Once again Congress is facing hard deadlines for must-pass legislation. And once again, GOP leaders are holding up the process with anti-environmental riders. Instead of working to complete funding bills and tax provisions, these lawmakers are pitching an ideological battle with their designated foe: environmental safeguards.
No other issue has come under such withering attack: the House has cast 170 anti-environment votes in 2011, and just about every rider the House leadership is trying to tack on to the last-minute bills is designed to undermine environmental protections.
This assault may score political points with the most extreme members of the Republican Party, and it would definitely make life easier for polluters, but ordinary Americans will pay the price.
One rider, for instance, would block new limits on mercury and other hazardous emissions from industrial boilers. These safeguards are a decade overdue, and putting them in place will deliver major benefits to the nearly 40 million Americans living within three miles of polluting facilities.
But if the rider goes through, it would cause up to 28,350 premature deaths, 150,000 asthma attacks, and nearly 19,000 hospital and emergency room visits over three and a half years - the minimum period of delay being proposed.
House Speaker Boehner (R-OH) wants to attach another rider to the payroll tax bill that would force approval of the 2,000-mile-long Keystone XL pipeline with almost no review of how it would affect water supplies and other public resources. Not only would this constitute an unprecedented move that would turn Congress into a permitting body, but it would also expose Heartland communities to the risk of pipeline spills and water contamination.
Senator Barrasso (R-WY), meanwhile, is pushing for a rider that would hamstring efforts to preserve critical waterways, including wetlands and small streams that filter pollutants, prevent flooding, and replenish our drinking water.
Riders like these would not only cause real-world harm, but also rewrite fundamental laws and upend standard practices. NRDC opposes these moves, of course, but everyone should be able to agree that at the very least, such measures should receive serious scrutiny, not be hastily included in bills that have to pass in order to keep the government running or to keep tax cuts in place.
Resorting to riders amounts to hostage taking: the Republican Leadership is refusing to pass critical funding bills unless they are granted provisions that wouldn't pass in the light of day. The public is already discouraged by Congress' inability to get its work done; riders only make it worse.
The good news is this approach has failed before and we can win once again. Back in March, GOP leaders tried attach policy riders to the spending bill for the previous fiscal year. The Senate and the White House opposed these political games, and in the end, anti-environmental riders were stripped out of the final bill.
Senator Reid has consistently said he would reject policy riders on spending bills, and administration officials have been decrying efforts to attach riders to spending bills. President Obama said on Wednesday he would oppose all riders in tax bills, including the rider to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.
You can encourage other lawmakers to stand firm against anti-environmental riders. Send a message urging your senators and representative to finish these must-pass bills without undermining America's public health and environmental protections.
This post originally appeared on NRDC's Switchboard blog.