House Republicans, especially those of the "tea party" ilk, think they know the cause of our country's economic woes: environmental regulations. As a result, they loaded up the appropriations bill that funds the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency with dozens of riders that would encourage deadly pollution of the air and water, set back efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and allow uranium mining near the Grand Canyon, among other things. Such riders are commonplace on annual appropriations bills, but Washington insiders say they've never seen such a breathtaking assault on the environment.
If there was any good news from the chaos surrounding this week's deal to raise the federal debt ceiling, it's that the drawn-out congressional debate over the issue distracted GOP representatives from passing this monstrosity. The Interior appropriations bill will resurface after the August recess, but now it's unclear whether the House will approve it as a stand-alone bill or combine it with other appropriations bills into an omnibus spending package; also unclear is whether the anti-environment riders will survive the process. It's very important that they don't.
If a moratorium on uranium mining near the Grand Canyon is ended, as one rider proposes, it could potentially result in contamination of the Colorado River, a key source of L.A.'s water. Another rider would block the Obama administration's most significant environmental action to date, ending plans to set tough fuel-economy rules for vehicles built between 2017 and 2025 — in one fell swoop, this rider would waste billions of barrels of oil, cost consumers money at the pump and worsen air pollution. Other riders would block protections against the environmentally ruinous practice of mountaintop coal mining, forbid the EPA from limiting lung-clogging soot, allow unregulated discharge of pesticides into waterways and delay the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and refineries.
Why are House Republicans so mad at Mother Nature? "Many of us think that the over-regulation from the EPA is at the heart of our stalled economy," Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) told the New York Times. Actually, it was a failure to properly regulate the mortgage industry that caused the meltdown, not environmental protections that have been in place, through economic good times and bad, since the 1970s. Nor are planned regulations that won't go into effect for years the source of our current financial problems. But they do make a convenient scapegoat for those who would rather not discuss further regulation of the financial industry.
Not a single one of these riders should become law, and President Obama should make good on an administration threat to veto any bill that contains them.