U.S. House Approves $26 Billion Environmental Bill
WASHINGTON The House Thursday passed a $26 billion bill that funds programs for the environment and federal parks, but sets significant cuts to clean water programs.
By a vote of 410-10, the House cast its final vote on the appropriations bill to fund the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies for the year starting Oct. 1.
This was the first of 11 major spending bills to clear the House. The Senate is expected to approve the measure by the end of this week, sending it to President Bush for his signature.
Next year, the EPA would spend $900 million for states to operate clean water programs. That's $191 million below this year's level, but $120 million above Bush's February request.
As House and Senate negotiators put the finishing touches on the legislation earlier this week, some Democrats complained about tight spending controls for environmental programs as a result of the federal budget passed by Republicans in April.
Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said that because of that budget, "Tax cuts are our number-one priority over everything else, except fighting the dumbest war since 1812."
Republicans defended the bill, however, noting that it raises federal spending for American Indian health care, schools and hospitals and for firefighting in wilderness lands.
The legislation also would place new prohibitions on the use of pregnant women, infants or children as testing subjects for pesticides. (See "Congress Banning Use of Data from Pesticide Tests on Pregnant Women, Infants," ENN, 7/29/05)
A moratorium on testing other people would be in place until the EPA issues new federal rules.
Critics say that since a human testing moratorium lapsed in 2003, EPA has been reviewing 24 studies that violated ethical standards. In one study, criticized by environmentalists, low-income families in Florida, including infants, were exposed to pesticides as part of a test.
In another, university students in California were paid $15 an hour to be exposed to a fumigant that can cause lung damage, even though they reportedly were told there were no dangers involved in the test.
The legislation also would embrace a Senate plan that environmentalists said would delay the development of federal rules clamping down on emissions from lawn mowers and other high-polluting outdoor equipment.
The move would benefit Briggs and Stratton, a Wisconsin-based firm that is the world's largest manufacturer of small, air-cooled engines for outdoor power equipment.
Also included in the legislation is a $10 million federal matching grant for the construction of a Washington memorial to U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King.