The United States House of Representatives ended its legislative session last week, leaving behind a troubling trail of anti-environment votes over the four years of Republican House majority.
A staggering 551 votes, with 234 in the last two years, were counted by the minority staff in a December 1st count. According to the report, the 112th Congress was the “most anti-environment in the history of the institution,” which surpassed the 113th by 83 votes.
Votes included bills and amendments that weakened Environmental Protection Agency regulations, made changes to the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, approved the Keystone XL pipeline and more. Although Democratic control of the Senate rendered much of the GOP’s agenda ineffectual (their votes were largely symbolic and their bills had little chance of becoming law), this will change in January following a Republican seizure of the Senate in the recent November elections.
The votes passed by Republicans in the House of Representatives serves as a preview for how Congress will move forward on environmental issues.
In 2013, House Republicans voted against environmental interests in favor of oil 95 percent of the time, according to a scorecard released by the League of Conservation Voters. A December 2013 report from Henry Waxman (D-CA) showed that the House voted in favor of anti-environment positions 109 times last year. According to Waxman’s report, the House voted 51 times to “protect the interests of the oil and gas industry at the expense of the environment and human health.”
In July 2014, as Republicans cast their 500th anti-environmental vote, Rep. Waxman said in a statement, “It’s an atrocious and shameful record.”
The EPA has been the major target for the 113th Congress, as seen in the flood of legislation surrounding the EPA proposal to limit carbon pollution from existing power plants. One bill that passed would overhaul the EPA’s Science Advisory Board. Though the bill claims to support EPA transparency, opponents fear that it will open the door for industry-backed scientists and corporate interests to railroad the SAB.
Several of the House’s votes blocked funding for international action on climate change, specifically by defunding the IPCC, a scientific panel that compiles the best research on climate change and helps to inform the decisions of policymakers.
According to Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D–TX), top Democrat on the House science committee, “These bills are the culmination of one of the most anti-science and anti-health campaigns I’ve witnessed in my 22 years as a member of Congress.”
Both House Speaker John Boehner and incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have promised to renew legislation approving many anti-environment actions, including rolling back the EPA’s cap on carbon pollution from power plants, the ozone rule and others.
In the $1 trillion appropriations bill, which also passed last week, the EPA’s funding was slashed by $60 million (down to $8.1 billion). This represents a 21 percent reduction since 2010, making future enforcement and rulemaking more difficult and cutting its staff to its lowest level in 25 years.