Big livestock interests and Great Lakes shippers won key regulatory concessions from Democrats Tuesday in a double blow to President Barack Obama's climate change and clean air agenda.
Dems trump Obama's green agenda
By DAVID ROGERS
The Environmental Protection Agency would be effectively barred from mandating the reporting of greenhouse gas emissions generated by large-scale cattle, dairy and hog producers. In addition, 13 Great Lakes cargo steamships won a last-minute exemption from a proposed rule to require lower-sulfur fuel to reduce harmful emissions.
In each case, the legislative riders will run only for the one-year life of a $32.24 billion natural resources bill that is otherwise very generous in funding the EPA, as well as parks and wildlife programs within the Interior Department. But the back-to-back regulatory fights show the strain on Democratic loyalties caused by the faltering economy.
No less than House Appropriations Committee Chairman Dave Obey (D-Wis.), backed by maritime unions, was a major player in protecting the Great Lakes shippers. And the agriculture greenhouse gas requirements touched off a revolt among farm state Democrats, who threatened to bring down the entire bill if the legislative rider was included.
House-Senate negotiators ratified the deal Tuesday evening, barely an hour after a 267-147 vote on the House floor in which 99 Democrats joined in support of the provision. Only the day before, Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), the bill’s manager, had predicted that a compromise could be reached to preserve the reporting requirements for the largest 90 or so operators in the nation. But this collapsed in the face of the House vote and growing leadership concerns that the fight could also delay passage of a much broader, stopgap spending resolution to keep the government funded past this Saturday, Oct. 30.
“This was the 90 giant manure operations in the country that I felt should have to report, but we couldn’t pass the bill if we did that,” said Dicks. “We had a revolt with all the agricultural members.” Dicks insisted that the Obey-backed Great Lakes exemption had no impact on the dynamics of the farm fight. But Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa), a hog industry ally who led the House opposition to the EPA reporting requirements, told POLITICO that Obey created an opening that made it harder for Democrats to then dismiss their own agriculture state membership.
An added factor, too, was the leadership’s decision to use the underlying spending bill as a vehicle to carry — and shield from amendment — this year’s second continuing resolution, or CR, to keep the government funded past Saturday.
Only four of the 12 annual appropriations bills have been sent to the president thus far, and most agencies have been operating since Oct. 1 under the first CR, due to expire this weekend. Democrats want a second version to run until Dec. 18, setting up a pre-Christmas showdown over spending.
Getting it through Congress before Saturday could take some political doing.
To avoid amendments, the leadership has again resorted to inserting the language into a conference report, in this case the natural resources bill. But sometimes, the tail can wag the dog, and once the CR was included, it became all the more imperative that nothing — like an EPA regulation — block passage.
“It would not pass the House without this language in it,” Latham said.
Under the final language, Dicks preserved the ability of the EPA to proceed with other portions of its greenhouse gas rule, but the provision affecting agriculture manure operations is specifically blocked for this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. The Great Lakes exemption for Obey takes a similar approach, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said the agency will be free to implement the same ship emissions rules outside the Great Lakes.