House Republicans' crusade to destroy environmental regulations brought down by their attempt to promote racism

The Confederate flag debacle kept the GOP from passing a bill that would have blocked major EPA rules

Published July 10, 2015 2:49PM (EDT)

House Speaker John Boehner (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)     (AP)
House Speaker John Boehner (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (AP)

House Republicans are rarely successful in their underhanded attempts to keep the Environmental Protection Agency from protecting the environment. Usually, their downfall arrives when they run up against a firmly wielded veto threat from the White House.

That's pretty much how things were supposed to go Thursday. The House Appropriations Committee had introduced, earlier this week, its fiscal 2016 budget. Intended to "stop job-crushing bureaucratic red tape and regulations at federal agencies" like the EPA, it would have reduced the agency's funding by $718 million, or 9 percent below 2015 levels, on top of the 20 percent reduction in funding it's already been slammed with since the GOP took over in 2011. It would, as House Republicans are constantly trying to do, prevent the EPA from enacting its rule to limit carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants, as well as its rule protecting the drinking water on which one third of Americans rely from polluters.

EPA administrator Gina McCarthy spoke out angrily against the bill, arguing that, if passed, “the protection of public health and the environment will be compromised." And in the face of Democratic opposition, it's unlikely Republicans would have garnered enough votes to pass a floor vote.

But in a surprising twist, Republicans ended up engineering their own undoing. Tuesday night, House Democrats introduced an amendment, which passed it unanimously, that would ban the sale and display of the Confederate flag in national parks and federal cemeteries. Wednesday night, Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) introduced an amendment that would allow certain cemeteries to display the flag -- allegedly to appease more conservative members of Congress who felt the bill wasn't already extreme enough.

All hell broke loose. And by the end of it, House Republicans had pulled the entire bill so that, as House Speak John Boehner (R-Ohio) put it, the issue wouldn't become a “political football.”

Environmental groups did not miss the opportunity to pounce on the debacle as evidence of just how backwards the GOP's become. "This spending bill is finally drowning under the weight of its own extremism," said Friends of the Earth campaigner Lukas Ross in a statement. "Apparently the only thing that matters more to House Republican leadership than sacrificing American’s air and water is defending the legacy of slavery."

"The underlying bill and a slew of dangerous amendments are a vicious assault on the health of our families and our communities," read a statement released by Sierra Club Legislative Director Melinda Pierce. "And, as if that weren’t bad enough, some House Republicans have decided to further derail the process by trying to force a vote on a symbol of hate that deserves no place on our public lands. It’s time House Republicans take a step back and focus on creating legislation that protects American communities, rather than attacking our health and offending the public.”

Anti-environment and public health, pro-racism. Pro-tip to House Republicans: this isn't a flattering image.

By Lindsay Abrams

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Confederate Flag Environmental Flag Epa House Republicans John Boehner