Good and Bad Environmental Amendments to the ‘Minibus’ Bill

This week, the House of Representatives is expected to bring to the floor its second “minibus” package of the appropriations season. The bill combines the appropriations bills from the interior, environment, and related agencies subcommittee and the financial services and general government subcommittee.

The House Rules Committee has given the green light as of now for many amendments to be considered on the floor. The following are just some of the environmental-related amendments.

The Good Amendments

  • Stops unjustified restrictions on genetically engineered crops(Amendment 35, sponsored by Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-La.). 

This amendment helps to ensure that the federal government is not blocking the use of agricultural biotechnology, which plays a critical role in American agricultural production. Specifically, this important but narrow amendment “prevents the enforcement of limitations or prohibitions on the use of genetically modified crops in commercial agricultural operations conducted on National Wildlife Refuges.”

  • Ends Diesel Emissions Reduction Act grants to contribute to deficit reduction (Amendment 65, sponsored by Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Ala.).

This amendment eliminates Diesel Emissions Reduction Act grants, which, while relatively small, fund projects that are appropriately managed at the state and local levels. The government has spent hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars over the years to develop clean diesel technology, such as retrofitted tractors, cherry pickers, and electrified parking spaces.

  • Prohibits funds for methane rule (Amendment 138, sponsored by Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla.).

In 2016, the Obama administration published a final rule to regulate methane emissions from oil and gas sources. This amendment would block funding for the enforcement of this rule that was part of the Obama administration’s efforts to address climate change. The costly methane rule will drive up energy priceswhile having negligible, if any, climate benefits. Further, government intervention is unnecessary since energy producers already have an incentive to capture and sell methane, as it has valuable economic use for the production of electricity and heat.

  • Prohibits use of the social cost of carbon (Amendment 139, sponsored by Mullin).

This amendment would prohibit funding for regulation or guidance that utilizes the social cost of carbon. The Environmental Protection Agency is using three statistical models to estimate the value of the social cost of carbon estimating the economic damage that 1 ton of carbon dioxide emitted today would cause over the next 300 years.

These models arbitrarily derive a value for the social cost of carbon and are highly sensitive to reasonable alterations in inputs. By placing a significantly high arbitrary price on carbon dioxide emissions, agencies can inflate the benefits of regulation or inflate the costs of a new project.

Congress should prohibit all federal agencies from using the social cost of carbon for any purpose, especially regulatory rule-making.

  • Blocks implementation of burdensome ozone standard (Amendment 143, sponsored by Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Wis.).

This amendment would prevent funds from being used to implement or enforce the 2015 National Ambient Air Quality Standard for ground-level ozone.

When a third of the nation’s population lives in areas that have not met the current standard, adopting an even more stringent standard is at best premature and is becoming more expensive to meet tighter standards with smaller margins of tangible benefits. Congress should restore accountability in the face of an EPA that is increasingly setting American economic policy as it sets environmental policy through the ozone standard.

  • Blocks funding for environmental justice grants (Amendment 163, sponsored by Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga.).

The EPA’s “environmental justice” programs were originally designed to protect low-income commu­nities from environmental harm. However, the EPA now too often goes beyond this purpose to prevent job-creating businesses from developing in low-in­come communities, thus blocking the very econom­ic opportunity that the communities need.

The Bad Amendments

  • Blocks WOTUS repeal (Amendment 25, sponsored by Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va.).

This amendment would strike existing language in the appropriations bill that would repeal the Obama administration’s infamous “waters of the United States” rule. This rule is a major federal power grab and an attack on private property rights. It would regulate almost any water imaginable, from most ditches to so-called waters that are actually dry land most of the time.

  • Blocks language that would reduce the regulatory burden on farmers and ranchers (Amendment 26, sponsored by Beyer).

This amendment would strike existing language in the appropriations bill that would allow farmers and ranchers to engage in normal farming activities and other critical work on farms (e.g. constructing irrigation ditches) without having to get a Section 404 dredge and fill permit under the Clean Water Act.

  • Prohibits the EPA from changing the coal ash rule (Amendment 29, sponsored by Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va.). 

In 2015, the Obama administration published a final rule imposing requirements on the disposal of coal ash from coal-fired power plants. On March 1, 2018, the EPA proposed rules to amend the Obama administration coal ash rule. These rules would provide states greater flexibility in implementing their coal ash permitting programs.

The proposed amendment would block the EPA from offering this much-needed flexibility and making any changes or modifications to the existing coal ash rule.

The House should utilize the appropriations process to push for critical environmental reforms and to block efforts to undermine those reforms. Legislators often talk about past EPA overreach. This current minibus bill is a way to go beyond words and take action.

Commentary by Daren Bakst and Katie Tubbs. Originally published at The Daily Signal.

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