House GOP takes on Obama environmental agenda

AP News
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Posted: Jul 08, 2015 4:21 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans Wednesday repelled numerous attempts by Democrats to defend the Obama administration's environmental agenda as the GOP-controlled House debates a $30 billion measure funding the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department for the upcoming budget year.

Democrats came out on the losing end of votes on administration rules on selling items containing ivory from endangered African elephants, curbing runoff from mountaintop removal coal-mining operations, hydraulic fracturing on federal lands and potential protections for the sage-grouse and the grey wolf.

The White House has vowed to veto the bill over GOP "riders" — or policy add-ons — to thwart Obama's moves on the environment and funding cuts for the EPA budget and other programs.

Republicans have tried many of the riders before only to see them stripped out in end-stage negotiations but they hold a stronger hand now that they control the Senate.

Republicans are seeking to delay the administration from cracking down on ivory sales after widespread complaints from owners of musical instruments, antiques and guns made with ivory, who say the rules are making it more difficult to trade in such items and reducing their value. A revised rule is expected this month in response to the protests.

The rules are aimed at combating elephant and rhinoceros poaching. An amendment by Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., to block Republicans from interfering with the ivory rule was rejected by a 244-183 vote.

Grijalva also lost an attempt to defend upcoming Interior Department rules on runoff from mountaintop mining operations, which he said have filled in 2,000 miles of streams, destroying habitat and killing fish. Republicans say the department isn't taking job losses from the struggling coal industry into account.

Republicans also defended provisions that try to block proposed the Bureau of Land Management from enforcing new rules governing the use of hydraulic fracturing to extract oil and natural gas from BLM lands. Republicans said the rules create a duplicative compliance system in states that have already issued their own rules and would drive down production, but Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., countered that the BLM is already working with states to iron out kinks.

The underlying bill is expected to pass the House on Thursday by a nearly party-line vote. Companion Senate Appropriations Committee legislation is also controversial but has yet to be brought up for debate by the full Senate.