Several setbacks undermining environmental efforts and interests are tucked into the federal spending bill President Obama signed into U.S. law last Tuesday. This bill is one of the last acts of Congress under the Democratic-controlled Senate. Not boding well for environmentalists and climate change activists, Congress will return in January with Republicans in charge of both chambers.
Coined the “CRomnibus” for “Continuing Resolution plus omnibus,” the bill passed the Senate on Saturday, Dec. 13, by a vote of 56-40. The $1.1 trillion spending bill funds nearly the entire government through Sept. 30, 2015, the end of the fiscal year. Money for the Department of Homeland Security, however, will run out on Feb. 27.
Not Much Optimism for Environmental Spending
The spending bill retains cuts negotiated in previous budget battles and rolls back some banking regulations. But according to an article the Huffington Post, it retains spending for Obama’s health care law and pays for the administration’s fight against Ebola.
On the environmental front, however, the newly passed spending bill does not inspire much optimism for those of us who would like to see America do more on climate and environmental issues. According to a recent article in ThinkProgress.org, the bill contains “multiple attempts to undermine environmental efforts in the United States.” The following are examples cited:
1. Significant Cut to the EPA Budget
Drastically cutting the Environmental Protection Agency funds, the newly signed spending bill reduced the EPA’s 2015 budget by $60 million less than 2014. The new budget of $8.1 billion means, according to the Washington Post, that the EPA, would likely have to reduce its staff down to pre-1990 levels.
ThinkProgress.org points out that, “the last government shutdown reminded Americans of just how crucial the EPA is, when the agency was temporarily prevented from cleaning up nearly two thirds of the country’s toxic waste sites.”
2. Cancelled U.S. Pledge to the Green Climate Fund
The spending bill proclaims audaciously that “no funds may be made available for the Green Climate Fund.” This international fund is set up to help developing countries deal with economically heavy climate change impacts. Reaching its $10 billion goal at the recent UN Climate Conference in Lima, Peru, the U.S. has pledged $3 billion to the fund.
Leading Republicans have announced they would cancel U.S. climate actions, including the recent U.S.-China climate agreement. The new spending bill would certainly cancel the U.S. pledge to the Green Climate Fund, however no actual plan for requesting the money is on the schedule for 2015. Even the authors state this knowledge in the spending bill, foreshadowing the polluted atmosphere of the coming congress.
3. Relaxed Restrictions on U.S. Funding for Overseas Coal
The spending bill’s language puts U.S. financing of overseas coal-fired power plants back into the national conversation. This passed, in spite of the guidelines adopted last year by the Ex-Im Bank prohibiting the financing of most coal-fired power plants, unless carbon capture technology is also utilized.
The bill’s authors write, “This provision is expected to increase affordable electricity, especially to those without current access to electricity, as well as to support increased exports from the United States and prevent the loss of United States jobs.” However, as ThinkProgress.org notes, “it would also export carbon pollution at the expense of sustainable, clean energy for developing countries.”
4. Big Oil Leases Facilitated for BLM Land in Nevada
Concerns over designating the sage grouse as “endangered” have been scaring off bidders for oil and gas leases in Nevada. Energy companies are concerned that an endangered status for these birds would render drilling or fracking in the region unfeasible.
The spending bill blocks federal funds being used for determining whether the Gunnison sage grouse or Greater sage grouse are eligible to be registered under the Endangered Species Act. Both birds are native to the western U.S., and are caught in the middle of a decades-long fight between environmentalists, energy companies, and ranchers.
Although $15 million is included for the Bureau of Land Management for sage grouse habitat conservation, the National Audubon Society is not happy about the outcome. Brian Rutledge, Audubon’s VP and Policy Director, said, “The priority right now is to get science-based, state-level conservation plans in place that are effective enough to avoid a federal listing for the Greater Sage-Grouse in the first place.”
Audubon Policy Director Rutledge continued, “This rider will only complicate coordination between the BLM and statehouses and stems entirely from political chicanery, ignoring scientific input and voices across the Mountain West that want strong plans in place.”
5. Prohibited Spending on Lead Ammunition Restrictions
Although the U.S. banned the use of lead ammunition in 1991 for hunting water birds, no further restriction have managed to pass. Lead ammunition for hunting land birds and animals is still unrestricted, and this is unlikely to change. In spite of California’s recent ban on lead in hunting ammunition, the new federal spending bill prohibits funds from being spent on regulating lead for hunting and fishing purposes.
ThinkProgress.org points out that, while not the worst rider in the bill, the lead harms birds and other scavengers preying on bullet-ridden carcasses left in the woods. California’s ban, enacted last year, was prompted by efforts to protect wildlife, including the state’s rare California condor.
6. Prohibited Spending on Light Bulb Efficiency
In a never-ending fight against a 2007 law implementing light bulb efficiency, as Mother Jones reports, conservatives have tucked this provision into the new spending bill. The federal government is prohibited from provide funding to “implement or enforce” standards for light bulb efficiency.
The new Congress probably won’t need any light bulbs at all. Back-room dealings and 2:30 a.m. Senate sessions have never held up well under bright light. But in the final analysis, disregarded efficiency usually howls like a wolf under the light of a full moon. I wonder how the story will play out under the hot, blazing sun.
“Even in the United States Senate…”
As John Kerry pointed out recently regarding climate change, “This is pretty logical stuff.” He continued, “and it’s astounding to me that even in the United States Senate and elsewhere, we have people who doubt it.”