The House of Representatives is debating the Fiscal Year 2012 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill on the floor this week, as party leaders work behind closed doors on the stalled debt ceiling negotiations. While the debt talks have sucked up most of the oxygen in the media, what Republicans have produced with the Interior bill is one of the worst attacks on the environment and our public lands in modern history. It deserves more attention.
With its deep cuts to important programs and amazing array of anti-environment provisions and legislative riders, this bill is not so much a spending bill as a wish list for the extraction industries. It falls far short of meeting our responsibilities to protect and wisely use the American peoples’ resources on public lands.
This bill contains drastic cuts – spending levels fall billions short of what was approved just last year. The Republicans continue their assault on the EPA, an agency established under President Nixon. Already grappling with sharp budget cuts to the agency earlier this year, EPA safe drinking water programs which go directly towards providing clean water for local communities are hit even harder.
The Republican Party may tout these penny-wise, pound-foolish spending cuts in the short term, but keeping toxins out of our air and water is a great deal cheaper than cleaning up the damage or dealing with the adverse health effects that will be caused in the long run under this draconian bill.
As bad as the funding in the bill is, most distressing is the unprecedented level of extremist legislative riders, 39 in all, and funding limitations included in the legislation. It’s literally a virtual dump truck of provisions for big oil and other special interest groups.
These provisions have become the new earmarks; designed to benefit specific industries. From allowing uranium mining near the Grand Canyon to blocking pollution controls, these provisions have nothing to do with deficit reduction and everything to do with carrying out an extreme ideological agenda.
Not only do these riders abuse the appropriations process, but they poison the legislation with contradiction. For example, the bill allocates millions of dollars to restore the Everglades in Florida, yet the majority includes a funding limitation that will allow pollution of the Everglades.
Our national parks and forests, wildlife refuges, wilderness areas, and other conservation units deserve better than what the bill provides. We have a responsibility to protect these for future generations. As stewards of these magnificent resources that were passed down to us, we must and can do better.
The debate over the debt ceiling is running against a tight deadline and should take top priority, but we owe it to our constituents and our communities to protect the air we breathe and the water we drink; to protect public health from the dangers of mercury, arsenic and lead, and to preserve the abundant natural and cultural heritage passed down to us. We are going the exact opposite of that direction with this horrendous piece of legislation.
Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.