A top Obama administration official joined environmentalists in blasting numerous policy riders contained in the House fiscal 2016 spending plan for the Interior Department and U.S. EPA unveiled yesterday.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said she is especially concerned about a provision in the bill that would bar the Fish and Wildlife Service from preparing a potential Endangered Species Act listing rule for sage grouse.
"They're dreadful, and they should be eliminated," Jewell told E&E Daily about the policy riders after a wildfire briefing yesterday at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge outside Denver.
Republican House appropriators unveiled the draft bill about 24 hours before a markup scheduled for this morning in the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies.
In all, the bill would give EPA and the Interior Department $30.17 billion in funding for fiscal 2016, a decrease of $246 million below current spending levels and $3 billion below President Obama's request for Interior and EPA (Greenwire, June 9).
The 134-page draft bill includes more than 20 policy riders, including provisions that would bar EPA's efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from new and existing power plants and amend which bodies of water get automatic Clean Water Act protection.
Along with the sage grouse provision, the bill would legislatively delist wolves in the Great Lakes and Wyoming and would limit the government's ability to regulate ivory and the use of lead in ammunition and fishing tackle.
Jewell said she has spoken with lawmakers on Capitol Hill about the bill's policy riders. She called sage grouse riders a "huge mistake" and warned that postponing habitat protections would leave the sagebrush ecosystem in worse shape in the future.
A separate rider attached to the House's defense authorization bill would roll back, at the request of a governor, federal sage grouse protection plans that do not conform with state habitat plans.
Jewell yesterday also called the spending bill's overall funding level -- set by Republicans to conform to sequester spending caps -- unworkable.
"We've got to get together and do some kind of a budget compromise," she said. "I'm hoping that at least with a markup, we're in a partial regular order process that will cause the sides to get together and maybe work on a two-year budget deal."
In a letter obtained by E&E Daily, more than 20 environmental organizations also yesterday said the draft bill's funding levels and policy proposals would undermine the administration's efforts to address climate change, clean up the air and water, and save endangered species.
"We are alarmed that this bill has once again become a target for anti-environmental and superfluous policy provisions, which have no place in the appropriations process," wrote the groups, which included the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society and Friends of the Earth.
The environmental groups charged that the policy provisions "have no place" in the annual appropriations process.
"Congress has had an opportunity to return the appropriations process to regular order this year, but burdening legislation with unnecessary and harmful policy provisions will only derail an already difficult process," they wrote. "Critical funding legislation should not be held hostage by unrelated and damaging riders."
In a statement yesterday, Interior, EPA and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) defended the policy riders, saying they represent "meaningful steps to shield our economy and defend American jobs from the executive overreach of EPA regulators."
As in previous years, appropriators will likely save most of their debate over the draft bill and amendments for a markup in the full House Appropriations Committee, which could take place later this week.
Senate appropriators have yet to unveil their proposed fiscal 2016 spending plan for Interior and EPA, but are planning to hold a markup next week, Senate Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) yesterday told reporters.
Murkowski did not give any details on what her bill would contain and skirted a question on whether it would target EPA's Clean Power Plan. She also did not comment on specifics in the House proposal.
"I can't speak to the direction the House may go," she told reporters. "I think we traditionally have seen they've been a little more aggressive with riders than you've seen on the Senate side."
Murkowski previously suggested she would target the Obama administration's controversial Waters of the U.S. rule in the Interior-EPA bill in exchange for Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) agreeing to drop an amendment targeting the rule during committee consideration of the energy and water appropriations bill (Greenwire, May 21).
Earthjustice water issues advocate Chris Espinosa said greens are nervous but also vigilant and hopeful. He said the Senate tends to be "a little more pragmatic" with policy riders but cited the promise by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to use the appropriations process to roll back the administration's agenda.
"We know the attacks are coming," Espinosa said.
Other potential riders include a provision to prevent the Interior Department from finalizing its forthcoming stream protection rule to protect waterways from coal mining and blocking EPA from crafting new bonding requirements for hardrock mines.
Greg Conrad, executive director of the Interstate Mining Compact Commission, said uncertainty prevails for now, but he thinks there's a greater chance the Senate will "seriously consider" policy riders now that the chamber is in GOP hands.
Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), who has introduced stand-alone legislation related to the stream protection rule, said yesterday, "The real question is does it ever have a chance of getting through the White House."
A measure that may prevail with bipartisan support is a proposal in the House spending bill to provide $30 million in abandoned coal mine cleanup grants to Appalachian states reeling from the mining downturn.
The measure harks back to a White House proposal to speed up the release of $1 billion from the abandoned coal mine reclamation fund. But the smaller House version may be more palatable to lawmakers because it doesn't involve amending the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.
Asked whether the same proposal would end up in the Senate bill, Conrad said, "I know the Senate is thinking about this." He added that in conversations with aides, "They did not offer what they were thinking or doing."
Reporter Katherine Ling contributed.
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