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"How Do We Build A Mass Movement to Reverse Runaway Inequality?" with Les Leopold, author of "Runaway Inequality: An Activist's Guide to Economic Justice,"May 22, 2016, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, The City University of New York, 860 11th Ave. (Between 58th and 59th), New York City. Between The Lines' Scott Harris and Richard Hill moderated this workshop. Listen to the audio/slideshows and more from this workshop.
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Posted Aug. 24, 2011
Interview with David Goldston, director of government affairs with the Natural Resources Defense Council, conducted by Melinda Tuhus
Throughout the summer, as debate raged in Congress on raising the nation’s debt ceiling, Republicans in the House were also trying to push through a myriad of anti-environmental riders in the 2012 appropriations bill for the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency. Because Congress broke for its summer recess immediately after reaching a deal to raise the debt ceiling, no action was taken on the appropriations bill with its almost 40 riders. The bill will be taken up again when Congress reconvenes after Labor Day.
Riders are an end-run around congressional procedures; they are designed to limit scrutiny and to force through policies generally without hearings or full debate. As in other recent policy debates, critics charge that Republican sponsors of the riders are using tactics that in essence hold vital national legislation hostage. The anti-environmental polices block protections for clean water, clean air, wilderness lands and wildlife.
Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with David Goldston, director of government affairs with the Natural Resources Defense Council. He describes the objective of some of these legislative riders, and efforts underway to try and remove them from fiscal 2012 appropriations bills.
DAVID GOLDSTON: What's notable about this bill, besides that it would cut spending, is that it's loaded up with almost 40 anti-environmental provisions called riders – these are efforts to block environmental policies or the operation of existing environmental law that have been added to the spending bill even though these provisions don't save any money whatsoever. So these provisions are in the base bill, in the bill that's been brought to the House floor, and then during the debate on the bill there are efforts both to get rid of these riders. They are led mostly by Democrats but some are bipartisan – and efforts by conservative Republicans to add even more limitations on environmental protections to the bill.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Please give us some specific examples of the environmental harm you're referring to.
DAVID GOLDSTON: They block all kinds of environmental activities. One would prevent EPA from clarifying which waters are protected by the Clean Water Act. There's another one on water that would prevent EPA from strengthening oversight of mountaintop removal mining. There's another one that would prevent EPA from limiting runoff from logging roads and another that would prevent limitations on pollution runoff from agricultural properties. On clean air, there's efforts to block new safeguards from both traditional pollutants and carbon dioxide pollution. So there's a whole range of these, as I said, there's almost 40 of them in all, which is, as far as we can tell, an unprecedented number of limitations.
BETWEEN THE LINES: I believe one of the riders would have prevented any further listings of endangered species under the Endangered Species Act, but that was declared too radical even for some Republicans, and it was removed. Is that right?
DAVID GOLDSTON: Right, so the rider would have said no additional listings of endangered species; listing is how endangered species get protected under the law. That was removed from the bill through an amendment that was offered by a bipartisan group, and it got support from a number of Republicans as well as Democrats, so that has been removed, and that was a good sign because it's one of the first times this year that Democrats and Republicans have joined together in sufficient numbers to actually stand up to these efforts to block environmental safeguards.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Just so I understand, these riders have been attached to the appropriations bill, and they were trying to pass them at the same time as all the debate was happening about raising the debt ceiling?
DAVID GOLDSTON: The timing happens to be overlapping, but they're separate measures. Every year Congress has to pass spending bills for each agency so they have the money to carry out their responsibilities the following year. So this is the annual effort to do the spending bill for Interior and EPA. As part of that, right, all these provisions have been attached, these riders. And there's a number of reasons why this is bad besides just that these provisions themselves would harm the public. Number one, they don't get the same kind of debate and scrutiny they would if they were free-standing measures. But two, the reason they get added to these spending bills is to try to force them through when they otherwise wouldn't pass. It's a way of saying to the Senate – and the president – if you try to disagree with us on these environmental provisions, we won't fund the government. One of the effects of adding all these anti-environmental riders to this bill is, it makes it much more likely we're going to have another government shutdown showdown in the fall, and that's not the way to govern.
BETWEEN THE LINES: What do you think the chances are of getting rid of these riders?
DAVID GOLDSTON: Well, it's unlikely that all these riders will be removed before the bill leaves the House. But our hope is – and this is what happened in the spring on the spending bill for this year – that the Senate Democratic leadership and the president will stand up to these and say these do not belong in the spending bill, they're bad policy and they shouldn't be part of this measure in any event and will basically prevent any of these from becoming law. The White House has already issued a very strong veto threat, citing these riders as one of the reasons. And again, in the spring when this happened with a smaller number of riders on the spending bill, the Senate and the president ultimately did stand up and virtually all those riders were removed.
Learn more about the Natural Resources Defense Council at www.nrdc.org.