House sends Interior-EPA bill off to uncertain future

By Michael Doyle, Kevin Bogardus | 11/03/2023 01:20 PM EDT

The House passed legislation Friday that included deep cuts to both agencies, but lawmakers rejected some amendments from the House’s hard right.

House vote.

The House took a final vote on its fiscal 2024 Interior-Environment spending bill Friday morning. House Television

The House on Friday morning approved a fiscal 2024 Interior-Environment appropriations package that now appears headed for Capitol Hill limbo even though lawmakers fended off numerous efforts to sharpen the bill’s partisan edge.

Following several days of wide-ranging debate and wrangling over more than 100 amendments, the GOP-controlled House approved the $25.4 billion bill by a 213 to 203 margin. Three Republicans voted against the bill, and one Democrat voted for it.

The overall bill that funds the Interior Department, EPA and some related agencies provides 35 percent less than the fiscal-2023-enacted level.


The bill, H.R. 4821, also would rescind $9.4 billion in Inflation Reduction Act funding provided to EPA, the Presidio Trust and the Council on Environmental Quality.

“One thing that all Republicans agree on is that we’ve got to reduce spending. The debate occurs on how much and how fast,” said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), chair of the Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee.

“In drafting this bill,” said Simpson, “we worked very hard to rein in federal spending while prioritizing critical needs.”

EPA would be subject to a steep cut of nearly 40 percent — down to $6.2 billion. The Department of the Interior would be funded at $14.3 billion, slicing its budget by $677 million.

Simpson also touted the bill’s efforts to ease regulatory burdens and boost energy production.

The White House, though, has issued a veto threat that cites numerous policy and funding objections, and Democrats dismissed the House bill as a time-wasting exercise in futility.

“We’re 14 days away from a government shutdown,” Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), the subcommittee’s ranking member, said, “and instead of focusing on keeping the government open, we’re working on this bill that’s going nowhere.”

A continuing resolution that funds the federal government expires Nov. 17. The Senate’s fiscal 2024 bills have been moving slowly but with bipartisan support and mostly level spending.

The House consideration of the Interior-Environment appropriations bill this week was noteworthy not only for the sheer number and aggressiveness of the Republican-authored amendments that would have imposed steeper budget cuts and punished specific personnel, but also for those amendment’s repeated failures.

Some House Republicans, for instance, resurrected an arcane measure, the so-called Holman Rule, to target individual government officials’ salaries.

But the amendments to reduce salaries to $1 for top-level officials including Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, EPA Administrator Michael Regan and Bureau of Land Management Director Tracy Stone-Manning all fell by large bipartisan margins.

Lower-ranking aides at EPA — Matthew Tejada, deputy assistant administrator for environmental justice, and Ya-Wei (Jake) Li, deputy assistant administrator for pesticide programs — were also subject to failed pay cut amendments.

“Elections have consequences,” Simpson said. “It is not a reason to reduce someone’s salary because they are implementing a policy for the administration that hired them.”

A parade of other hard-edged GOP amendments likewise fell one after another, from proposals to halve BLM funding and eliminate the Interior Department’s Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Civil Rights, to an amendment by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) that would have blocked the removal of any monument from Interior Department land.

“For too long, communist Democrats have been hellbent on erasing our culture, our way of life and our history, whether we agree with it or not,” Greene declared, citing the removal of Robert E. Lee and other Confederate statues over the past year.

Pingree dismissed Greene’s amendment as a “poison pill” that was fundamentally unserious.

A fluctuating group of 20 to 30 House Republicans joined unified House Democrats to turn back the amendments that also included bids to impose an additional 16 percent funding reduction, cut funds for EPA’s Clean School Bus Program and prohibit spending on the Antiquities Act of 1906, among other proposals.

Proponents of the amendments cast them as necessary corrections at a time when the federal debt has reached $33 trillion.

“It’s brutal. It’s not a happy place to go,” Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) said of his failed amendment Friday to cut spending an additional 16 percent. “But I’m trying to be intellectually honest here. Every dime we vote on here is borrowed.”

House Republicans also spent considerable time on the floor discussing one of their favorite bugaboos: EPA regulations.

They offered amendments to prohibit funds for several agency rules, including its proposed tougher soot standards, more stringent vehicle emissions limits and state-level authority for water quality permits. Those passed by voice vote or on close recorded roll calls.

GOP lawmakers also added amendments to slice funding for EPA’s air office by 50 percent and prohibited funding to arm agents for the agency’s criminal enforcement division.

The underlying bill was crafted by committee members who sifted through some 8,000 member requests, and it notably boosted or sustained funding for certain bipartisan priorities such as wildland firefighting; the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program; and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Indian Education and Indian Health Service.

To pay for theses priorities, the bill would reduce funding for nearly every other appropriation in the package, with many agencies receiving double-digit percentage reductions.

The underlying bill also includes a number of policy riders, from one preventing the Fish and Wildlife Service from banning lead ammunition and fishing tackle on refuges unless certain conditions are met to one prohibiting the listing of the dunes sagebrush lizard under the Endangered Species Act.

The legislation would block EPA rules on greenhouse gases from power plants and cars. It would mandate new oil and gas lease sales and block the waters of the U.S. rule.