Earmarks Give Way to Oilmarks in GOP Spending Bill

US Capitol with its power plant in foreground (via Flickr's Matthew Hurst)

White House Remains Silent on Clean Air, Clean Water Attacks

The new GOP majority in Congress promised to reduce the deficit, but failed to mention they would give polluters free reign to replace Pork Barrel spending with Oil Barrel favors.  In a week-long marathon of votes, the House spending bill to keep the government running in 2011 became a polluter piñata.  Oil companies and other corporate polluters looked on gleefully as their allies in Congress took beating sticks to the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.  Polluters rejoiced further when the House defeated the one oil amendment that actually would have made a dent in the deficit by removing billions of dollars of taxpayer subsidies for oil companies.  In this budget charade, the target became polluter regulators, not polluter subsidies.  This extreme and reckless bill amounts to the largest assault on America’s bi-partisan legacy of environmental and wildlife safeguards in history. The bill was passed by the House on a vote of 235-189, largely along party lines.  No Democrats supported the bill and only 3 Republicans voted against it.  Click here to see how members voted.

Earmarks Give Way to Oilmarks

An oilmark is a congressional prohibition added to a spending bill that prevents government regulators and watchdogs from ensuring that corporate polluters comply with specific environmental laws. Oilmarks are measures to handcuff regulators, forcing them to look the other way as polluters endanger the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the lands and waters that nurture fish and wildlife. As with earmarks, oilmarks are usually attached to spending bills to avoid a full debate on the environmental consequences and instead protect an unpopular measure as part of a bigger bill that must be signed into law.

The House voted to add oilmark after oilmark to the spending bill, all without adding a single penny in savings to the bottom line budget.  In all, 14 of the 51 amendments voted onto the bill were oilmarks seeking to impose politics over science and common sense public health protections.

One of the oilmarks (amendment #533) was offered by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), who is on the threshold of joining Big Oil’s Million Dollar Club with $993,000 in reported contributions from the oil industry over his career, according to Opensecrets.org.  His amendment would push aside federal regulators to allow Shell Oil to rush forward with “exploratory drilling” in the Chuckchi and Beaufort Seas off of Alaska’s coast.  These seas are one of the last undamaged ocean frontiers, home to polar bears and other Arctic wildlife and marine life.

Does this sound familiar?  You may recall that “exploratory” drilling was the reassuring term used by BP for the Deepwater Horizon before it dumped millions of gallons of toxic crude into the Gulf, with devastating impacts on wildlife.  Did we learn nothing from the disaster?  According to the Commission that investigated the disaster, the spill was caused in large part “by failures of government to provide effective regulatory oversight of offshore drilling.” Having failed to implement the Commission’s recommendations, the House is rushing instead to move in the other direction and open an Alaska-sized loophole in the Clean Air Act and send a clear and intimidating signal to oil regulators that they will be punished by Congress for doing their job. His amendment passed with support of 230 Republicans and 13 Democrats (218 votes are needed to pass).  Click here to see how members voted.

Other oilmarks added to the bill with only a few minutes of debate are detailed at the end of this posting.  Koch Industries, a large oil refining company that gave more campaign cash to House members than any other oil company this past election, will be one of the largest beneficiaries of weakened pollution standards.  Not surprisingly, Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-founded advocacy group,  lobbied Congress to support many of these amendments.

Oilmarks added to the bill would:

  • Allow 5,000 additional tons of hazardous air pollution and mercury emissions.
  • Block new health standards to reduce soot pollution that is particularly harmful to the lungs of our children.
  • Block funding for climate change science and sensible regulations to start reducing carbon dioxide pollution from oil refineries and power plants.
  • Block science-based restoration of the Chesapeake Bay, Klamath Basin, San Francisco Bay Delta, and Florida waters.
  • Block new rules and guidance to prevent hazardous coal ash from entering water supplies as happened in the 2008 Tennessee disaster.
  • Block new guidance and rules to protect stream valleys and wetlands from dumping of waste from mountain top removal and other sources.
  • Block implementation of the Equal Access to Justice Act, enacted by President Reagan.

The total budget savings for these 14 oilmarks was ZERO dollars.  Not one dime was shaved from the deficit that was ostensibly the purpose of this bill.  To the contrary, they will drive up health care costs and put people out of work.  The Clean Air Act is one of the most successful and most thoroughly studied pieces of legislation in history, preventing lung diseases such as asthma and delivering $2 trillion in health benefits while making American industry a leader in environmental technology industries that employ 1.7 million Americans.

Preserving Oil Company Subsidies

While adding all kinds of oilmarks to the spending bill, the House rejected the one amendment, offered by Rep. Markey (D-Mass.), that would have eliminated billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies to oil companies.  Closing a royalty payment loophole for oil companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico could save taxpayers $53 billion in the coming years, but the amendment (#27) was defeated 251-174. 226 Republicans and 25 Democrats voted to protect these subsidies.  Click here to see how members voted.

The Crushing Weight of Polluter Money in Washington

Not long ago, our government reflected Americans’ strong environmental values. When Congress updated the Clean Air Act in 1990 to protect thousands of lives and curb acid rain, the House passed the legislation with an overwhelming vote of 401-25.  Today, we instead face bold and unprecedented assaults from Congress seeking to roll back America’s legacy of environmental safeguards. As soon as the dust settled on the 2010 elections, GOP House leaders sent a letter to oil companies and 150 other businesses and trade associations asking what regulations they wanted scaled back.  What has changed? In 1990, major polluters made $20 million in campaign contributions. Since that time, polluters have used their profits to pour more and more money into buying access and influence in Washington.  Corporate polluters have spent more than a billion dollars on campaign contributions and lobbying in the past two years alone.

White House Silent

Fortunately, the voting public still strongly supports America’s environmental laws. A  recent poll confirms that 77% of Americans, including 61% of Republicans, believe that “Congress should let the EPA do its job.”  This attack can be turned back if the public finds out what is happening.  It’s up to all of us to spread the word and make sure everyone knows what’s at stake.  But it is troubling that President Obama hasn’t  yet said anything about this assault on America’s bedrock environmental laws. Importantly, President Obama has threatened to veto the spending bill.   But the president is missing an important opportunity to educate the public about the benefits of the Clean Water Act , the Clean Air Act, and the wildlife programs that create jobs and protect our Great Outdoors throughout America. We will continue to see more of these hidden polluters attacks on other pieces of legislation until they are brought from the backrooms of Congress into the light, and nobody has a brighter flashlight than the president.

Oilmarks in the GOP House Spending Bill

[Note: The exact text of amendments can be found in one of two Congressional Record files here and here by searching on the name of the sponsor; similarly, a GOP summary of all 500+ amendments that were filed can be found here; only a portion of the amendments were debated and only 51 were approved by recorded vote.]

Putting Polluter Soot Ahead of Our Children’s Lungs

An oilmark added by the House would force EPA to ignore recent scientific studiesconfirming that specific air pollutants — coarse particles, or soot — penetrate deeply into our lungs and trigger asthma attacks in young children.  The oilmark, sponsored by Rep. Noem (R-SD), would put a halt to the scientific process established by the Clean Air Act to update the health standards for soot based on the latest science and studies.   The standards are the basis of pollution control requirements that oil refiners and other major emitters must adhere to.  Here is the text of Rep. Noem’s oilmark (Amendment #563), which passed by a vote of 255-168. Click here to see how members voted.

No funds made available by this Act may be used to modify the national primary ambient air quality standard or the national secondary ambient air quality standard applicable to coarse particulate matter under section 109 of the Clean Air Act.

Thousands of Pounds of Mercury and 5,000 Tons of Hazardous Air Pollutants – Seriously?

Another oilmark amendment added to the budget bill would prevent EPA from enforcing a rule that reduces emissions of toxins including mercury, which is an acute threat to fish, wildlife and our health.  According to the amendment (#165), sponsored by Rep. Carter (R-TX), “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to implement, administer, or enforce the rule entitled ‘National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants [the cement production industry],'” which is the third-largest industrial source of toxic mercury emissions.  The amendment  passed 250-177.  Click here to see how members voted. The American Lung Association, the American Public Health Association and other public health groups wrote a letter to Congress opposing the amendment.  Here’s an excerpt:

As the American Academy of Pediatrics notes, “mercury in all of its forms is toxic to the fetus and children, and efforts should be made to reduce exposure to the extent possible to pregnant women and children as well as the general population.” Cement plants are the third-largest source of human-caused mercury emissions; rolling back mercury standards for such plants would be a step in exactly the wrong direction. Under the standards, which the Environmental Protection Agency issued in final form in September 2010, cement plants emissions of mercury and other pollutants would fall dramatically, reducing mercury pollution by 16,400 pounds, other hazardous air pollutants by 5,200 tons, and acid gases by 5,900 tons. In addition, EPA calculates that the standards would greatly reduce fine particulate pollution from cement plants, preventing up to 2,500 premature deaths annually and saving up to $18 billion in human health costs.

Clean Water Act Under Attack

One of the most far-reaching oilmarks in the bill was included in the underlying bill unveiled by GOP leaders last week.  A letter from 45 of National Wildlife Federation’s state affiliates opposing the spending bill explains:

One rider in the bill explicitly extends loopholes in the Clean Water Act that jeopardize drinking water for 117 million Americans and handed over 20 million acres of wetlands and prime wildlife habitat to polluters and developers. The CR bans the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from working to close these loopholes, which threaten wetlands such as those in the Prairie Pothole Region—the breeding grounds for the majority of North America’s ducks.

Additional oilmarks that have been added to the spending bill and undermine the Clean Water Act include the following:

  • Endangering the Chesapeake Bay:Amendment #467, sponsored by Rep. Goodlatte (R-VA), would block efforts to clean the Chesapeake Bay just as progress is finally being made around the region.  The amendment bars funds for the promulgation, development and implementation of measures that govern the amount of allowable pollution in waters that feed the bay (TMDLs).  It passed 230-195.  Click here to see how members voted.
  • Dumping Waste from Mountain Top Removal in Stream Valleys: Amendment #109, sponsored by Rep. Griffith (R-VA), would block EPA from using its funding to implement or enforce new guidance for the review of water pollution from proposed coal-mining projects, including mountain-top removal mining. It passed 235-185.  Click here to see how members voted.
  • Endangering Florida Waters: Amendment #13, sponsored by Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Florida), would stop EPA from implementing and enforcing new water quality standards for Florida’s lakes and flowing waters, which were issued in November. This amendment would stop public education to help protect Florida’s waters from excess pollution from sewage, manure and fertilizer.  It passed 237-189.  Click here to see how members voted.
  • Blocking Klamath Salmon Restoration:Amendment #296, sponsored by Rep. McClintock (R-CA), would prohibit use of funds to complete the Klamath Dam Removal and Sedimentation Study that is needed to, as the Sacramento Bee writes in an editorial, “reopen hundreds of miles of spawning habitat for endangered coho salmon, the largest salmon restoration project on the West Coast; assure water and reduced-rate electricity for farmers on a federal irrigation project; remove four PacifiCorp dams; and allow Indians tribes to buy back some land.” It passed narrowly by a 215-210 vote.  Click here to see how members voted.
  • Endangering the San Francisco Bay Delta: A measure included in the underlying bill would overrule the biological opinions of scientists on California’s incredible San Francisco Bay Delta.  The measure would instead further subsidizes corporate special interests and jeopardizes the existence of salmon and Delta smelt and the health of the entire Bay ecosystem, which is reliant on its life-giving water supply.
  • Blocking Hazardous Coal Ash Rules:Amendment #217, sponsored by Rep. McKinley (R-WV) ,would restrict EPA’s authority to implement strong, national safeguards on coal ash. Coal ash is a dangerous hazardous waste that has been insufficiently regulated, as evidenced by the 2008 disaster in Tennessee that blocked a tributary of the Tennessee river with more than a billion gallons.  Coal ash is generated by burning coal for energy, and it contains many hazardous metals and chemicals like arsenic and lead. EPA has the authority and responsibility to put in place common-sense rules that protect human health and the environment by controlling the disposal of coal ash to protect communities from dangerous pollution. The amendment passed 239 – 183, and you can click here to see how members voted.
  • EPA Blocked from Protecting Wetlands and Streams from Harmful Dumping: Amendment #216 ,sponsored by Rep. McKinley (R-WV), would block EPA from protecting wetlands, streams and rivers from being destroyed by dumping fill and dredge material.  It would stop EPA from administering or enforcing section 404 (c) of the Clean Water Act, which requires EPA to deny the dumping of dredged or fill material in waters of the United States (including wetlands) whenever it determines, after notice and opportunity for public hearing, that the dumping would have an unacceptable adverse impact on fisheries, wildlife, municipal water supplies, or recreational areas. It passed 240-182.  Click here to see how members voted.

Climate Change:  “Stop Work” and Science Blindfolds

A series of oilmark amendments have been included in the bill that pull the plug on scientific exploration of climate change and prudent efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Blindfold on International Climate Science:  Amendment #149, sponsored by Rep. Luetkemeyer (R-Missouri), prohibits funding for the Nobel-Prize-Winning international science panel (the IPCC) that was launched by President George H.W. Bush to encourage the world’s best scientists to advance our understanding of how pollution is contributing to the planet’s increasingly chaotic climate.  It passed 244-179. Click here to see how members voted.
  • “Stop Work” Order on Reducing Carbon Dioxide and other Greenhouse Gases:Amendment #466, sponsored by Rep. Poe (R-Texas), would bar EPA from beginning to regulate carbon dioxide pollution and other greenhouse gas emissions from refineries and other major sources, as currently required by the Clean Air Act and a Supreme Court order.  It would ensure that more dangerous pollution is dumped into the air and that U.S. companies fall behind in the global competition for clean energy markets. The amendment states that:  “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used by the Environmental Protection Agency to implement, administer, or enforce any statutory or regulatory requirement pertaining to emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride, hydrofluorocarbons, or perfluorocarbons from stationary sources that is issued or becomes applicable or effective after January 1, 2011.”  It passed 249-177.  Click here to see how members voted.
  • Blindfold on NOAA Climate Science:  Amendment #495, sponsored by Rep. Hall (R-Texas), eliminates the NOAA National Climate Service, a climate science program designed to provide scientific assistance to farmers, fishery managers, water managers and transportation managers. It passed 233-187.  Click here to see how members voted.
  • Gag Order for America’s Negotiating Team: Amendment #204, sponsored by Rep. Scalise (R-Louisiana), eliminates funding for the State Department’s Special Envoy on Climate Change, the main negotiator responsible for the United States at international treaty negotiations, and a positive force for getting other nations to reduce their pollution that affects the security of the United States.  It passed 249-179. Click here to see how members voted.

Federal Agency Environmental Compliance

Amendment #195, sponsored by Rep. Lummis (R-WY), would block implementation of the Equal Access to Justice Act, which was signed into law by President Reagan.  The law, which gives people the right to recoup attorney fees if they prevail in court, has helped to ensure that federal agencies are held accountable for violations of environmental, health and safety laws.  It passed 232-197.  Click here to see how members voted.

Oversized Budget Hatchet Jeopardizes Successful Wildlife Programs

While ignoring opportunities to cut billions in oil company subsidies, the House spending bill also makes dramatic and oversized funding cuts in programs that have been incredibly successful in protecting wildlife and America’s Great Outdoors.  Read more about these cuts here.  Unlike the oilmarks listed above, the spending cuts  affect the government’s bottom line and are part of the budget debate.  However, keep in mind that over the past 30 years, America’ investment in parks, wildlife, clean water, and clean air has fallen from 1.7% of federal spending to 0.6% of federal spending. Yet a disproportionately large share of the proposed cuts come from the Department of Interior and EPA.  Although programs implemented by Department of Interior and EPA are a small sliver of federal spending, they currently deliver a big payoff in the form of 3 million jobs in communities throughout America.

The spending bill would:

  • Eliminate funding for the State and Tribal Wildlife Grant Program, which is the nation’s premier program for keeping species off the endangered species list by supporting non-regulatory, state-based conservation efforts to keep common species common. This program leverages more than $100 million per year in state and private dollars, and directly supports jobs in virtually all states.
  • Eliminate funding for the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund, a key program for conserving waterfowl and other migratory bird habitat through providing a catalyst for leveraging non-Federal funding and fostering public and private sector partnerships. Through the work of more than 4,000 partners, this program has leveraged over $2 billion in matching funds affecting 25 million acres, and fostered public and private sector cooperation for migratory bird conservation, flood control, erosion control, and water quality. Hunters depend on this program to ensure healthy populations of waterfowl, which in turn is essential for sustaining strong local economies especially in rural communities.
  • Cut funding to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) by 90%. LWCF, which is funded by oil royalties and helps expand national parks, protects hunting and fishing areas, and funds local projects like city parks and playing fields.  LWCF has provided crucial funding for some of America’s most amazing places throughout the nation, from Yellowstone National Park to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail to Gettysburg National Military Park.