Pollution pinata: Budget cutting becomes an excuse for EPA attacks

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In the early hours last Saturday morning, the Republican-dominated House of Representatives finished taking its ax to federal spending. This was a necessary duty, because President Barack Obama had been too timid in his budget proposal.

But in going about its business, the Republicans went beyond their self-claimed mandate for fiscal responsibility. Instead, responsibility and the greater good were forgotten in the rush to indulge pet peeves and settle scores.

Despite the GOP's incessant call for more jobs, the falling ax will kill many jobs if enacted. Despite worries about burdening future generations, the quality of life for young Americans will be dealt numerous blows. Worse yet, some of this deficit reduction won't reduce the deficit at all.

The spending plan sent to the Senate -- by a 235-189 vote, with no Democrats voting for it and only three Republicans opposed -- makes casualties of many programs that help ordinary Americans, for example job training and employment grants, community health centers, high-speed rail, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Planned Parenthood.

But for a sense of spending cuts made solely for political sake, nothing quite beats the attack on the environment in this spending bill. The Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act were assaulted repeatedly. Much of it took the form of stripping the Environmental Protection Agency of its enforcement powers to protect the health and well-being of the American people.

The range and destructiveness of these assaults were breathtaking. They include provisions to curtail the scientific study of climate change, blocking the EPA from protecting wetlands and streams from harmful dumping, stopping the EPA from dumping waste from mountain top removal in stream valleys, and, that old GOP favorite, barring the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

The National Wildlife Federation called the spending bill a "pollution pinata." It identified 14 egregious examples of environmentally damaging amendments for which the total budget savings was zero (although many of them will end up costing the nation money by endangering public health). It also noted that an amendment that would have eliminated billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies to oil companies was defeated. So much for this being all about the deficit.

Americans can debate whether federal funding cuts should be made to a whole host of organizations. But it is imperative that the air we breathe and the water we drink be clean. When this ill-conceived bill comes before them, Pennsylvania Sens. Bob Casey, a Democrat, and Pat Toomey, a Republican, must realize that budget cutting isn't a mandate to pollute.


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