Congress set to muzzle EPA and defund clean energy, while protecting oil subsidies

Amendments to the budget bill could block regulations for air pollution, mountaintop removal, and offshore drilling.

Cross-posted from RYSE.

If you keep track of politics, you’re probably aware that the budget debate in the House of Representatives is in full swing. The reinvigorated Republican Party is eager to push its agenda, while the Administration, concerned about re-election, seems willing to make some serious concessions.

Curious what’s on the table? You might not want to know, unless you’re an oil executive. When it comes to program-axing, clean energy and environmental spending is at the top of the GOP’s list. Among the proposals are a $1.6 billion slash in the EPA’s budget, a cancellation of the high-speed rail project, and a massive cut in the Energy Department’s efficiency and renewable energy programs.

Notably absent is any mention of reducing subsidies for fossil fuels. Apparently, taxpayers will keep donating $4 billion a year to oil and gas companies, in the form of deductions and tax loopholes. Last year, the New York Times reported that tax breaks are available “at virtually every stage” of the exploration and extraction process. For example, BP wrote off 70 percent of the Deepwater Horizon’s rent– more than $225,000 a day.

According to the Tea Party congressmen, clean energy and EPA funding must be cut to preserve the free market (never mind protecting people). In the words of Fred Upton, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, “You don’t subsidize different forms of power — you let the market run on its own.” Okay, so let’s stop subsidizing oil and coal. But no, it seems that funding fossil fuels is actuallygood for the economy because it safeguards American jobs. Meanwhile, the EPA’s greenhouse gas registry, which collects data on industrial emissions, is part of a “radical anti-jobs agenda.

This type of logic is hardly surpising. Government is limited by the very thing that makes it work: compromise. Even with a Democratic Congress, Barack Obama can’t bring about the clean energy revolution; we have to do a lot of the work ourselves. But energy projects aren’t the only programs slated for execution. Just as dangerous (or even more so) are hundreds of amendments aimed at gutting the EPA’s authority.

According to the Appalachian advocacy group iLoveMountains,

  • Amendment 109 would remove the EPA’s ability to evaluate mountaintop removal permits and would reverse all of the actions taken by the administration over the past two years to safeguard Appalachian streams and communities.
  • Amendment 216 would remove EPA’s ability to veto “dredge and fill” permits that do not meet Clean Water Act standards. The Spruce No. 1 Mine permit was the first time the EPA used this authority in relation to a mountaintop removal site.

Mother Jones reported on eight other measures that spearhead the assault on environmental regulations. For example, one would prevent the EPA from tightening rules against air pollutants, while another would keep the Environmental Appeals Board from reviewing or rejecting offshore drilling permits. Meanwhile, Amendment 574 would ban any U.S. contribution to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

These amendments will pass with the budget bill, even though they have a relatively small effect on the federal budget. The bill has to be passed to literally keep the government running, so the only thing we can do is ask our Representatives to oppose these add-ons. March 4 is the expected deadline for negotiations, and some amendments, such as one defunding the GHG registry, have already been approved.

The EPA itself is threatened by polluter-friendly politicians. Many Republicans and some Democrats want to revoke the agency’s ability to regulate carbon emissions (a right it was granted by the Supreme Court in 2007), and Newt Gingrich, a favorite for the GOP presidential ticket, has plans to shut down the EPA altogether, replacing it with a business-friendly “environmental solutions agency.”

I’ll admit that the federal deficit is a problem Congress must address, and I know the task can’t be done without trimming some beneficial programs. But what’s happening this week is bigger than that. The entire Republican Party (and part of the Democratic) is poised to delete much of what the environmental movement has accomplished over four decades.

Trading away basic protections for clean air and clean water is not just an idiotic bargain. It’s irresponsible. We might not leave future generations with as heavy a debt. But if we leave them, instead, with poisoned water, polluted air, and an altered climate, will they thank us?

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