House Republicans seek to block many EPA rules

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 16, 2011 

WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans this week added amendments to a spending bill that would knock out environmental protections for air, water and wilderness.

Among the amendments, which fill hundreds of pages, are ones that would block the Environmental Protection Agency from limiting hazardous pollutants at power plants, from studying whether the farm herbicide atrazine has health hazards and from tightening rules on toxic coal ash. Many of the amendments would strip the agency of funds to carry out pollution restrictions that industries have fought.

Tea party backers in the House of Representatives support the provisions. They could win support from other Republicans and pass the GOP-majority chamber this week. The Senate, where Democrats have an edge, is likely to block most of them. Even so, the amendments reveal how far many House Republicans are prepared to go in trying to stop environmental regulations.

A bipartisan poll released Wednesday suggested that a large majority of Americans strongly oppose such efforts, particularly where air pollution is concerned. The survey, sponsored by the American Lung Association and conducted by two polling firms, one Republican and one Democratic, found that 69 percent of voters favored the EPA updating the Clean Air Act to put stricter limits on air pollution, 26 percent opposed it and 5 percent had no opinion or didn't answer.

An amendment by Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, would block money for the EPA to enforce a new rule that will cut toxic emissions of arsenic, cadmium, lead and other pollutants from cement plants. The toxic pollutants are linked to cancer, respiratory illness and other health hazards. The rule also would reduce emissions of soot, which is linked to heart attacks and lung diseases, including asthma.

Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Texas, the chairman of the Science and Technology Committee, proposed asking the National Academy of Sciences to spend two years studying whether arsenic, lead and other toxic pollutants from large industries are harmful. He'd block the implementation of an upcoming EPA rule to regulate emissions from the boilers that provide industrial heat and power until the study was finished.

Tea party supporter Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, offered an amendment that would strip the EPA of money to finalize the rule.

Tea party-backed Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., proposed blocking funds for the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to carry out an Obama administration policy that requires closer scrutiny of mountaintop removal mining permits.

David Goldston, the director of government affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, said at a briefing that the dozens of amendments would produce a significant rollback of public protections. He called them a "free-for-all for any industry that has had a problem with how it was treated under the law."

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