During debate, Democrats said the bill included dozens of objectionable policy riders, including language that would slash EPA funding, ease pesticide regulations, make it harder to add animals to the Endangered Species List, and allow uranium mining near the Grand Canyon.
"Democrats have great concerns about maintaining the integrity of the Grand Canyon, and the effect of uranium mining on water quality, not to mention the spectacle that shows us auctioning off a national treasure with the proceeds going mostly to foreign-owned entities," Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said.
Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY) said Republicans were breaking House rules by allowing these policy changes on an appropriations bill, and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said the bill would set back years of environmental work.
"This Interior Appropriations bill represents an unprecedented departure from our nation's decades-long bipartisan commitment to protecting our shared environment, magnificent natural resources, and our cherished cultural treasures," he said.
But Republicans defended the bill as a way to curb excessive federal overreach. The bill reduces the overall but by about 7 percent, and puts funding for many agencies in the bill to about 2009 levels.
Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said the bill cuts 18 percent from EPA's budget, but said this cut is from several years of dramatic increases. "This was made possible simply because of unprecedentedly high record appropriations for EPA in 2009, of which $3 billion still remains unobligated," Bishop said.
Bishop also said cuts to the Land and Water Conservation Fund are needed because that is the fund that continues to allow for ongoing federal purchases of land. Bishop argued that the federal government owns 1 in 3 acres in the U.S. west of Denver and said there is no policy goal driving the continuous acquisition of land by the government.
He also said this is not felt so keenly in Eastern states and challenged Democrats from East Coast states to explain the policy behind this.
Bishop also argued more broadly that federal environmental agencies are making numerous environmental decisions that harm people in his community. He recalled an EPA decision to justify a decision to regulate water runoff in a ditch by saying it is navigable water, based on what he said was an impossible conclusion that this runoff might eventually run into the Great Salt Lake.
"Unfortunately, time after time these agencies funded in this bill do not consider what they do to real people," he said. "Real people in my community are being harmed time after time by decisions made from bureaucrats sitting here in Washington, and then we wonder why we rail against these environmental groups, why we rail against these agencies, and why we don't want to have some kind of control over this process?"