Congress v. The Environment: The House Is On Fire

As I write this, members of the House of Representatives continue to debate and move their way through votes on hundreds of amendments to the chamber’s government spending bill. The voting and debate has been a marathon process, stretching from morning through late at night for the last three days, and looks to carry on…

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As I write this, members of the House of Representatives continue to debate and move their way through votes on hundreds of amendments to the chamber’s government spending bill. The voting and debate has been a marathon process, stretching from morning through late at night for the last three days, and looks to carry on until late tonight or tomorrow.

Once the amendments are voted on and settled, the whole House will cast a final vote on the entire bill package with all the passed amendments. Then the Senate takes its turn, crafting a spending bill of its own. The two chambers must then confer and agree on one bill that funds the federal government by March 4 — or the government must shut down until its spending and funding sources are settled.

The amendments that the House is currently considering are wide-ranging. They aim to cut government spending by cutting the funding streams of hundreds of government programs. So, instead of ending those programs through legislation and appropriate voting, many members of the House are seeking to delete the programs by wiping out the funds that keep them going.

This is seen as a follow through on a campaign promise for many new House members who told their constituents they’d cut government spending at any cost. But did the constituents realize the cost was their own lives and health? Many of the programs and agencies on the House guillotine are the very programs that protect the water Americans drink and the air they breathe, among other health and health-care protections.

Cutting programs that protect American lives in order to be able to boast about decreasing government spending is reprehensible. It’s a short cut that will cost lives and quality of lives in this country.

There are moral and ethical ways to cut government spending. Look no further than the $10 billion in subsidies going to dirty energy industries each year, which are doing just fine without those handouts. Between 2002 and 2008, our government sent big oil, big gas and big coal a pretty $72.5 billion in subsidies, according to the Environmental Law Institute — and those continue today. Loads of info on Big Coal’s abundant subsidies here and here.

Our federal government also gives money to the World Bank and other international financial institutions that finance dirty energy extraction and use around the globe. There’s also the Foreign Tax Credit on foreign energy operations, estimated at $15.3 billion each year.

These are just a few examples that could save our government billions of dollars.

The president’s budget plan called for eliminating $36.5 billion in oil and gas subsidies and $2.3 billion in coal subsidies over the next 10 years. At least this would have been a good start for the House.

Trimming tidbits that fatten huge corporate polluters would have been a good way to save American taxpayers money. Instead, House representatives are now voting in favor of measures that seek to defund the very programs that keep us safe and healthy.

On amendment after amendment, we are watching our elected representatives vote for rewards to huge corporations and corporate pollutors over benefits for the American people.

In the last two days, the House majority has approved amendments to block veterans, small businesses and private citizens from recouping attorney’s fees from the government; to undo important life-saving air rules to limit mercury and other air pollution from cement kilns (rules that would save 2,500 lives each year); and to prevent the EPA from limiting the carbon dioxide pollution of the nation’s biggest polluters.

Tonight and possibly tomorrow, we’ll see them vote on more amendments, which seek to:

  •  make it easier for coal companies to blow up mountains and dump their waste in streams of Appalachia
  •  prevent the EPA from being able to do its job under the Clean Water Act by making sure all mines comply with the 40-year-old act
  •  block Clean Water Act rules preventing the spread of green slime in Florida’s waters from sewage, fertilizer, and manure dumping by corporations
  •  prevent federal agencies from communicating and coordinating on their study of science and enforcement of environmental laws
  •  block the study of climate change science
  •  cut off protections for prized wildlife and historic wild and public lands
  •  stop the EPA from regulating toxic coal ash, which is full of cancer-causing arsenic, hexavalent chromium, lead, and mercury

And, there is so much more.

It’s imperative that people call their representatives now in House and urge them to oppose these devastating amendments and this disastrous bill.

Likewise, it’s more important now than ever that the Senate hears public outrage and crafts a bill that cuts federal spending without trashing the programs that keep us safe and healthy and protect the places in this land that we love the most. The Senate must not compromise our health and national treasures. Take action now!

We’ll keep you posted as the voting continues. In the meantime, check out this minute-by-minute live blog from the House floor by our friends at The Wilderness Society or The New York Times‘ voting results live update. And of course, if you can’t manage to look away from the train wreck, you can watch the whole debate and voting on CSPAN, live as it happens.

Liz Judge worked at Earthjustice from 2010–2016. During that time, she worked on mountaintop removal mining, national forests, and clean water issues, and led the media and advocacy communications teams.

Established in 1989, Earthjustice's Policy & Legislation team works with champions in Congress to craft legislation that supports and extends our legal gains.

Earthjustice’s Washington, D.C., office works at the federal level to prevent air and water pollution, combat climate change, and protect natural areas. We also work with communities in the Mid-Atlantic region and elsewhere to address severe local environmental health problems, including exposures to dangerous air contaminants in toxic hot spots, sewage backups and overflows, chemical disasters, and contamination of drinking water. The D.C. office has been in operation since 1978.