Party-line vote sends Interior-EPA bill to the House floor

Source: Amanda Reilly and Scott Streater, E&E reporters • Posted: Thursday, June 16, 2016

The House Appropriations Committee voted 31-18 along party lines today to advance a spending bill for the Interior Department and U.S. EPA that carries policy riders aimed at quashing Obama administration regulations.

Appropriators approved the spending bill a day before the Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to take up its own measure. The House legislation spearheaded by Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) will now move to the floor, where GOP leaders have said they would limit debate in a bid to increase the chances for passing spending bills.

The House committee rejected several attempts by Democrats to boost funding levels for water infrastructure and to eliminate what Appropriations Committee ranking member Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) called “poison pill riders that cause harm to our environment or public health.”

In all, the House spending measure would provide about $32.1 billion for Interior and EPA, about $1 billion below what the White House requested. The committee also approved a 302(b) spending allocation for Interior and EPA for that amount.

EPA would receive $7.98 billion, about $164 million less than the agency’s current funding level and well below President Obama’s request of $8.26 billion.

Other agencies funded under the bill would see generally modest cuts or small increases. Within Interior, for example, the Bureau of Land Management would get $1.5 billion next year, $17 million below this year’s level, and the National Park Service, which marks its 100-year anniversary this year, would receive $2.9 billion, or less than a 1 percent increase over the current benchmark.

The bill contains dozens of policy riders aimed at curtailing the administration’s regulatory agenda. Among EPA policies targeted by the riders are carbon dioxide regulations for new and existing power plants, the agency’s new ozone standard and the Waters of the United States rule.

“There is a great deal of concern over the number of regulatory actions being pursued by EPA in the absence of legislation and without clear congressional direction,” said Calvert, who chairs the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee.

The bill also includes many riders attacking key administration proposals on conservation and lands management, among them a proposal to block a major rule proposed by BLM to curb the escape of natural gas from drilling operations on federal lands in the West.

The appropriations measure would also require the Fish and Wildlife Service to reissue rules removing Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in Wyoming and the Great Lakes. FWS delisted the predators in those areas in 2011 and 2012, but the decisions were overturned in federal court.

In addition, the committee added amendments affecting Interior efforts to protect the greater sage grouse, improve the management of public lands and regulate air pollution from offshore oil and natural gas operations.

Democrats pushed back against the policy provisions.

“The number of riders in this bill has become absurd in my opinion,” said Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), the ranking member on the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee.

But Democrats were unsuccessful in overturning any riders. McCollum offered an amendment to strike what she called 33 of the “most egregious” policy riders in the bill that failed in a 19-28 vote along party lines.

Flint crisis

Appropriators also struck down attempts by Democrats to provide emergency funding for Flint, Mich., and to boost the bill’s funding levels for EPA water infrastructure programs.

Democrats framed the Flint lead contamination crisis as the product of “starving” EPA’s budget for years.

McCollum offered an amendment called the “Flint Families Act” that would provide $385 million in emergency funding for Flint. She said the bill as is “does not provide a penny which is targeted to Flint.”

Republicans opposed the amendment, which fell by a vote of 20-29. Calvert argued the emergency funding was “off budget and not paid for” and that the Interior-EPA spending plan already provided money that Michigan could use through EPA’s Clean Water and Drinking Water state revolving funds (SRF).

The bill would set aside $2.07 billion for EPA’s water funds, slightly more than the president’s request.

The Clean Water SRF — which funds stormwater and sewage treatment systems — would get $1 billion, slightly more than the $979.5 million in Obama’s budget request and just under the $1.018 billion lawmakers appropriated for fiscal 2016.

The Drinking Water SRF — which is reserved for water treatment facilities and drinking water systems — would receive $1.07 billion, a 24 percent increase from the $863 million in current spending levels.

The House bill would also set aside $50 million for loans under the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA), marking the first time the loan program would be funded since it was passed into law in 2014.

But Democrats also opposed the cut to the Clean Water SRF. Lowey described herself as “shocked” that Republicans would reduce the fund “considering the severity of the Flint water crisis.”

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) introduced an amendment that would provide $394 million to the water fund by moving the same amount in the Payments in Lieu of Taxes program, which compensates local governments for tax revenues lost from federal lands, from discretionary to mandatory spending.

“The amendment will not completely correct the challenge we face, but it at least moves us in the right direction,” Kaptur said.

The House committee rejected the amendment by a vote of 17-31. House appropriators also rejected, by a 19-28 vote, an amendment offered by Lowey that would strike a policy rider targeting EPA’s proposed requirements for workers to use agency-recognized lead test kits in housing construction projects.

As part of a manager’s amendment offered by Calvert, the committee added language to the bill that stipulates that a long-term cleanup solution to the Gold King mine spill, in which EPA accidentally discharged 3 million gallons of wastewater from an abandoned Colorado site, should be consistent with Superfund remedial action requirements.

The manager’s amendment also directs EPA to consult directly with the Agriculture Department on regulatory decisions that affect farmers in the United States. House appropriators also added an amendment offered by Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) that adds “Buy America” requirements for EPA.

National monuments

One of the most contentious amendments was offered by Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) and aimed at restricting the president from using his authority under the Antiquities Act to designate national monuments in areas where there is “significant” local opposition to doing so.

It’s not known what would qualify as “significant” opposition, but Stewart made no secret of the amendment being aimed at preventing Obama from designating a 1.9-million-acre monument in the Bears Ears region of southeast Utah. The site is of spiritual and historical significance to American Indians, but a monument designation is strongly opposed by local elected officials, as well as Gov. Gary Herbert (R) and Utah’s congressional delegation.

McCollum said the amendment “inappropriately restricts” the president’s ability to designate monuments.

McCollum said she understands Stewart’s concerns about Bears Ears. “But including this poison pill rider in the bill is not the answer,” she said.

Obama has used his authority under the 1906 law to establish 23 monuments, and he has been sharply criticized for doing so each time. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said this week that she will visit the Bears Ears region this summer (Greenwire, June 14).

The measure was approved 27-22, mostly along party lines.

“My state is controlled nearly 70 percent by the federal government,” Stewart said. “We’re about to lose another 2 million acres, all without the consent of the people, without working with Congress, by the stroke of the pen of a president who has never come to the state and asked the people what they think.”

Sage grouse, prairie chicken

The committee also approved a contentious amendment proposed by Nevada Rep. Mark Amodei (R) that would forbid Interior during fiscal 2017 from implementing federal sage grouse management plans in states that already have a grouse management plan approved by the governor.

The amendment is another Republican shot at federal plans finalized last fall that amend 98 BLM and Forest Service land-use plans in 10 Western states to incorporate strong grouse protections. The federal plans also propose withdrawing 10 million acres of the most critical grouse habitat — called sagebrush focal areas — from new mining claims.

But Amodei’s amendment, approved by the committee, 29-20, would forbid Interior in those states with governor-approved plans from implementing the federal mandates. It also forbids withdrawing the 10 million acres from new mining claims, and prevents the Fish and Wildlife Service in fiscal 2017 from altering its decision last fall not to list the bird for federal protection.

Calvert urged the committee to approve the amendment “given the heavy-handed approach to sage grouse conservation” from the Obama administration.

But McCollum said the amendment if enacted would give governors too much power to decide how federal lands are managed. It would also undermine all the work of federal and state leaders and private landowners to prevent the grouse from being listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The amendment is similar to language in the House defense authorization bill approved last month that would prevent Interior from listing the greater sage grouse as endangered for 10 years. The bill would also empower states to block federal management plans for the bird.

Amodei noted in lobbying for the committee to approve his amendment that it’s only for one year and is a more “measured approach compared to some other things going on that are longer in time.”

Similarly, the committee approved an amendment that would prevent Fish and Wildlife from making a future decision to list the lesser prairie chicken for ESA protection.

A federal judge in 2014 threw out the agency’s earlier decision to list the prairie chicken as threatened, and the Justice Department last month dropped an appeal of that ruling.

Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.), who proposed the amendment, said he’s concerned things could change. He said committee members who vote for the amendment are “supporting hardworking people that don’t need the weight of this federal government coming down upon them next year, or the year after.”

“Right now we’re in a good spot, but tomorrow or the next day the Fish and Wildlife Service could again put this species on the threatened list,” he said. “We don’t want that to happen.”

The Senate Interior and EPA bill set to be considered tomorrow includes a similar provision blocking FWS from reassessing the status of the bird.

BLM planning reforms

Another amendment approved today would delay by 90 days implementing a new planning rule to overhaul how BLM manages hundreds of millions of acres of public land.

BLM’s proposed rule was unveiled in February as part of a broader agency effort called “Planning 2.0,” which began in 2014.

The new rule is designed to allow BLM to more quickly revise and amend the 160 RMPs that guide energy development, wildlife protections and recreation on the agency’s 245 million acres in an effort to address a host of major land management issues in a more timely manner (E&E Daily, May 13).

BLM by September plans to issue a final rule, which could have a major impact on how the agency manages activities like energy development, mining, grazing and recreation.

But the draft Planning 2.0 regulation has drawn concerns from Western counties over whether it could reduce their influence over BLM’s land-use decisions.

In offering the amendment, Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) noted concerns that the proposed changes would cut local input, and his amendment directs BLM during the 90-day delay to hold a public hearing to gather more comments in 11 Western states, including Texas and Oklahoma.

“We’re not telling them to scrap this plan,” Simpson said. “What we are saying is give us an additional 90 days for public comment and hold a hearing.”

McCollum countered that the updates are badly needed, in large part because they have not been revised in more than 30 years.

But Simpson, who agreed the updates are needed, said that’s no excuse for rushing the rule through the process. “After 30 years,” he said, “you’d think 90 days would be no problem.”

The measure was approved by a voice vote; a vote tally was not requested.

The committee also approved an amendment by Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) and co-sponsored by Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) that blocks Interior from updating its air regulations for offshore oil and gas operations until after it has completed all air quality studies and analysis justifying the changes proposed in March.

The proposal by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management would reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxide, sulfur oxide, carbon monoxide and particulate matter, as well as allow officials to more accurately account for these emissions (E&ENews PM, March 17).

The proposed changes also include measuring air impacts from the state-federal water boundary — 3 nautical miles offshore — rather than only at the coastline.

But the amendment — approved 31-16 along party lines — contends BOEM has not yet completed studies to show that offshore oil and gas emissions have a significant impact on onshore air quality.

Calvert noted that the administration has targeted completing the update by the end of the year, even though the air pollution studies won’t be completed until at least next year.

But McCollum disagreed that BOEM needed to delay the updated regulations, noting the current regulations have not been updated in 36 years.

“The updated regulations reflect current science,” she said.

Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) said he agreed.

“All you are going to do is delay, delay, delay” to the benefit of the oil and gas industry, Farr said. “You’re going to do more bad than good.”

Wild horses

The committee approved a bipartisan amendment proposed by Stewart, the Utah Republican, that would help BLM address growing wild horse and burro herd sizes across rangelands in the West.

Stewart’s amendment would allow BLM to transfer horses immediately to federal, state and local agencies that request them, such as the U.S. Border Patrol.

BLM asked Congress in its fiscal 2017 budget request to approve legislation that would do this as the number of wild horses and burros on federal rangelands is at the highest level in more than three decades.

There are currently more than 67,000 wild horses and burros on federal rangelands — approaching three times the number of animals that BLM says federal rangelands can sustain.

The agency is already holding more than 46,000 horses and burros in off-range corrals and pastures, and it does not have the resources to round up and hold all the excess animals.

BLM Director Neil Kornze told the House Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee at a hearing last spring that the agency is “overwhelmed” by the growing herds, which are causing environmental harm to vast swaths of rangeland (E&E Daily, March 4).

Stewart sponsored legislation several years ago to allow BLM to transfer some of the nearly 50,000 horses in holding to willing state partners.

That legislation was not approved, and Stewart said his latest amendment is now badly needed as the number of wild horses and burros could double in the next four years.

“This is a step in the right direction, and it would give the BLM the tools they need” to address the growing herd sizes, McCollum added.

The amendment was approved unanimously by voice vote.

The panel also took up an amendment by Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.) to direct the Bureau of Reclamation to relax some pumping restrictions on California’s Central Valley Project, the main water delivery system from the San Joaquin River Delta to central and Southern California. California Republicans have pushed for the changes, which they say will allow for better use of the water in periods of high rainfall.

The provision is similar to Valadao’s H.R. 2898, which farm groups in the drought-stricken state support. Environmentalists say the legislation would weaken protections to threatened fish species. The amendment passed 31-18.

Although the issue is not under either EPA’s or Interior’s jurisdiction, Democrats attempted to add funding to address the Zika virus to the bill, arguing Republicans were moving too slowly to address transmission of the virus. An amendment offered by Lowey that would have added $1.9 billion in emergency funding was rejected along party lines in a 21-28 vote.

Reporter Tiffany Stecker contributed.