Claiming many of the regulations and executive orders issued by President Barack Obama and the agencies he oversees are costly and go beyond what federal law allows, congressional Republicans are trying to curb Obama’s actions by blocking funding and adding policy riders in appropriations bills, a strategy that has been used repeatedly over the past few years.
In July, House Republicans passed a $32.1 billion 2017 Department of Interior and Environment (DOIE) Appropriations bill which includes funding for the Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other related agencies. The House bill provides $64 million less in overall funding for the agencies than Congress did in 2016 and is $1 billion below what Obama requested EPA and DOI receive in his 2017 budget proposal.
If enacted, the House measure would reduce EPA funding by $164 million and cut Forest Service funding by $306 million.
Lawmakers have also inserted a number of policy riders that would block specific executive branch regulations and agency actions central to Obama’s environmental agenda.
One example of a policy rider contained in the House proposal is a provision in the DOIE bill that would block federal funding for implementation and enforcement of the Waters of the United States rule (WOTUS). WOTUS, which greatly expands federal authority over isolated bodies of water on individuals’ land, places limits on people’s ability to control, use, or develop their property. Implementation of WOTUS has been stayed by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals since October 2015.
WOTUS would expand the kinds of waters and land the federal government has control of to such a great extent Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH), who has led congressional efforts to stop WOTUS, considers it one of the worst regulations passed by the Obama administration since Obama took office in 2009.
“In my experience as a farmer, none of the White House’s unilateral actions have been as egregious as EPA’s Waters of the United States rule,” said Gibbs. “The House has passed legislation to stop the WOTUS rule on multiple occasions. Unfortunately, it has either died in the Senate or the president vetoed a Congressional Review Act action to stop the rule.
“WOTUS is nothing more than a one-size-fits-all, Washington, DC-knows-best power grab [made] at the expense of states’ role as a partner in the Clean Water Act,” Gibbs said. “The rule can actually erode the gains we’ve made in water quality.
“I am committed to doing anything I can to stop the EPA’s regulatory overreach, including preventing the EPA from using any federal funds to implement the new rule,” said Gibbs.
Halting Climate and Environment Regulations
Another policy rider attached to the DOIE appropriations bill would prevent the Interior Department from enforcing regulations limiting coal mining under its stream protection rule, and an additional rider would block Obama administration rules that would further limit hydraulic fracturing on public and Native American lands.
One group of amendments target various Obama administration greenhouse-gas regulations. For example, one amendment would block funding for the Clean Power Plan, which regulates carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants, and prohibit the use of the Social Cost of Carbon calculation, a formula federal agencies use to calculate the costs carbon-dioxide emissions supposedly have on the climate.
Another set of riders is directed at limiting the Endangered Species Act (ESA); it would block the Fish and Wildlife Service from listing the sage grouse and the Mexican gray wolf as “endangered” under ESA for the next year.
‘Stopping Damaging Overreach’
When Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA), chairman of the House Appropriations Interior-Environment Subcommittee, introduced the DOIE appropriations bill on the House floor, he made it clear the riders were intended to halt executive overreach.
“Again, this year there is a great deal of concern over the number of regulatory actions being pursued by EPA in the absence of legislation and without clear congressional direction,” said Calvert. “For this reason, the bill includes a number of provisions to stop unnecessary and damaging regulatory overreach by the agency.”
Lawmakers have until October 1 to pass the DOIE budget for fiscal year 2017. Obama has already said he plans to veto the bill if it reaches his desk in its current form.
Ann Purvis ([email protected]) writes from Atlanta, Georgia.