capitol_domeDemonstrating once again that their service to corporate interests and their fear of primary election challenges from right-wing candidates trumps their interest in governance, the Republican majority on a House Appropriations subcommittee is set to mark up a fiscal year 2014 bill tomorrow that would gut the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget and block the agency’s ability to take any significant steps forward in clean air and clean water policy.

From the House Appropriations Committee website:

Washington, July 22 –

The House Appropriations Committee today released the fiscal year 2014 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill, which will be considered in subcommittee tomorrow. The legislation includes funding for the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Forest Service, and various independent and related agencies.

In total, the bill includes $24.3 billion in base funding, which is a cut of $5.5 billion below the fiscal year 2013 enacted level (-19%) and a cut of $4 billion below the current level caused by sequestration cuts.

The bill funds the EPA at $5.5 billion, a reduction of $2.8 billion – or 34% – below the fiscal year 2013 enacted level.

The bill continues a cap on EPA’s personnel at the 1992 level, cuts operational accounts by $921 million (20%), cuts the office of the EPA Administrator by more than 30%, cuts the EPA Congressional Affairs office by 50%, and makes other cuts and reductions to programs within the agency.

The legislation also includes provisions to rein in various problematic, costly, and potentially job-killing regulatory actions by the Administration. …

The Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies subcommittee will “mark up” the FY 2014 bill on July 23. A Full Committee Print (bill text to be marked up) is here.

The proposed cuts to EPA and other environmental and natural-resource budgets reflect a pattern in which House Republicans aim to cut domestic programs sharply below the current sequestration levels.

In addition to its over-the-top $2.8 billion proposed EPA budget cut, from the FY 2013 level of $8.3 billion to $5.5 billion, the bill would block EPA rulemaking to limit carbon emissions from power plants. The bill contains numerous “policy riders” – congressional appropriatons bill langiage – that would control agency activities by specifying that funds could not be used in support of a list of specific environmental activities.

It is clear that House Republicans intend to use the appropriations process to wage war on Obama’s Climate Action Plan. It can be expected that numerous additional riders to this effect will be offered as amendments during the committee mark-up of the bill, and again when it goes to the House floor. Under what used to be a ‘normal’ legislative process, policy riders in appropriations bill language could function as significant expressions of congressional intent. Today, however, the offering of numerous riders that clearly have no chance of being enacted, just to please political funders and an ideological partisan support base, is just more of the bad political theater we have become accustomed to in Washington.

Also, Greenwire reported July 22:

The bill proposes steep cuts to the popular federal loan programs intended to repair decrepit wastewater systems. The Clean Water and Drinking Water state revolving funds would see a combined 69 percent cut from President Obama’s proposed budget, which was already $472 million shy of fiscal 2013 levels. The Clean Water State Revolving Fund would take the deeper hit, being slashed to just $250 million.

The revolving funds have come under the knife repeatedly in recent years, even as the country’s water infrastructure is aging and failing. The American Society of Civil Engineers recently graded the nation’s wastewater and stormwater system a D, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors estimates that the country needs as much as $4.8 trillion in water and wastewater investment over the next two decades.

The bill would block the federal Office of Surface Mining’s forthcoming stream protection rule, meant to protect waterways from coal strip mining. …

The measure would exempt agriculture from Clean Air Act rules for pollutants and from reporting requirements for greenhouse gases. …

The bill would provide $1.06 billion for the Fish and Wildlife Service, a steep cut of $401 million, or 27 percent, below 2013 enacted levels. …

The National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities is cut by 49 percent and the Smithsonian and National Gallery of Art each get a full 19 percent cut. …

The bill also would kill progress on a number of key pending EPA Clean Water Act regulatory decisions.

And so forth.

“We have a clear responsibility to act now on climate change,” said newly-confirmed EPA administrator Gina McCarthy in a July 22 message to agency employees. “President Obama recently said, ‘The question now is whether we have the courage to act before it is too late.’ This agency has the courage to act. We can make it happen. But we need all hands on deck.”

Some impediments: (1) It remains to be seen how aggressive the White House and its regulatory police at the Office of Management and Budget will allow EPA to be on climate policy; and (2) while Obama’s Climate Action Plan tries to work around legislative obstructionism and climate change denialism in Congress, Congress must approve funding in order for federal agencies to function, and legislative language can place restrictions on agency actions.

Now, it seems safe to expect that the Senate will not go along with trashing the EPA budget, along with those of the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Arts and Humanities endowments. Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, has been pretty much a stalwart in her support of EPA (as well as of NASA’s Earth Science budget that supports climate observing systems and research).

Most likely no Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill for FY 2014 will be enacted – certainly not before the start of FY 2014 on October 1, 2013. We can expect that, for part if not all of FY 2014, EPA and several other agencies in this bill, including the Forest Service, will be operating under a Continuing Resolution at current (cut by sequestration) budget levels. Hopefully the Democrats in the Senate won’t cave on any of the regulatory policy-blocking riders that will be advanced by the House majority.

It seems that, in addition to acting as a loyal front operation for politically connected economic interests that fund their campaigns, the House majority is primarily interested in protecting their own gerrymandered seats in Congress. And for that, typically the only thing they might have to worry about is facing a primary election opponent who is even more radically right-wing nd uncompromising than they have been.

Thus, endless gestures of political theater like the EPA appropriations bill. It can be as bad as it needs to be to keep the electoral base in line. Those who pass it know that it will never be enacted with Senate approval and a presidential signature. Thus, they will never be accountable for the damage that would result from actually enacting their legislative gestures. This is what “government accountability” is devolving into in today’s Congress.

Earlier posts:

Obama’s climate action plan: The devil is in the follow-through

How will OMB treat EPA’s new power plant carbon pollution rule?

On Obama’s nominees for EPA Administrator and Secretary of Energy