Cromnibus Environmental Provisions Stymie Obama Environmental Efforts

Published February 4, 2015

The 1,600-page “Cromnibus” —a blend of “omnibus” and “CR,” short for “continuing resolution”— spending bill passed the lame duck Congress in mid-December and was signed into law by President Barack Obama just before Christmas. The bill, funding most government agencies through the end of September,was the definition of an omnibus bill, with provisions touching on everything from whole grain nutrition standards in schools to regulations limiting commercial trucking operations.

The Crominibus contained provisions, like the renewal of the Production Tax Credit for wind energy producers, which pleased environmental lobbyists. However, also among its many pages were a number of environmental provisions pleasing to those opposed to President Barack Obama’s environmental efforts, which were criticized by environmentalists.

Incandescent Bulbs

A 2007 federal law signed by President Bush set a schedule for phasing out the traditional incandescent light bulb through stringent energy standards. The spending bill denies the Energy Department funding to enforce those standards.

Overseas Funding Plans Cut

In 2013, President Obama announced the United States would no longer fund the construction of coal plants overseas, unless—according to the Treasury Department—the plants included carbon capture technology or “the most efficient coal technology available in the world’s poorest countries.” The announcement was criticized for its impact on people in developing nations who lack access to cheap electricity. The Cromnibus prohibits enforcement of this policy.

In addition, the bill blocked $3 billion Obama had promised to the UN’s global climate fund.

EPA and Agriculture Funding Cuts

The bill cut EPA funding by $60 million. This followed an appropriations trend that has reduced the agency’s funding by 21 percent since 2010, leaving it at staffing levels not seen since the 1970s. The bill also cut $18 million from the $694 million in mandatory spending from the biofuels programs.

No Endangered Grouse Listing

The greater sage grouse—a bird inhabiting millions of acres across the Western United States—has lately been the subject of intense debate, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a lawsuit settlement deadline to decide whether the sage grouse, among other species, should be listed as endangered or threatened.

The grouse’s habitat is prime land for oil and gas development. As a result, the mere threat of listing the species has discouraged government lease sales and development due to regulatory uncertainty. The Cromnibus prevents the EPA from making new listing determinations for two species of sage grouse; a win for Western landowners and oil and gas interests.

Cow Gas

In addition, Cromnibus prohibits the government from spending money to require farmers to obtain permits for methane emissions from livestock. The bill also prohibits funding for any rule requiring mandatory reporting on greenhouse gas emissions from manure management systems.

Lead Regulation

Cromnibus also specifies no government funds can be used to regulate the lead content of ammunition or fishing tackle. Previously, the EPA itself has taken the position it has no authority to regulate ammo, but environmentalists have continued to petition for federal regulation under the Toxic Substances Control Act, and bring lawsuits against the agency when their petitions were denied.

These and some other provisions made the bill palatable for some recalcitrant legislators and other critics of the overall bill.

“As flawed as the legislative process is that allows a ‘cromnibus’ to happen, some of the provisions in the bill do point to how Congress can reassert its authority in regulatory matters,” said Bonner Cohen, a senior fellow of the National Center for Public Policy Research.

“Every rule and regulation issued by a federal agency has the force of law behind it. In effect, these agencies have become lawmaking bodies, Cohen said. “Rather than continuing to delegate its lawmaking power to unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats, Congress, using the power of the purse, can withhold funding from harmful regulatory schemes. The new Congress should set its sights on power grabs by EPA and other federal agencies by restoring the balance between the executive and legislative branches of government that the Founders intended.”

Ann Purvis ([email protected]) is senior research fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis