Toxic Debate Ahead on Hazardous-Waste Bills in House

GARY, IN - OCTOBER 12: A signs warns people not to swim or fish in a waterway near the United States Steel Gary Works plant October 12, 2007 in Gary, Indiana. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management is considering a proposal to relax or omit limits on toxic chemicals and heavy metals dumped into a Lake Michigan tributary by U.S. Steel Corp. The same organization provoked public outcry earlier this year when it gave a nearby BP refinery permission to significantly increase pollution discharged into Lake Michigan. 
National Journal
Clare Foran
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Clare Foran
Jan. 7, 2014, 4:35 p.m.

In the midst of a cold snap, House Re­pub­lic­ans are warm­ing up for the new ses­sion of Con­gress with a re­newed at­tack on what they call fed­er­al over­reach in the en­vir­on­ment­al arena, this time with le­gis­la­tion to give states more con­trol over cleanups at haz­ard­ous-waste sites.

The House is slated to vote Thursday on a pack­age of bills that would al­low states to as­sign pri­or­ity to cleanup pro­jects con­duc­ted un­der fed­er­al laws, in­clud­ing Su­per­fund; to sub­ject fed­er­al cleanups to state and loc­al laws; and to bar the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency from im­pos­ing waste-dis­pos­al reg­u­la­tions in states that already have them.

The meas­ures are sponsored by Re­pub­lic­an Reps. Bill John­son and Bob Latta of Ohio and Cory Gard­ner of Col­or­ado.

“This le­gis­la­tion would give states a great­er say in de­cid­ing which Su­per­fund [sites] should be re­developed first,” John­son said in an in­ter­view. “States are more equipped than fed­er­al bur­eau­crats in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., to de­cide which sites should be a pri­or­ity to be cleaned up.”

The de­bate on the le­gis­la­tion gives con­ser­vat­ives an­oth­er op­por­tun­ity to put them­selves on re­cord as op­pon­ents of fed­er­al over­reach and de­fend­ers of states’ rights when it comes to en­ergy and en­vir­on­ment policy — a mes­sage that had plenty of air time in Novem­ber when House Re­pub­lic­ans passed le­gis­la­tion aimed at halt­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion at­tempts to reg­u­late frack­ing.

Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., chair­man of the House En­ergy and Com­merce En­vir­on­ment and the Eco­nomy Sub­com­mit­tee, signaled that Re­pub­lic­ans will con­tin­ue to broad­cast this mes­sage well in­to the new year. “This im­port­ant le­gis­la­tion in­cor­por­ates sev­er­al of the themes we ex­amined last year and will con­tin­ue to fo­cus on dur­ing 2014, in­clud­ing re­du­cing red tape and mod­ern­iz­ing gov­ern­ment,” Shimkus said.

The le­gis­la­tion is ex­pec­ted to pass the GOP-con­trolled cham­ber with a party-line vote, but has little chance of ad­van­cing in the Demo­crat­ic-con­trolled Sen­ate.

Demo­crats say the bill is par­tis­an, un­ne­ces­sary, and det­ri­ment­al to the en­vir­on­ment. They are hop­ing to pre­vent con­ser­vat­ives from claim­ing even a sym­bol­ic vic­tory on the is­sue.

“This pack­age of le­gis­la­tion moved through com­mit­tee quickly on a par­tis­an vote and of­fers no be­ne­fits to com­munit­ies still work­ing to clean up con­tam­in­ated prop­erty,” said Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y.

House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee rank­ing mem­ber Henry Wax­man, D-Cal­if., sent a let­ter to Shimkus on Tues­day ask­ing him to delay floor con­sid­er­a­tion of the bill. Wax­man con­tends that the sub­com­mit­tee chair­man prom­ised to meet with rep­res­ent­at­ives from the Justice and De­fense de­part­ments to ad­dress con­cerns over the le­gis­la­tion but failed to do so.

“The bill should not be brought to the floor for a vote,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. “It’s bad for the en­vir­on­ment and bad for hu­man health.”

But as of Tues­day af­ter­noon, House GOP aides con­firmed that the le­gis­la­tion was still sched­uled for a vote by the end of the week.

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