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The House’s Refusal To Remove The Confederate Flag Is An Awkward Victory For The EPA

CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK
CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK

House Republicans were forced to pull a controversial spending bill on Thursday because too many lawmakers wanted to preserve the Confederate flag in National Parks and cemeteries.

The obvious story there was that many Republicans in Congress still have an attachment to a symbol of slavery and oppression, as evidenced by their refusal to condemn the controversial flag. But the less obvious story was that this spending bill — which the Environmental Protection Agency considered to be a disaster — was essentially defeated. That bill would have cut the agency’s funding by $718 million and prohibited some landmark environmental regulations, including the Obama administration’s proposed rules to tackle climate change and protect drinking water.

If the bill passed, it probably wouldn’t have become law (Obama had promised to veto it). But it could have served as a jumping off point for negotiations with the Obama administration about what the EPA’s budget would be for the next fiscal year, according to Lukas Ross, a climate and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth. If it passed, House Republicans could have proven that there was momentum and political will to impose steep cuts and restrictions on the EPA.

Now, Ross said, the effort “looks like it’s dead.”

“This was the only opportunity [House Republicans] had to go on record against the Clean Power Plan, to go against the water rule,” he told ThinkProgress on Thursday. “The fact that they failed to do that is a pretty searing indictment of [House Speaker John Boehner’s] ability to get things done.”

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Still, the situation is a little awkward. The EPA actively rallied against the House appropriations bill, so this would seem like a win for the agency. But it also seems distasteful to gloat about an environmental win when it only happened because too many Republican lawmakers wanted to preserve a symbol of slavery.

As might be expected, then, EPA spokesperson Enesta Jones declined to comment on the spending bill’s failure. But she did point ThinkProgress to comments EPA administrator Gina McCarthy’s made on Tuesday, wherein she harshly condemned the appropriations bill. In those comments, McCarthy said the bill would have had “far reaching consequences for the agency’s ability to ensure protection of public health and the environment.”

“To put it very simply, if the agency does not have enough money to operate and is further constrained by far reaching policy riders, the protection of public health and the environment on which Americans rely will be comprised,” McCarthy said.

The spending bill does indeed appear to be in jeopardy. According to a report in the Hill, the bill “does not appear to have the support to make it off the House floor,” as most Democrats and some Republicans were already opposed.

But even if the EPA seems hesitant to declare victory outright, not everyone has shared that restraint. Following the spending bill’s failure on Thursday, Friends of the Earth’s Ross issued the following statement:

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“Apparently the only thing that matters more to House Republican leadership than sacrificing American’s air and water is defending the legacy of slavery. We can only hope that this bill stays dead and buried.”