MAC: Mines and Communities

US spending cuts threaten a raft of vital environmental measure

Published by MAC on 2011-07-25
Source: Environment News Service, Washington Post (2011-07-21)

Even if money isn't at the root of all evil, restrictions on public funding may strike down many vital reforms at a single blow.

That looks like being the case if the Republican-led US House Appropriations Committee gets its way with spending cuts for Fiscal Year 2012.

The "restrictive spending" bill would open the way for uranium mining on public lands adjacent to the Grand Canyon; prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from setting limits to greenhouse gas emissions; and exempt oil and electric power companies from the Clean Air Act.

Critics also claim the bill would increase "mountain top" destruction as well as risk measures to limit uncontrolled hard rock mining.

Meanwhile, the Mayor of New York has promised US$50 million to the Sierra Club in support of the organisation's nationwide campaign to eliminate coal-fired power plants.

It's a welcome move - but represents just a drop in the ocean compared with what the Republicans are now planning to "save" US taxpayers.

House Republicans Chop Clean Water, Air, Wildlife Funding

Environment News Service (ENS)

14 July 2011

WASHINGTON, DC - The Republican-led House Appropriations Committee has approved a restrictive spending bill for Fiscal Year 2012 that allows uranium mining on public lands adjacent to the Grand Canyon, prohibits funding for the U.S. EPA to set greenhouse gas standards, and exempts oil and utility companies from the Clean Air Act.

The EPA's budget would be cut by $1.5 billion and the Interior Department would take a $715 million hit under the bill passed by the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday.

In total, the bill includes $27.5 billion in spending - a reduction of $2.1 billion below last year's level and $3.8 billion below President Barack Obama's budget request for the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Forest Service, and other independent and related agencies.

The Republican members of the committee have used the bill to take aim at the EPA in particular.

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, of Kentucky, said, "This bill sends a strong message that the EPA's 'legislation by regulation' and commandeering of congressional authority is opposed by a strong bi-partisan contingent of lawmakers."

However, the voting record contradicts Rogers' claim of bi-partisanship. The bill passed out of committee by a vote strictly along party lines and now goes to the full House for a vote.

The Appropriations Committee's Ranking Member, Norm Dicks of Washington, said the bill "will devastate the environment and our ongoing efforts to preserve America's natural heritage. Two key examples of this potential damage are that the bill includes the lowest level of spending in the Land and Water Conservation Fund in more than 40 years and funding levels for EPA not seen in more than a decade."

"Overall, the allocation for this bill is seven percent below the amount enacted in the current year - a level that will have a negative impact on our natural resource agencies and on the Environmental Protection Agency. After the EPA took a substantial cut of 16 percent in the current fiscal year, the Republican Majority is now proposing a further reduction in the agency's budget of 18 percent," said Dicks.

"This bill would substantially diminish the capacity of EPA to carry out its responsibilities - which may actually be the goal of some of my colleagues on the other side," Dicks said. "But the repercussions will be felt across the nation, including an ever-growing backlog of water treatment infrastructure projects and a decline in air and water quality."

Chairman Rogers is straightforward about the bill's intent to handcuff the EPA. "The legislation caps EPA personnel and takes explicit action to address EPA's wrong-headed greenhouse gas regulations, its de facto moratorium on mining permits in Appalachia, its attack on the cement and utility industries through unsolicited revisions to the Clean Air Act, and its obstruction of oil and gas permitting in the Outer Continental Shelf," he said Wednesday.

"The actions taken in this funding bill related to the EPA are for good purposes - to rein in excessive spending and stop job-killing regulations," Rogers said. "While the original mission of EPA was to maintain the health of our citizens and prevent future environmental degradation, this agency has become the poster child for this administration's widespread regulatory overreach and is as a result putting mining, manufacturing, and farming families out of business at a time when some Kentucky counties have 18 percent unemployment."

Democratic Congressman Jim Moran of Virginia, ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment, called the bill a "poorly crafted, negligently funded, pre-meditated attack on the health of our people and the environment."

"This legislation should be called the "Pro-Pollution Omnibus Bill," particularly given the 25 policy riders it includes, which read like a wish list for industries looking to ignore the Clean Air and Water Acts," said Moran. "They even go so far as to open up federal lands adjacent to the Grand Canyon for uranium mining."

The bill:

The bill is especially damaging to the nation's wildlife says a former head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Jamie Rappaport Clark, now executive vice president of the nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife, headed the Service from 1997 to 2001 in the Clinton administration.

Today, she called the bill "a Frankenstein's monster of wildlife-killing provisions."

"This bill represents an all-out salvo on the natural treasures that are our children's inheritance - and it could be approved before the August congressional recess," warned Clark.

The bill would:

The Republicans say cutting spending is the most important goal.

Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson said, "We are living at a time of record deficits and debt. If there's one thing we should have learned from the last Congress, it's that we can't spend our way to economic recovery."

"At the end of the day, what this Committee is attempting to do in this bill is reduce spending, create more certainty in the marketplace, and promote an economic environment conducive to job growth," said Simpson.

Ranking Member Moran points out that "the vast majority of the EPA's funds pass through to states and localities that are already squeezed by budget cuts. These infrastructure projects create jobs in communities all across the country and provide one of the most basic services taxpayers expect: clean water."

"The Bush administration's EPA administrator estimated that there was a $688 billion nationwide backlog of clean water infrastructure projects, and that total is even larger today," Moran said.

"That backlog will not disappear if we just ignore it but, as we have seen in so many cases this year," said Moran, "the Republican leadership has decided to push this problem farther down the road."

Click here for a list of riders affecting the environment.


Mayor Bloomberg gives $50 million to fight coal-fired power plants

By Juliet Eilperin

Washington Post

21 July 2011

New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg will donate $50 million to the Sierra Club to support its nationwide campaign to eliminate coal-fired power plants.

Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune described the gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies, which will be spread out over four years, as a game-changer, from our perspective. The group will devote the money to its Beyond Coal campaign, which has helped block the construction of 153 new coal-fired power plants across the country since 2002.

Brune said in a phone interview that the group will use the money to identify the oldest, dirtiest coal-fired power plants, retire them and replace them with clean energy. Some of the utilities the expanded campaign will focus on are in the Washington area, including the GenOn plant in Alexandria.

As mayor of New York, Bloomberg has pushed for environmentally friendly policies such as investing in renewable energy and making the citys taxi fleet more efficient. But this is his largest financial contribution to an environmental effort, and the donation will significantly swell the Sierra Clubs $80 million annual budget.

The announcement, which Bloomberg and Brune will make together Thursday morning at the GenOn site, also underscores the extent to which environmentalists are focused on efforts beyond the Beltway, given the opposition in Congress to climate legislation. After the federal government failed to pass legislation imposing nationwide limits on greenhouse gas emissions, several environmental groups have shifted more resources to the state and local levels.

Were putting our faith in local communities to protect public heath and promote clean energy, Brune said. Congress has failed to do the job on that. Were confident local communities can do the job where Congress hasnt.

Coal industry officials, however, questioned whether the campaign to phase out coal plants was realistic given the fact that they now supply close to half of the nations electricity.

If their program were successful, where does the Sierra Club suggest we get our energy? asked Lisa Camooso Miller, spokeswoman for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a trade group. Coal is American. Its affordable. It adds to our quality of life.

In some cases, the Sierra Club has joined with unusual allies in working to prevent new power plants, like in southwestern Arkansas, where the advocacy group and the Hempstead County Hunting Club are suing to block the construction of Southwestern Electric Power Co.s $1.7 billion John W. Turk plant.

With Bloombergs donation, the Sierra Club plans to expand its Beyond Coal staff from about 100 people to nearly 200 full-time employees, which it will deploy in 46 states. Most of the staff will engage in grass-roots organizing, but some will work on lawsuits or social networking.

The group has just launched an extensive billboard advertising campaign in Washingtons Metro system, with pictures of young children who are described as filters for power plant pollution. Ads are running on a smaller scale in Chicago and New York and in some U.S. airports.

Brune said the group had chosen to focus its most recent advertising campaign in Washington because when it comes to the future of electricity production, What happens in the larger D.C. area is quite important.

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