A House panel on Tuesday approved a $30.17 billion spending bill to fund the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Interior (DOI) and other agencies, but not before Republicans successfully attached an amendment to stop a rule governing hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and shot down an attempt by Democrats to remove language affecting the Clean Water Act (CWA).
Meanwhile, the White House said it had "serious concerns" about the fiscal year (FY) 2016 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill, but it did not outright threaten a veto. A Senate subcommittee also approved a version of an appropriations bill.
The House Appropriations Committee voted 30-21 to pass the spending bill, which now moves to a floor vote in the House of Representatives. The bill, which includes funding for DOI's Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM), is $246 million below FY2015 funding and $3 billion below President Obama's request (see Daily GPI, June 11).
Lawmakers ultimately attached five amendments to the spending bill, including one by Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) that would prohibit "funding to implement, administer or enforce a final rule titled 'Hydraulic Fracturing on Federal and Indian Lands,'" a clear reference to the BLM's rule for fracking on public and tribal lands, which is to take effect next Wednesday (see Shale Daily, April 28; April 16; March 26).
"Historically, this has been an area that, in most parts of the country, has been left to the states, and the states have done a pretty good job," Cole said Tuesday. "In this case, though, the explanation for the need of the new regulations was to protect drinking water. And yet we have a new EPA study that says fracking has not caused systematic or endemic problems with drinking water [see Shale Daily, June 4]. So it's a regulatory scheme that's based on a misstatement of the facts."
According to Cole, in 2010 federal lands accounted for 23% of the natural gas produced in the United States. In 2014, he said, that figure was down to 13%.
"That's what this is really aimed at -- slowing down exploration and production, not protecting drinking water," Cole said. "We shouldn't fund it [or] enforce it, and ultimately we should allow the states to regulate it.
"The other problem with this regime is that in states that have large amounts of BLM land, you're literally going to have two systems under which you have to operate if you're an energy company. That's just enormously complex. It's a big mistake, there's no uniformity in it."
The amendment was adopted on a voice vote.
Democrats were unable to remove language in the Interior/Environment spending bill that would prevent the administration -- through the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) -- from clarifying the CWA through a new Clean Water Rule (CWR). Similar language was attached to the $35.4 billion FY2016 Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill (see Shale Daily, May 1).
"Let's be clear, the administration's CWR does not add to, expand or broaden the reach of EPA regulations," said Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL), who introduced an amendment to strike the anti-CWR language. "It simply clarifies protections for small streams and wetlands that contribute to drinking water supplies, filter out pollutants and help to protect us from flooding.
"In many ways, this bill shows just how much disagreement exists in this committee and this Congress about the best ways to protect our environment."
But Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY), the committee's chairman, urged Republicans to defeat the Quigley amendment. It was shot down on a 32-19 vote.
"The proposed Waters of the United States [WOTUS] rule is one of the largest land grabs in history by a federal agency," Rogers said. "Even with over one million comments -- from farmers, energy producers, coal miners, manufacturers and others, all expressing serious concerns -- EPA continues to press on with this job-killing legislation and regulation.
"EPA is not listening; their mind is made up. And Congress must now push back on this wrong-headed attempt to legislate through regulation."
Under the CWR, the CWA's pollution protections would be extended to cover most seasonal and rain-dependent streams, and wetlands near rivers and streams. The extension is based on scientific studies by the EPA as to how discharges from small bodies of water, such as streams that flow only at certain times of the year, affect the downstream. Other types of waters that may have more "uncertain connections" with downstream waters would be evaluated through a case-specific analysis.
In a letter on Monday, Shaun Donovan, director of the Office of Management and Budget, told Rogers that the White House believes that delaying implementation of the CWR "would result in a more costly, difficult and slower permitting process for business and industry...
"The administration believes that the Congress should consider appropriations bills free of unrelated ideological provisions," Donovan said. "The inclusion of these provisions threatens to undermine an orderly appropriations process."
Late Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies approved a version of the appropriations bill, totaling $30.01 billion. According to the subcommittee, the bill "includes a provision giving states flexibility related to the BLM hydraulic fracturing rule," and "prohibits the EPA WOTUS rule."
The full Senate Appropriations Committee is to discuss the bill on Thursday.
Last month, Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) had proposed adding an amendment to a $35.4 billion water and energy appropriations bill that would have blocked the CWR, but he withdrew it under pressure from fellow Republicans (see Shale Daily, May 21). The amendment called for defunding a proposal by USACE and the EPA to redefine WOTUS rule.
"I think there really is bipartisan support that [the WOTUS rule] be defunded, and that it truly is a problem as it has been proposed by the EPA," Hoeven said Tuesday. "I understand that there is some disagreement on some number of the provisions. That's understandable and we'll have that debate."