House Republicans and 69 Democrats Vote to Weaken Environmental Regulations for Public Lands

Yesterday, the House voted 300 to 118 for a bill that would weaken environmental laws for managing public lands under power lines and other rights-of-way.

The bill — the Electricity Reliability and Forest Protection Act (H.R. 1873) — is a solution in search of a problem. It creates a voluntary process by which utility companies can submit utility line vegetation plans for federal lands. Proponents say the bill is necessary to address wildfire threats caused by overgrown vegetation and dead trees near electricity transmission rights-of-way (ROWs) crossing public lands. But only 0.03% of forest fires over the past five years resulted from overgrown vegetation or dead trees near power lines on public lands, and federal agencies and utilities are already legally allowed to work together.

But in its solution, it also makes things worse. The bill would allow state and local “electricity reliability standards” to supersede federal land management laws, making it more difficult for federal agencies to do their job. And it exempts the vegetation management plans from National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review, thus limiting public input and scientific review.

Brett Hart, the government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, panned the bill, saying, “This bill would kill innovative efforts to protect millions of acres of wildlife habitat from dangerous herbicides. Rather than fully funding agencies so they can be good stewards of our public lands, Republicans again moved to gut our core environmental laws. Preventing electrical fires is important, but we can do it in ways that preserve habitat and public participation in government decisions.”

One amendment to the bill received a recorded vote: an amendment by Salud Carbajal (CA-24) to ensure owners and operators of electric transmission and distribution facilities submit vegetation management plans to the Secretary of the Interior and that the Secretary has the authority to modify or deny those plans.

It failed 171 to 243.

14 Democrats joined the GOP in voting against it: Sanford Bishop (GA-02), Brendan Boyle (PA-13), Bob Brady (PA-02), Jim Costa (PA-16), Pete DeFazio (OR-04), Josh Gottheimer (NJ-05), Derek Kilmer (WA-06), Ron Kind (WI-03), Donald Norcross (NJ-01), Tom O’Halleran (AZ-01), Scott Peters (CA-52), Collin Peterson (MN-07), Brad Schneider (IL-10), and Kurt Schrader (OR-05).

As noted earlier, the bill itself passed 300 to 118. 69 Democrats voted for it:

Pete Aguilar (CA-31)

Ami Bera (CA-07)

Sanford Bishop (GA-02)

Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01)

Brendan Boyle (PA-13)

Bob Brady (PA-01)

Anthony Brown (MD-04)

Julia Brownley (CA-26)

Cheri Bustos (IL-17)

G. K. Butterfield (NC-01)

Tony Cardenas (CA-29)

John Carney (DE-AL)

Gerry Connolly (VA-11)

Jim Cooper (TN-05)

Lou Correa (CA-46)

Jim Costa (CA-16)

Joe Courtney (CT-02)

Charlie Crist (FL-13)

Henry Cuellar (TX-28)

Pete DeFazio (OR-04)

John Delaney (MD-06)

Mike Doyle (PA-14)

Anna Eshoo (CA-18)

Elizabeth Esty (CT-05)

John Garamendi (CA-03)

Vicente Gonzalez (TX-15)

Josh Gottheimer (NJ-05)

Al Green (TX-09)

Gene Green (TX-29)

Denny Heck (WA-10)

Jim Himes (CT-04)

Ruben Kihuen (NV-04)

Derek Kilmer (WA-06)

Ron Kind (WI-03)

Raja Krishnamoorthi (IL-08)

Annie Kuster (NH-02)

Joe Larson (CT-01)

Al Lawson (FL-05)

Dan Lipinski (IL-03)

Dave Loebsack (IA-02)

Zoe Lofgren (CA-19)

Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM-01)

Ben Lujan (NM-03)

Sean Maloney (NY-18)

Doris Matsui (CA-06)

Jerry McNerney (CA-09)

Seth Moulton (MA-06)

Stephanie Murphy (FL-07)

Rick Nolan (MN-08)

Donald Norcross (NJ-01)

Tom O’Halleran (AZ-01)

Beto O’Rourke (TX-16)

Jimmy Panetta (CA-20)

Scott Peters (CA-52)

Collin Peterson (MN-07)

Jacky Rosen (NV-03)

Raul Ruiz (CA-36)

Brad Schneider (IL-10)

Kurt Schrader (OR-05)

David Scott (GA-13)

Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01)

Albio Sires (NJ-08)

Darren Soto (FL-09)

Eric Swalwell (CA-15)

Mike Thompson (CA-05)

Norma Torres (CA-35)

Juan Vargas (CA-51)

Filemon Vela (TX-34)

Tim Walz (MN-01)

The assault on environmental regulations continued into today with the passage of the Water Supply Permitting Coordination Act.

This bill changes the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) permitting process to expedite the construction of new dams, undermining the work of other federal agencies in fulfilling their statutory obligations to assess impacts on water quality via the Clean Water Act or listed species under the Endangered Species Act. Republicans have been arguing that the bill will create jobs, as they do whenever they weaken environmental regulations. But the main obstacle in dam construction is not necessary environmental assessments, but the fact that dams are expensive to build.

The bill passed 233 to 180. 8 Democrats voted for it, and 5 Republicans voted against it.

The 8 Democrats were Sanford Bishop (GA-02), Lou Correa (CA-46), Jim Costa (CA-16), Henry Cuellar (TX-28), Josh Gottheimer (NJ-05), Sean Maloney (NY-18), Collin Peterson (MN-07), and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-09).

The 5 Republicans were Justin Amash (MI-03), Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-08), John Katko (NY-24), Frank LoBiondo (NJ-02), and Chris Smith (NJ-04).

Alan Lowenthal offered an amendment to exempt any dam projects from being fast-tracked by the bill if it could harm commercial fisheries.

It failed 179 to 232. 2 Republicans — Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-08) and Jim Renacci (OH-16) — voted for it, and 4 Democrats — Lou Correa (CA-46), Jim Costa (CA-16), Henry Cuellar (TX-28), and Collin Peterson (MN-07) — voted against it.