sides are also targeting aspects of his agenda.

EPA and water-related amendments made in order include:

  • An amendment from Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) to remove a rider to exempt the Trump administration’s repeal of the Clean Water Rule from the Administrative Procedure Act.
  • An amendment from Beyer to remove language clarifying that the Clean Water Act exempts many agriculture activities.
  • An amendment from Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and a number of Pennsylvania Republicans to prohibit EPA from punishing states that do not meet their goals for cutting pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.
  • An amendment from Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) to prohibit EPA from closing or consolidating regional offices.
  • An amendment from Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Ala.) to cut funds for EPA’s Criminal Enforcement Division.
  • An amendment from Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) to bar spending for studies on the social cost of carbon.
  • An amendment by Mullin to prohibit enforcement of methane regulations. EPA tried to delay them, but the agency’s plan ran into trouble in the courts.

Interior Department and natural resource amendments pending include measures to:

  • Increase the National Park Service’s facility maintenance and operations account by $9.7 million to address the agency’s longstanding maintenance backlog.
  • Restrict any funding for implementing the Obama-era Bureau of Land Management rule from limiting methane flaring on public lands.
  • Prevent funds to prepare a five-year offshore oil and gas leasing program that would schedule outer continental shelf oil or gas leases before 2022.
  • Prohibit funds for offshore geological or geophysical activities — including seismic airgun testing — in support of oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic Ocean and straits of Florida.
  • Prohibit funds for permitting the use of hydraulic fracturing or acid well stimulation treatment in the Pacific outer continental shelf.
  • Prevent funds for repealing the 2006 Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, which created an oil and gas revenue-sharing partnership between the federal government and Gulf Coast states.
  • Provide the NOAA’s National Ocean Service $8 million more in funds to detect, respond to and develop technologies to mitigate impacts from harmful algal blooms.
  • Prohibit NOAA from using money to relocate the Southeast Fisheries Science Center in Virginia Key, Fla.

Rules did not make in order several amendments offered by Democrats that would have prohibited changes to national monument designations under the Antiquities Act. They were a rebuttal to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s review, which recommended shrinking some monuments.

The committee did not accept an amendment that would have reversed a measure encouraging the delisting of gray wolves under ESA. Another amendment that didn’t make it in would have increased funds for the Land and Water Conservation Fund to match fiscal 2017 spending.

Rules declined to consider a plan to deny funding to eliminate the term “climate change” from agencies covered under the Commerce-Justice-Science portion of the bill. It also rejected amendments to cut money for the National Climate Assessment and increase funding for NOAA climate research.

Floor work

As Rules met during its marathon session yesterday, the full House began processing amendments the panel made in order Tuesday night. Several passed by voice vote, including measures to:

  • Reverse a ban on funding for developing a national ocean policy. Lawmakers have introduced numerous amendments on the issue.
  • Approve a $5.6 million increase for Natural Resources Conservation Service programs related to environmentally sustainable agriculture and toxic runoff mitigation.
  • Approve a $9 million increase for National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regulatory oversight of automated and connected vehicles.

The House also easily turned back a GOP bid to defund Amtrak, 128-293.

Once the omnibus is approved, the House will have passed all 12 fiscal 2018 spending bills in advance of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1, although none has yet cleared the Senate.

Capitol Hill leaders and the White House yesterday announced a deal yesterday to extend current fiscal 2017 spending through Dec. 15 to buy time for working out a final agreement on funding for all of government (see related story).

In that sense, the bills moving through the House this week are little more than an opening bid for what will be weeks of tough negotiations between the chambers on a final accord.