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Health for Sale: House EPA Bill Allows Pollution and Supporters Get Big Oil Donations

SOURCE: AP Photo/Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, Larry Brinlee

Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) added a provision in the Environmental Protection Agency appropriations bill that would allow power plants to continue spewing mercury, arsenic, acid gases, and other hazardous pollutants. The representatives who voted for the provision received more than twice as many campaign contributions from mining and utility companies combined compared to those who opposed it.

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Download career campaign contributions from the oil, coal, and electric industries to House Appropriations Committee members (.xls)

Download a list of the pro-pollution provisions in the Department of Interior and Environmental Protection Agency appropriations bill (.xls)

The House Appropriations Committee voted July 12 on a strict party line to pass the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency appropriations bill for fiscal year 2012. The bill makes severe cuts in programs vital to protect public health from air and water pollution. And it includes a number of provisions added in the back rooms that would block EPA from reducing air and water pollution while benefiting oil, coal, and utility companies. Not surprisingly, the committee members who voted for this pro-pollution bill received over four times more in campaign contributions from these industries compared to those who opposed it.* The House of Representatives could vote on this bill as soon as July 23. It should remove the pro-pollution provisions and make sure EPA and DOI have the resources they need to safeguard our health, waters, parks, and recreation areas.

Clean air and water programs face a budget chainsaw rather than a scalpel. The EPA would receive $7.1 billion next year, which is $1.5 billion or 18 percent below 2011 spending. This cut is so severe that it’s lower than EPA’s appropriation in 2006 by $468 million. Some particularly harmful reductions include:

  • $967 million cut in the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Funds, which help states and cities pay for sewage treatment and drinking water. This is nearly a 40 percent cut from FY 2011.
  • $102 million cut in grants for state enforcement of environmental standards. States are the first responders to violations of pollution safeguards. This is 20 percent lower than 2011, which will harm enforcement in cash strapped states.
  • $46 million cut to establish carbon dioxide pollution reduction standards.
  • $49 million cut in the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which is nearly 20 percent less than 2011.
  • $4 million cut in the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Initiative, 8 percent less than last year.
  • $8 million cut in the Puget Sound Restoration Initiative, more than 20 percent less than 2011.

DOI fares somewhat better. The department takes a $720 million, 7 percent cut below last year’s level with a proposed $9.9 billion budget for FY 2012. But within this budget there are significant cuts, including an 80 percent cut to the Land and Water Conservation Fund. This would drain resources to purchase threatened lands for recreation and other enjoyment.

This budget bill is about more than gutting investments in clean air and water, however. The bill that the House Appropriations Committee approved also includes pollution provisions snuck into the bill by a number of GOP committee members and largely opposed by its Democrats. Others were added during the committee consideration of the bill. Here are just a few of the most harmful. (The provisions listed without a representative were in the underlying bill. The representatives listed offered the amendment to add the provision.)

  • Allows power plants to continue spewing mercury, arsenic, acid gases, and other hazardous pollutants by prohibiting EPA from developing and enforcing the Utility Air Toxics and Transport air pollution rules, by Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY).
  • Continues reliance on foreign oil due to less efficient vehicle fuel-economy standards caused by prohibiting EPA from limiting carbon dioxide pollution from vehicles for cars built from 2017 to 2025, by Rep. Steve Austria (R-OH).
  • Prolongs threat of lung and respiratory ailments in rural areas by preventing EPA from limiting dangerous particulate matter in the air—including farm dust—under the Clean Air Act, by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ). The National Ambient Air Quality Standard for particulates (or soot) is designed to protect people from this pollutant and prevent more asthma attacks.
  • Allows “Portland cement” facilities to continue to emit dioxin and other hazardous chemicals by prohibiting EPA from setting pollution reduction standards, by Rep. John Carter (R-TX).
  • Prohibits EPA from setting safeguards for the disposal of coal ash. The 2008 Tennessee Valley Authority coal ash spill in Tennessee dumped more than a billion gallons of toxic coal waste into more than 400 surrounding acres, exposing local residents to radium and arsenic pollution with “severe health implications.”
  • Prevents EPA from establishing carbon dioxide pollution reduction standards for power plants, oil refineries, and other major emitters.
  • Threatens water quality in Florida waters by preventing EPA from enforcing Florida Water Quality standards, by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL).
  • Allows uranium mining in 1 million acres adjacent to Grand Canyon National Park and the Colorado River, threatening to contaminate drinking water for 17 million people.

Most of these provisions would have little chance of enactment if they were openly proposed as changes to long-standing provisions of the Clean Air or Water Acts. Instead, their sponsors sneaked in spending prohibitions that retain the underlying pollution reduction requirements but deny EPA the funding necessary to set new standards or enforce them. Importantly, such funding prohibitions will not reduce the federal budget deficit beyond the aforementioned cuts but instead prevent EPA from enforcing existing environmental laws. This will allow pollution to continue unabated.

In his opening remarks before the full committee marked up the bill with these amendments, Subcommittee Chair Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), who earlier this year described the EPA as the “scariest agency in the federal government,” said that:

“The legislative provisions in this bill—and those that will be added today and on the House floor—they aren’t about special interests.”

Actually, these provisions and program attacks have a lot to do with special interests. If this bill becomes law these provisions will quite clearly benefit Big Oil, King Coal, and electric utility companies by delaying and avoiding cleanup requirements that they would have to make. Instead, these industries avoid such costs at the expense of our health.

Case in point: The provision that blocks the long-overdue national limits on mercury and other air toxics emissions from power plants would benefit coal companies and the utilities that burn coal with few or no pollution reductions.

This pollution provision was added to the spending bill by an amendment by Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) on a 25-20 vote. Not surprisingly, a CAP analysis found that the representatives who voted to prolong mercury and toxic pollution from power plants—including Rep. Lummis—received more than twice as many campaign contributions (see vote #13) from mining and utility companies combined compared to those who opposed it.

CAP conducted a similar analysis of the Appropriations Committee vote on the amendment by Rep. Steve Austria (R-OH) to block EPA from setting carbon dioxide pollution standards for vehicles built from 2017 to 2025. This amendment would lead to lower fuel-efficiency standards and more oil consumption, which would help Big Oil.

We found vastly higher Big Oil campaign cash gifts to those representatives who voted to block these pollution reductions. The 27 committee members that voted for it received a total of more than $4.2 million from the oil and gas industry. Meanwhile, the 20 members who voted against the amendment have taken only $808,000 in career contributions from oil and gas companies—a ratio of more than five to one.

Overall, the representatives who voted for final passage of this pollution-packed package received an average of $325,000 from oil, coal, and utility companies in career campaign contributions. Opponents who resisted these provisions received only $122,000 on average, a ratio of more than two and a half to one. (see attached spreadsheet)

Such candidate contributions are very cost effective because thousands of dollars in campaign cash can help companies avoid millions of dollars in cleanup costs. Of course, Americans pay this bill every day with more premature deaths, increased lung disease, and other respiratory ailments.

It’s easy to see what’s motivating conservative attacks on the EPA. Ideological opposition to government action might play a part. But the lure of lucre must also play a big role.

Next week the House of Representatives will consider this bill that would dirty our air, foul our rivers and lakes, and warm our climate. It must remove these back door antienvironmental provisions and ensure that EPA and DOI have the resources to protect our health and recreation areas. To do otherwise would reinforce Americans’ growing skepticism about the real interests of their elected representatives.

*Campaign donation reports from opensecrets.org.

Download career campaign contributions from the oil, coal, and electric industries to House Appropriations Committee members (.xls)

Download a list of the pro-pollution provisions in the Department of Interior and Environmental Protection Agency appropriations bill (.xls)

Daniel J. Weiss is a Senior Fellow and Director of Climate Strategy and Stewart Boss is an intern at American Progress.

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