Legislative Riders Target Environmental Protections

07-28-2011 // Darryl Fears and and Juliet Eilperin

The following is an excerpt from the Washington Post


For environmentalists, it was something to shout about. In a rare show of defiance, 37 House Republicans broke party ranks two days ago and voted with Democrats to strike an amendment from an appropriations bill that forbade the Fish and Wildlife Service from listing any new plant or animal as endangered.

In telephone calls and e-mails, environmentalists at groups such as the National Wildlife Federation and Defenders of Wildlife called the vote “historic” and “awesome” in surprised reactions.

But a long list of other amendments aimed at weakening environmental protections at the Department of Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency brought them back to Earth.

Nearly 40 amendments would stop the enforcement of water quality standards, abolish rules that protect streams from surface mining, gut a budget to acquire and protect pristine forestland, and slice a portion of money used to operate national parks.

Attaching restrictive provisions called riders to appropriations bills is nothing new. Democrats and Republicans do it to block presidential policies. But the array of riders attached to the current Interior appropriations House bill is the broadest attack on an administration’s environmental agenda since Republicans took control of the House in 1995.

The battle over the bill in many ways captures the stalemate that defines national environmental policy, as Republicans try to block items they see as overreaching, while Democrats work to muster enough support to keep these laws and regulations in place.

The appropriations bill would reduce the Land and Water Conservation Fund that acquires land and water for recreation and habitat conservation by 80 percent at the Interior Department.

“Low levels of funding means that many local projects will not see any resources and will have to be scrapped,” according to the National Wildlife Federation.

Environmentalists point out that in recent months, federal courts have ruled that environmental regulators should do more to control harmful chemical emissions, such as greenhouse gases.

With their amendments, Republicans are seeking to overturn court opinions, said David Goldston, director of governmental affairs for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“The scope and scale is unprecedented, and we don’t think riders are a way to make policy,” he said. So many amendments “make a government shutdown more likely in the fall,” he said, and “everyone will end up playing a game of chicken” when the budget debate starts in October.