House votes to ease EPA actions on states

The House passed legislation Thursday aimed at easing Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules and requiring more cooperation between the EPA and states on environmental cleanup projects.

Members voted 225-188 in favor of the Reducing Excessive Deadline Obligations Act, H.R. 2279. The bill is made up of three Republican bills that were combined together, and it includes some provisions that House Democrats found unobjectionable while they were considered in committee.

The bill was supported by just five Democrats in the final vote, while four Republicans voted against it.

ADVERTISEMENT
Specifically, it removes a requirement that the EPA revise solid waste disposal regulations every three years, and prohibits the government from imposing solid waste regulations on states that overlap current state-wide rules.

Other language in the bill would require all federally owned facilities to comply with state rules on hazardous substances, and require the government to consult more closely with states before imposing cleanup requirements under Superfund, the federal program that funds the cleanup of abandoned waste sites.

The legislation would also ensure that if a state has rules requiring companies in polluting industries to post a bond or offer other financial sureties for possible cleanup costs, those rules cannot be affected by possible rules the EPA might develop in the future.

GOP supporters of the bill said it's a needed update for federal environmental laws.

"Our goal with all three of these bills is to modernize some of the environmental laws that we oversee, and make sure that the states are playing a significant role in implementing them," said Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio.), one of the sponsors of the legislation. He added that forcing the government to work with states on clean-up would "go a long way toward making the states partners with the EPA in cleaning up hazardous waste sites."

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) also defended language requiring the federal government to live up to state-level environmental standards, and said this is something Democrats should welcome.

"All we're saying is, when the federal government pollutes a site, they should clean it up," he said.

But several Democrats criticized the legislation as an attempt to weaken current law. Many argued that the bonding language would let companies avoid the cost of cleaning up pollution, and pass those costs onto taxpayers.

"The outcome of enacting this bill should be obvious," said House Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.). "If polluters don't pay to clean up their pollution, then it just becomes one more burden to the taxpayer, and none of us should want that."

Others argued that the bill could further confuse how the federal government and the states must work together on clean-up efforts, which could slow down that process. That argument was also made by the Obama administration earlier this week, in a statement saying President Obama would veto the bill.

"H.R. 2279 would unnecessarily increase the potential for litigation between the Federal government and the States, negatively impacting the timeliness and number of cleanups," the White House wrote.

"The administration already works closely with the States to ensure that remedial goals for the protection of public health are met and that the states' preferences and requirements are taken into account," the White House wrote.

On the floor today, Republicans rejected the idea that the bill would do anything to slow down cleanup efforts.

House passage sends the bill to the Senate, but the Senate is unlikely to consider the bill given the White House veto threat and Democratic opposition.

Just before the final vote, the House rejected two Democratic amendments, from:

— Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), eliminating language that would expand eligibility for sites being listed on the national priorities list of clean-up sites. Failed, 189-228.

— Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), blocking implementation of the bill if any provision increases litigation, reduces funds for or delays clean-up of contaminated sites. Failed, 190-227. 

More in E2-Wire

Five threats to the EPA’s climate rule

Read more »