By Andrew Restuccia and Ben Geman - 03/31/11 04:17 PM EDT
The White House restated its opposition Thursday to GOP spending bill riders that would thwart administration environmental policies, comments that come amid rising fear among green groups that a budget deal could block climate change rules.
“As the administration has made clear, the funding bill should not be used to further unrelated policy agendas, and we remain opposed to riders that do that, including as it relates to the environment,” said Clark Stevens, a White House spokesman.
The House GOP’s fiscal year 2011 spending plan would block funding for the Environmental Protection Agency’s implementation of greenhouse-gas rules, as well as rules to curb mercury and other emissions from cement kilns, and for federal policies related to mountaintop removal mining, among others.
Environmental groups were dismayed by an Associated Press report Wednesday evening that the White House would accept some GOP plans to restrict EPA as part of a final spending deal. The story cited an anonymous Democratic lawmaker familiar with spending talks between the White House and Congress.
A suite of environmental groups called on the White House Thursday to stand firm against provisions that would thwart EPA.
“We would like the president and the White House to send a very clear, unequivocal message on where the president stands,” Natural Resources Defense Council spokesman Ed Chen told The Hill. “What we want him to say is, 'No riders, period.' We want him and members of Congress to stand up and defend public health and our health.”
League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski raised similar concerns.
“President Obama should squash any rumors and make crystal clear that he would veto a continuing resolution that includes riders to block the EPA from protecting public health and holding polluters accountable,” Karpinski said.
The Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation and the Environmental Defense Fund also called on the White House to stand up against the GOP plans as the spending talks near endgame. Chen's comments and the other green-group statements were issued before Stevens's comment.
The House approved a spending bill, H.R. 1, in February to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year. The bill, which would cut $61 billion from current spending levels, would also block funding for EPA climate regulations through the end of September and slash the agency’s budget by $3 billion.
Since the passage of the House spending bill, lawmakers have been trying to come up with a compromise on the measure. Lawmakers on the House and Senate Appropriations panels have set a goal of cutting $33 billion in spending, although House Speaker John Boehner cautioned Thursday that the figure is not a done deal.
But the status of key policy riders in the final compromise package remains unclear.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday that he will not accept the EPA riders as part of the final spending package.
And an aide to a Democratic senator that opposes stripping EPA's power to curb greenhouse gases added, "We will not accept any EPA riders on the CR, despite the fact the White House has been MIA on this fight — they are sitting back expecting Senate Democrats to carry the water to defend their own agency.”
Meanwhile, nearly 20 Democrats called on Obama Wednesday to reject any spending plan that includes policy riders aimed at the EPA.
But the White House was hesitant Wednesday to explicitly say that they would veto a spending package that includes policy riders.
“The position was that we do not believe that this is the proper place to insert ideologically driven agenda items or politically driven agenda items, that those debates can happen outside this process,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said at the daily briefing when asked to clarify the president’s position on the issue.
Asked if the president would veto a package with riders, Carney said, “[A] rider could be something that declares apple pie the favorite dessert in America. The issue here is the kind of politically charged, contentious issue that can derail this train that needs to get to the station so that the government is funded … .”
Carney then pointed reporters to Obama’s statement of administration policy on H.R. 1., which addresses the issue only in broad terms.
Here’s the relevant section:
“[T]he Administration does not support deep cuts that will undermine our ability to out-educate, out-build, and out-innovate the rest of the world. The unbalanced bill would undermine the Nation’s economic recovery and its ability to succeed in a complex global environment. If the President is presented with a bill that undermines critical priorities or national security through funding levels or restrictions, contains earmarks, or curtails the drivers of long-term economic growth and job creation while continuing to burden future generations with deficits, the President will veto the bill.”