After two months of fighting the battles left over from the end of last year, including Keystone XL and immigration policies, Congress finally laid out their blueprint for the rest of the year. Both the House and Senate passed budgets that would cut spending on pretty much all federal programs expect the military.
With over $5 trillion dollars in cuts over the next ten years, the budgets would hit hard the already shrinking budgets at EPA and DOE. Additionally, both budgets lay out aggressive support for expanded domestic fossil energy production onshore and offshore and lay out a plan to open up more areas for production as part of the upcoming budget reconciliation process. The budgets also agree on a desire to roll back environmental regulations as well as change the regulatory system so that it would be harder for new regulations to be formulated.
Though the base budgets treat the environment quite poorly that did not stop Senators from trying to load on more anti-environmental provisions. During the process known as a vote-a-rama, where dozens of amendments are voted on during an all-night session, scores of anti-environmental amendments were submitted as Senators jumped at a chance to undermine environmental policies and programs. Ultimately, either from lack of votes, or lack of sleep only a handful received votes, but even that small number showed how broad the attacks on the environment will be this year.
Senator McConnell offered an amendment as a symbolic vote against the Clean Power Plan, and received 57 votes in favor. Senator Murkowski offered an amendment that would allow the sale of almost any piece of federal land with the exception of the National Parks, and had 51 senators vote in favor. Senator Cotton’s amendment to block wildlife protections under the Endangered Species Act received 52 votes and Senator Barroso’s amendment to stop EPA from clarifying which waters are protected under the Clean Water Act also passed with 59 votes.
The fact that these types of amendments have majority support and in some cases enough support that they could conceivably overcome a presidential veto proves that the attacks on environmental policies this year will be the most serious yet.
That’s not to say that there wasn’t some good news from the vote-a-rama. A vote was also held on whether climate change is happening and is man-made and received support from 5 Republicans and another vote on acknowledging the national security implications of climate change received 7 Republican votes. So some Republicans are finally coming around to the scientific evidence that climate change is happening, but as the vote for Senator McConnell’s amendment demonstrates they are not all sold on the Clean Power Plan as being the answer to the problem.”
Budget resolutions are never signed into law, so why do these votes even matter? Well simply because they are the blueprint for the congressional year in front of us. Amendments that were offered will likely come back up as bills later this year. Additionally, many politicians are fond of saying that budgets are moral documents in that they reveal core values. If that is the case, these documents make it clear that building a sustainable future is not among the values of the current GOP leadership and that is something anyone who cares about the environment and anyone that cares about building a stronger economy with clean technology needs to understand.
– Marc Boom is E2's Director of Advocacy.
Above Image: Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), the chair of the Senate Environment Committee, holds up a snowball on the floor of the Senate as evidence climate change is not occurring.