House panel approves bill cutting EPA funding

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Appropriators teed up the latest congressional fight over the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Wednesday when a House panel approved a bill with deep spending cuts for the agency and provisions blocking its rule-making.

The House Interior and Environment appropriations bill would cut EPA funding by $718 million, or 9 percent, next year and block a handful of environmental rules the agency is looking to put out this summer.

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Democrats on a House Appropriations subcommittee said they wouldn’t support the bill or deep cuts to the EPA, which has sustained a 20 percent decrease in funding since Republicans took the House in 2011.

 “We are going backwards and the consequences will be felt in communities all across the country,” Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), the ranking member of the subcommittee, said at a Wednesday hearing.

The bill also blocks EPA rule-making on water oversight and greenhouse gas emissions at power plants, two key planks in President Obama’s environment agenda.

“Congress must exercise its prerogative to prevent this kind of bureaucratic overreach, and I am proud that we are doing so in this bill,” said House Appropriations Committee chairman Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), whose state’s coal industry would be hit by the power plant rules. 

Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), the chairman of the subcommittee, said the policy riders were included “to stop unnecessary and damaging overreach by the agency.”

“There is a great deal of concern over the number of regulatory actions being pursued by EPA in the absence of legislation and without clear congressional action,” he said.

The spending bill increases funding in some areas, especially among Native American programming. But the $30.17 billion bill cuts spending by $246 million overall, making it just the most recent budget bill to spur a debate over funding caps within the federal budget. 

 “This is the latest in a series of bills that drastically shortchanges job-creating investments and vital environmental protections, while carrying a wish list of special interest giveaways that hurt hardworking American families’ health and safety,” Appropriations Committee ranking member Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said.

After McCollum said lawmakers "must get serious about fixing the Budget Control Act's irresponsible caps,” Rogers made a point of congratulating Republicans for adhering to them. 

“I know how tough it’s been to work with that number, but it’s as good as we can do,” he said.