Stiff headwinds ahead for 2019 environmental appropriations

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Both the House and Senate brushed aside budget cuts recommended by the Trump administration, and now the two chambers are likely to butt heads as they work to pass a key appropriations bill. The House recently passed its version of the Interior-environment appropriations bill to fund federal energy and environment spending in 2019, but it has also included additional policy riders that the Senate bill deliberately left out. Senate committee work prioritized bipartisan support and a bill free of these riders, which will spell trouble for the Trump administration’s environmental spending priorities.

The House version approves $35.25 billion in spending. This level matches 2018 spending levels but adds almost $7 billion to the president’s $28 billion budget recommendations. Although the House outspent the president’s bill, it did include a string of policy riders to change how certain environmental regulations and policies are carried out.

{mosads}Among the House’s changes are restrictions on the controversial Obama administration expansion of the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule. The Trump administration has proposed rescinding WOTUS as it would potentially bring every ditch and seasonal gully across the nation under the jurisdiction of the Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA. The rider in the House appropriations bill would provide legislative cover for rescinding the rule.


The House bill also includes other riders, such as one to address the wild horse overpopulation crisis in Western states, and another to redirect land-use fees to fund improved rangeland management. It also includes a transparency requirement that federal agencies publish information on legal fees paid as a result of environmental litigation. The riders prohibit spending on several other issues as well, including regulating lead in ammunition and fishing tackle, reintroducing grizzly bears to the Northern Cascades and reconsidering the status of the Sage Grouse on the endangered species list.

The Senate also greatly expands on the president’s recommended spending levels with its $35.9 billion bill. More significantly, however, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who chairs the Senate Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, made a clear break with the president’s priorities. In repeated comments to the subcommittee, Murkowski noted the importance of shepherding the first unopposed, bipartisan bill through her committee since 2010.

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), the ranking member of the appropriations subcommittee, also took great pains to focus on the value of a bipartisan bill, but then took a somewhat more partisan stance in his comments to the committee. Udall repeatedly attacked the president’s recommended budget as “unjustifiable,” “extreme,” “devastating,” and an overall “abysmal document.” He also offered a thinly veiled critique of the House appropriations bill, highlighting Senate efforts to “keep out extraneous authorizations” and to “exclude language that could be identified as ‘poison pills’ by any member of the committee.”

While the House appropriations bill comes much closer to achieving Trump administration priorities, it is clear that neither the House nor the Senate is falling in line with the president on Interior-environmental appropriations. Once again, on spending issues, the president is coming face-to-face with the inevitable tensions that arise between co-equal branches of government.

With Congress showing this sort of resistance, the president will need to choose between accepting lesser goals, or demanding that his ideas are implemented. So, Trump can seek a compromise between executive and congressional priorities, or he can follow in the footsteps of his predecessor by invoking the “I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone” method of governing.

While the Obama administration’s method does achieve short-term wins and stack up favorable headlines, Trump himself has demonstrated the long-term futility of the “imperial presidency” as he easily undoes the executive actions of his predecessor. While it can be much more difficult to get policy objectives achieved by including Congress in the mix, doing so leads to changes that can last beyond the next election cycle.

Jason Hayes is director of environmental policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and education institute in Midland, Michigan.

Tags Congress Jason Hayes Lisa Murkowski Lisa Murkowski Tom Udall Tom Udall United States Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies

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