This afternoon, House leadership cancelled a planned vote on the budget reconciliation bill. Leadership was unable to muster enough votes for the flawed bill, despite stripping language that would have authorized oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and off America's coasts. The bill could be back before the House for a vote as early as next week.
Bi-partisan support for the Arctic Refuge and opposition to many of the bill's industry giveaways made it impossible for leadership to garner the votes needed to pass the bill today. Arctic drilling would turn the pristine wildlife refuge into an industrial wasteland, while reducing gas prices by only a penny – and not until the year 2025. Millions of Americans wrote, emailed, and telephoned their Congress members asking them to oppose oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
"House members on both sides of the aisle understand that the Arctic Refuge is a place that should stay off-limits to oil drilling," said Sarah Wilhoite, legislative associate for Earthjustice. "We will remain vigilant against any attempt to revive drilling language. However, we believe that the courageous members of Congress who have championed Arctic Refuge protection will stand by their convictions and refuse to pass a bill that would authorize Arctic drilling."
Unfortunately, the removal of the Arctic and coastal drilling measures does not mean that the House budget reconciliation bill, which could be voted on as early as next week, is good for America. Earthjustice remains very concerned about the impacts this bill could have on the environment, particularly on our most special public lands. "Congress should pass a responsible budget that protects public health and the environment," said Sara Tucker, legislative associate at Earthjustice. "This bill reads more like an industry wish list of provisions that would have serious and far-reaching negative impacts for every American."
The budget bill seeks to:
- Sell off millions of acres of public lands currently protected by the federal government at bargain-basement prices – solely for the private gain of private corporations – in one of the largest public land giveaways in our nation's history. Companies would be able to buy public lands containing valuable minerals for a tiny fraction of their market value, without paying any royalties or additional fees. Areas in or near national parks, including Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Grand Canyon, could all be at risk.
- Deem as "adequate" an as-yet-unwritten environmental impact statement for oil shale development. State and local governments, Indian tribes, and citizens across the nation would be deprived of the opportunity to voice their concerns about oil shale exploitation, and its impacts on clean air, safe drinking water, and vulnerable ecosystems.
- Split the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, isolating California and Hawaii from Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. Anti-environmental interests want to "judge-shop" in a new federal circuit court, where they hope judges would look the other way when environmental laws are violated. Former governor and senator Pete Wilson, a California Republican, has opposed such a split, calling it "environmental gerrymandering." The vast majority of Ninth Circuit judges, including all Bush appointees, oppose splitting the circuit.
- Cut important Farm Bill programs that help farmers and ranchers protect and enhance natural resources on their land. The Conservation Security Program, which rewards good conservation stewardship, would be cut by $504 million over five years. The Watershed Rehabilitation Program would be eliminated, meaning a loss of $225 million that local governments use to rehabilitate aging dams and other flood control projects. The bill also eliminates the budget for popular and effective federal programs that support farm-related energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.