House Republicans on Wednesday advanced an appropriations bill for federal environmental agencies that would boost development of the same fossil fuels driving the myriad disasters that have ravaged the Northern Hemisphere this year.
The legislation includes sweeping funding cuts for the Environmental Protection Agency, the Interior Department and the White House’s Council of Environmental Quality. It would mandate numerous additional oil and gas lease sales, both on- and offshore, and would advance mining development, including in an area near Minnesota’s iconic Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness where the Biden administration has banned such extraction.
The legislation would also torpedo and stonewall protections for wild animals, and would rescind more than $9 billion provided by the Inflation Reduction Act, President Joe Biden’s signature climate law that Democrats passed last year.
Wildfire management is among the few programs that would see a significant rise in funding under the plan. Funds for the three main agencies that serve federally recognized tribes ― the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Indian Education and the Indian Health Service ― would remain roughly similar to last year.
With Democrats holding the White House and a slim majority in the Senate, the GOP plan has virtually no chance of becoming law in its current form. But it acts as a clear statement of the Republican Party’s environmental priorities in an era of accelerating climate change and biodiversity loss.
In an opening statement during Wednesday’s markup, Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), chair of the appropriations committee’s interior and environment subcommittee, introduced the 14-year-old daughter of his chief of staff. He voiced concern about her and other children’s futures — not whether they will have a recognizable planet to live on, but what failing to rein in government spending would supposedly mean for their retirement.
“I don’t know how you tell your children and your grandchildren that Social Security and Medicare will be there for you,” Simpson said. “If we don’t get [spending] under control, all we’re doing will be for naught.”
Rep. Chellie Pingree (Maine), the subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, also spoke about the uncertain future facing children ― though her comments actually acknowledged the reality of the mounting climate crisis.
“I think that one of our main goals as members of Congress is making sure we give [children] a safe, secure and better future,” Pingree said. “And right now, one of the most critical things that we can do is guarantee they have a healthy planet, where they can have a future existence, where they can live productive lives.”
Pingree called the bill “aggressively anti-environment” and “pro-pollution,” and said it would destroy any chance of fulfilling that promise to future generations.
“All of our climate progress will be rolled back, and America’s ability to address climate change will be utterly debilitated,” she said.
The effects of rapidly worsening climate change have been on full display in recent weeks. In the U.S. alone, these have included blistering heat waves in the South, flooding in the Northeast, periodic waves of smoke from Canadian wildfires and record-high water temperatures off Florida’s coast. The burning of fossil fuels is the primary driver of global warming.
The Republican bill, however, seeks to open more public lands and waters to oil and gas development, and would require Interior to hold fossil fuel lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and off Alaska, as well as quarterly lease sales onshore.
Meanwhile, the bill proposes taking an ax to the nation’s largest environmental agencies, including a whopping 39% cut to EPA’s budget — which would put the agency at its lowest level since 1991, according to Earthjustice, an environmental group. Three agencies within the Interior Department — the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service — would see 18%, 13% and 13% reductions in funding, respectively. The Forest Service would see an 11% cut, while the Council of Environmental Quality’s budget would be slashed 20%.
The House GOP is also looking to gut key portions of the Inflation Reduction Act, including eliminating $7.8 billion for the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, which provides grants to jump-start the deployment of clean energy infrastructure, and another $1.4 billion earmarked for environmental and climate justice.
Along with deep cuts to EPA, the bill seeks to restrict the agency’s authority to regulate certain pollutants, and would rescind clean-water protections that the agency finalized late last year.
The bill is “filled with draconian budget cuts and poison pill riders that take a hatchet to critical environmental protections as well as job-creating investments that help fight climate change and environmental injustice,” Raúl García, vice president of policy and legislation at Earthjustice, wrote Wednesday.
The plan would claw back controversial wildlife protections that conservatives have come to view as a proxy for federal overreach, especially in the West.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would have to reissue its 2020 ruling removing Endangered Species Act protections for the gray wolf. A federal judge restored gray wolf protections in most of the country last year, in response to ongoing litigation.
The GOP’s proposed Interior budget would also bar the federal government from reintroducing bison to the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge in Montana, or reintroducing grizzly bears to the Northern Cascade Mountains in Washington state. It describes such proposals as “abuse” of the ESA.
In reality, the ESA does not require either action. A small grizzly population already lives in the Northern Cascades.
The legislation “can only be likened to a double barrel shotgun assault on the wildlife and wild places we hold dear,” Robert Dewey, vice president of government affairs at Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement.
Notably, the plan also acts as a vehicle to take a stand on culture-war grievances that have little relevance to the environment and questionable impact on agency budgets.
The Interior Department would not be able to fund “eco-grief counseling,” which the agency reportedly offered to employees distressed about environmental threats, or allowed to “advance Critical Race Theory,” for example. Only “appropriate flags” could be flown over agency facilities, the plan says ― likely an attempt to ban anyone from raising the Pride flag.
Some of those grievance proposals have Rep. Ryan Zinke’s fingerprints on them. Zinke ― a Montana Republican who violated Interior Department rules with his own flag-flying ritual while serving as the agency’s chief during the Trump administration ― has condemned the raising of Pride flags over government buildings. And in a tweet in February, he boasted that eco-grief trainings would be the “first program” he’d work to defund as a member of the appropriations committee.
The subcommittee considered and approved numerous amendments to the bill Wednesday, including one to block funding for the Bureau of Land Management to finalize a proposed rule to place conservation “on equal footing” with traditional uses like energy development, mining and cattle ranching.
The House appropriations committee ultimately advanced the bill by a 33-27 vote Wednesday. It now heads to the full House for consideration.