U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski had a chance to flex some legislative muscle today. As chair of an Appropriations subcommittee, Murkowski writes the legislation that sends money to the Department of the Interior, the EPA and the Forest Service and tells them how to spend it. Her subcommittee passed that bill today. Murkowski also added several of her favorite environmental policy changes, which Senate Democrats are calling “poison pills.”
Murkowski says she’ll never stop trying to get a road for King Cove, to link the community to an all-weather airport. The senator says her bill authorizes a land trade to allow for a road through a portion of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.
“I recognize the need to protect the environment, but recognize it should not come at the expense of jeopardizing the lives of those I represent,” she said when her subcommittee met this morning.
The land trade is an example of a rider – a policy change a lawmaker slips into another bill, sometimes completely unrelated. Another of Murkowski’s Alaska riders would stop the feds from imposing stricter predator-hunting rules in the state’s national wildlife refuges.
Her $32-billion bill has several big national riders, like one that would block an EPA rule defining which waters are subject to the Clean Water Act. Another halts a stream-buffer protection rule that mine advocates say would kill coal mining in Alaska and around the country.
Murkowski says her bill pinches EPA’s regulatory budget, in areas where she says the agency has overstepped its bounds.
“Several program areas that have issued controversial rules that are currently blocked in court are reduced,” she said, reading from a prepared statement, “because I believe it is more important to provide resources to programs that yield tangible results in improving the environment instead of funding more lawyers and bureaucrats to draft rules of questionable legality and dubious environmental benefit.”
The top Democrat on her subcommittee, Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, says he likes that the bill increases money for drinking water infrastructure and the Indian Health Service. Still, Udall says he can’t support it.
“We’re not prepared to gut environmental rules as the price of getting spending bills passed,” he said.
Among the riders Udall counts as a poison pill are changes to environmental rules in the Tongass National Forest, in Southeast Alaska. Exactly what the bill says on that is unknown. Murkowski did not make the document public, but she and Udall issued summaries. The bill itself is scheduled for release on Thursday, when it goes before the full Senate Appropriations committee. Udall says that’s when he’ll try to remove the parts he doesn’t like.