House passes spending bill ‘full of giveaways to polluters’ and big cuts to EPA

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., surrounded by House subcommittee chairs, departs a news conference after the passage of a sweeping $1.2 trillion spending bill to fund the government, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

The House of Representatives voted Thursday in favor of a omnibus spending bill that environmental organizations say will help polluters and reduce the country’s air and water quality. The bill also cuts a number of programs intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or streamline the transition to clean energy.

The bill cuts funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by more than $500 million — another blow to an agency that will now have to operate on less than 75 percent of its 2010 funding levels.

Prior to the vote, a group of dozens of environmental groups wrote to representatives, begging them not to pass H.R. 3354.

“This bill does not responsibly or adequately fund the federal government or the many programs and thousands of civil servants tasked with implementing our nation’s landmark environmental laws, laws that protect our health, air, climate, water, oceans, wildlife, and treasured American landscapes,” said the groups, including Oceana, The Wilderness Society, Green Latinos, the Southern Environmental Justice Center, and League of Conservation Voters.

“This sham funding bill is full of giveaways to polluters that will harm the health and well-being of communities across the country – including those that are recovering from hurricanes Harvey and Irma,” League of Conservation Voters Deputy legislative director Alex Taurel said in a statement following the vote. “Congress should be investing in the EPA to address the devastating environmental and public health impacts of these hurricanes, not slashing its funding to the lowest level in nearly a decade.”

Earlier in the week, some environmentalists were warning that House members would try to spin the bill as an improvement upon the White House’s proposal and preferable to some of the more draconian amendments that did not pass. One such amendment, introduced by Rep. Gary Palmer (R-AL), would have completely and specifically defunded the EPA’s criminal enforcement division. It failed on a voice vote.

Still, a major message of the bill was that environmental issues — including climate change — will receive less funding than before. The bill includes the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to the Green Climate Fund, a United Nations program that supports renewable energy development in low-income and vulnerable nations. It also authorized the EPA administrator to withdraw the Obama-era Waters of the United States rule (WOTUS), which sought to protect waterways connected to the drinking water of a third of all Americans.

“House Republican leaders are echoing Trump’s radical budget request with this bill,” Taurel said. “These major cuts to clean air and clean water protections, to programs that fuel our outdoor recreation economy, and to climate science are unacceptable – especially in a bill that spends $1.6 billion on a xenophobic and anti-environmental border wall.”

The House voted to pass the bill 211-198, largely along party lines. It will now be sent to the Senate.

The same day the House cut funding for climate and environmental programs, Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-TX) introduced a bill in to double a tax credit for carbon sequestration at coal-fired power plants. But rather than reducing overall emissions, fossil fuel analysts at Oil Change International say the move would trigger massive amounts of oil production. The federal government estimates more than 400,000 additional barrels of oil a day would be produced if the 45Q tax credit is doubled.

“Reasonable people differ on whether or not carbon capture and storage technology deserves public support as a tool in the climate and energy policy fight,” Stephen Kretzmann, executive director of Oil Change International, said in a statement. “Regardless, we should take care not to design those efforts in a way that might trigger more carbon than is captured, and we should seek to do it in a way that doesn’t leave taxpayers footing the bill for oil profits.”

According to the Congressional Budget Office, oil subsidies cost American taxpayers $4.6 billion in 2016.

Recent research lays the responsibility for climate change at the feet of several large fossil fuel companies, many of which have received billions of dollars worth of subsidies over the past century.


Correction: This piece originally miscalculated the amount the National Park Service would be cut. It also misidentified the budget bill number. ThinkProgress regrets the errors.