The U.S. House of Representatives approved numerous environmental provisions in late-night voting yesterday on an appropriation bill for various federal agencies. Included in the Fiscal Year 2008 appropriations bill for the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, important amendments were approved, including:
- An end to taxpayer subsidies for commercial logging in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, our nation's most significant tract of old-growth forest. The Tongass National Forest, the crown jewel of our nation's forest system, is the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world. Each year, the federal government throws away an average of $40 million in taxpayer dollars to log old-growth in the Tongass. Despite this loss, the Forest Service continues to plan new logging roads and timber sales. The amendment, sponsored by Representatives Robert Andrews (D-NJ) and Steve Chabot (R-OH), puts restraints on federal funding for new logging roads. It was approved by a 283 – 145 vote.
- An end to funding a regulation proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency that would allow major toxic air polluters to avoid meeting control requirements under the Clean Air Act. EPA's proposal would have eliminated the so-called "once in, always in" rule, allowing facilities that are currently subject to the Clean Air Act's highly protective emission standards for toxic pollutants like mercury, lead, and dioxins to avoid controls if their emissions fell below certain ton-per-year thresholds. If the rule were finalized, many industries could significantly increase their toxic emissions, placing children and families in neighboring communities at risk. The amendment, introduced by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), passed by a 252 – 178 margin.
"The House of Representatives has taken a meaningful step to protect the Tongass National Forest," said Sarah Wilhoite, Legislative Representative at Earthjustice. "The Tongass National Forest is a special place unlike any other in the world, yet for decades, American taxpayers have footed the bill for a logging program that runs at an average $40 million loss every year. We're very pleased that Congress has again recognized that the economic future of the Tongass relies upon its natural assets, not on wasteful subsidies for the timber industry."
"Instead of doing the job that Congress gave it -- protecting public health and the environment -- this EPA is using taxpayer dollars to roll back environmental protections to benefit powerfully connected industries," said Earthjustice attorney James Pew. "The country owes a big debt of gratitude to Representative Johnson and the members who voted to stop this abuse. If this rule went through, it would expose millions of Americans across the country to increased emissions of the most toxic pollutants in existence."
The House will finish consideration of the Interior Appropriations bill today. Among the amendments yet to be considered are an amendment by Representative John Salazar (D-CO) to protect the Roan Plateau in Northwest Colorado from damaging oil and gas drilling, an area of great significance for its recreational opportunities and critical wildlife habitat. Representative Mark Udall (D-CO) will also offer an amendment to prohibit the implementation of a commercial oil shale leasing program.