Ex-lawmaker sees rough road for climate, WOTUS riders

By Geof Koss | 11/19/2015 09:38 AM EST

A veteran House Democrat who spent years fending off Republican efforts to tack on contentious policy riders to U.S. EPA and the Interior Department’s annual spending bill before retiring predicted yesterday that Republicans will fall short in attacking the Clean Power Plan (CPP) and the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule in the omnibus appropriations measure under development.

Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), who represented his Northern Virginia district for 12 terms before retiring at the end of the last Congress, said GOP efforts to halt the EPA climate rule through riders are a non-starter for the Obama administration.

"They’re not going to budge," Moran told E&E Daily in an impromptu interview in the Rayburn House Office Building basement.


Moran’s comments reflect the conventional wisdom in Washington — that President Obama won’t negotiate on big-ticket policies such as the climate rules for power plants, which are central to his environmental legacy (E&E Daily, Nov.16).

Yet they’re noteworthy given Moran’s role as the past chairman and ranking member on the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, which gave him a seat at the table in the heated policy fights surrounding that bill since Republicans regained control of the House in 2011.

E&E Daily‘s encounter with the outspoken Moran came coincidentally after top House appropriators, including Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) and Interior-Environment Subcommittee Chairman Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), had just wrapped up a "listening session" with members on the $30.17 billion spending bill (H.R. 2822) that funds Interior and EPA (E&ENews PM, Nov. 18).

During that session, members stated their cases for what should be included in the measure, which was pulled from the floor in July after amendments were adopted barring the sale of Confederate flags on some public lands.

While both the House and Senate Interior-Environment bills are loaded with riders, including provisions blocking CPP and WOTUS, Moran said Republicans are well aware of the White House’s position on both.

"They know that some of those riders are problematic to getting it signed into law, and the White House has weighed in on that," he said. "And so they know which riders cannot become law; the president just isn’t going to give on it. And I doubt that the Senate is even going to go along with a lot of them."

While there’s opposition even among some Democrats to WOTUS, Moran said the past fights over WOTUS are an indication that Obama will go to the mat on protecting the rule.

"It’s one we fought every year, we did not give up on," he said. "We prevailed so far. And my guess is that’s also a red line for the White House, that if you try to cross it, they’re going to veto the whole bill. I don’t think it’s something they can give on, not when they insisted on not altering it for several years and have prevailed. I don’t think they’re going to change course."

Ultimately, decisions on riders will be made by leadership, he noted.

"The riders on Interior, you know they’re problematic, and Ken Calvert knows that," Moran said. "And Ken is a pro. He’s going to do as much as he possibly can. I don’t think that the problem lies within the Appropriations Committee; it’s not with Rogers or any of the subcommittee chairs. The problem is who has gone to the leadership with what demands and the extent to which the leadership is able or willing to alter what comes out of the full Appropriations Committee."

However, both newly minted House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are signaling they’re willing to push the rider fight in the omnibus.

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that Ryan said riders addressing regulations will be necessary to get Republican support for the omnibus.

And McConnell personally took credit for the inclusion of multiple riders in the Senate’s Interior-Environment spending bill earlier this year (Greenwire, July 8).

However, Moran drew a distinction between the big-ticket riders and some that Democrats and the White House have accepted in the past, citing a 2011 rider that removed Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in Montana and Idaho, as well as a perennial rider that bars EPA from regulating methane from livestock.

"The wolves are an important issue, but it was felt it wasn’t important enough to kill the bill, and I went along with that," he said. "And cows let off a lot of methane, but we’re not going to kill the bill over cow farts. There are some issues where you have to give, you have to be willing to give, and those are issues we thought we could budge on, and there are others, as well, that the administration is willing to swallow on."

"But Waters of the U.S., the Clean Power Plan, I just think they’re fundamental to clean air and water, and there is authorization that backs them up pretty strongly, and I doubt that the administration will be willing to accept those riders. I think those are poison pills."