Updated July 25, 2011 – 11:30 a.m.

Dicks Looks to GOP for Help on Halting Environmental Riders

Some congressional battles over environmental regulation are fought more along regional divides than on partisan terms.

That’s why Norm Dicks of Washington, the top Democratic House appropriator, warned the environmental community on Monday not to assume that the Democratic majority in the Senate will block all of the Republican efforts to use the fiscal 2012 Interior- Environment spending bill to weaken the development or enforcement of pollution controls or wildlife protections.

And it also explains why Dicks expects some Republicans to support Democratic efforts this week to remove from the spending bill some provisions opposed by environmentalists.

Conservative Republicans have long viewed some environmental regulations as needlessly burdensome and costly, so the GOP majority on the Appropriations Committee is once again trying to use the Interior- Environment spending bill (HR 2584) to address such concerns.

The bill would provide $7.1 billion for the EPA, an 18 percent cut from this year’s level. The measure also includes more than three dozen provisions addressing matters such as coal mining and grazing of bighorn and cattle. And Dicks said the bill “could get worse on the floor” as House members offer other restrictive proposals.

Environmental “policy riders” were some of the sticking points in negotiations that produced this year’s catchall appropriations package (PL 112-10) enacted in April. In the end, nearly all the policy provisions were dropped.

But Dicks said that the Democratic majority in the Senate does not guarantee a similar outcome this year. “All of these provisions come from certain states, and there might be some support over there,” he said.

Dicks noted that Senate Democratic support led to a provision that stayed in the fiscal 2011 spending package declaring the gray wolf a recovered species in Montana and Idaho. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., claimed credit for the language, which was denounced by environmental groups, including the Sierra Club. It has cleared the way for hunting of the once-endangered species that ranchers view as a threat to their cattle.

“This wolf fix isn’t about one party’s agenda,” Tester said in a statement in April. “It’s about what’s right for Montana and the West.”

The spending bill also includes provisions involving coal mining and coal-burning power plants, which also are issues that divide lawmakers along regional lines. Sen. Joe Manchin III, a West Virginia Democrat who is seeking re-election in 2012, has often fought the EPA over coal regulations, calling the agency “callous” toward West Virginia’s efforts to preserve its coal-mining jobs.

Republican Michael G. Fitzpatrick, who represents affluent suburbs of Philadelphia, agrees that it would be a mistake to assume that environmental issues always break along partisan lines.

Fitzpatrick and some other Republicans are expected to support Dicks’ amendment, which would allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to again list new species and habitats as threatened.

“It’s not a partisan issue,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s an issue of where you stand on the Endangered Species Act.”

First posted July 25, 2011 11:30 a.m.