As yet another sign of how far the Congress is taking the country off track, keep an eye on how Congress fills the time while the debt ceiling debate stalls. To fill the time, the House of Representatives is busy adopting riders on the Interior Appropriations bill. Many of these riders explicitly defund or deauthorize the government’s ability to protect the public from dangerous pollution. The irony of all this has been recognized memorably by Rep. Ed Markey, who notes that “while the DEBT ceiling remains frozen, the DEATH ceiling is being raised” by these anti-environment appropriations riders.
These riders are legislative provisions that are far too extreme to pass Congress on their own merits, but not too extreme to offer during this legislative wilding in the House. Together, these riders undermine decades of progress protecting our nation’s environmental heritage. They threaten the air we breathe and the water we drink.
- Power plant pollution encouraged: The Cross-State Air Pollution rider prohibits the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from implementing a rule to protect communities from pollution caused by power plants upwind of them. The EPA estimates that this rule will prevent up to 34,000 premature deaths, 15,000 heart attacks, 400,000 cases of aggravated asthma, and 1.8 million sick days a year beginning in 2014.
- Drinking water threatened: One of the riders in this bill stops the EPA from giving Clean Water Act protection to critical headwaters and streams that supply drinking water to about 117 million Americans.
- Polluted water ignored: Another rider prevents the EPA from updating its stormwater discharge regulations to manage polluted stormwater runoff, which contaminates water supplies and contributes to beach closures. Last year was the second highest year on record for beach closings and advisories.
- Chemical poisons given a pass: Yet another rider changes current law to eliminate requirements for chemical companies to obtain permits for pesticides entering rivers and streams. This will mean even more of these toxic poisons in our lakes, rivers, fishing places, and drinking water supplies.
- More mercury in the air we breathe: The Mercury and Air Toxics rider blocks the EPA from finalizing a rule reducing emissions of mercury and other toxics from power plants. The EPA estimates that this rule could deliver as much as $140 billion in health benefits and prevent 17,000 premature deaths each year.
- Asthma to spread: The Cement Kilns rider prohibits the EPA from enforcing limits on emissions of mercury, particulate matter, and hydrochloric acid from cement kilns. These limits would reduce mercury pollution and fine particulate matter from cement kilns by 92 percent, preventing up to 2,500 premature deaths and avoiding 17,000 cases of aggravated asthma each year.
- Oil spills allowed to soak our shores: The Offshore Drilling rider allows oil companies to pollute more by exempting support vessels involved in offshore oil drilling from regulation. This provision undermines the ability of the EPA to ensure that oil drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf proceeds safely, responsibly, and with opportunities for stakeholder input. We’ve already seen from the BP oil spill how dangerous offshore oil drilling can be.
- Nation’s top public health cop disarmed: On top of all of these dangerous riders, this bill slashes funding for the EPA by 18 percent below the 2011 level, in addition to the 16 percent cut that was inflicted on the agency when compared to the 1010 level. These cuts would leave the EPA unable to effectively regulate pollution or protect public health, even when it is not prevented from doing so by an anti-environmental rider.
This entire bill is a threat to our public lands and our public health. It is startling to see how this toxic brew has bubbled up in the House. It is too extreme for America, and The Wilderness Society will fight it in the Senate, with the help of our active and caring membership. But this weekend, it looks like there is no stopping the Interior Appropriations bill’s major increase in America’s death ceiling.