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House Republicans Are So Mad at the EPA that They Might Force Another Shutdown

Mark Wilson/ Getty

Even before the Environmental Protection Agency released a big set of proposed coal regulations this month, Republicans had made clear their intent to undermine the rules. Now, senior members of the House GOP are hinting that their preferred strategy for doing this might be using appropriations bills necessary to keep the government open in order to block its implementation. A standoff with Senate Democrats and the president over funding for the EPA and Interior Department could set the stage for a budget showdown, risking a partial government shutdown. Here we go again. 

In an interview with Bloomberg, Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) said the House Appropriations Committee may include a rider to the bill that’s necessary to keep the  Department of Interior and EPA open after the fiscal year’s end in September. “There’s great interest from a lot of members,” Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA), chairman of the Interior-Environment subcommittee, also said to Bloomberg. Back when the EPA first unveiled the rule, GOP aides warned the “new regulations certainly would not help the effort to find common ground on the Interior/Environment bill for FY 2015.”

The likelihood of a partial shutdown depends on how much Republicans are willing to bet on obstructing climate change action. Polls suggest it could be a risky fight headed into the midterm elections: A recent Bloomberg survey found nearly two-thirds of Americans are willing to pay more for electricity if it means curbing pollution. The GOP got clobbered in the polls during the last government shutdown. Do they want to try it again in order to take on something that most of the public supports?

A partial shutdown to the Interior and EPA might seem like it would cause less damage to the GOP than the full-scale shutdown of 2013. But remember that includes national parks, which was one of the most visible and unpopular consequences from last year’s shutdown. And the EPA is charged with a lot besides fighting climate change, like protecting our drinking water and overseeing cleanup of toxic waste sites. 

With a little over three months until the September 30 fiscal year deadline, there are any number of ways this can play out, especially if there is a shift in the leadership’s strategy or a short-term compromise. Members of the House have already introduced bills that target the EPA’s coal plant on several fronts. One bill from Rep. Steve Daines (R-MT) would require four other federal agencies to certify the rule has no effect on jobs or electricity. Another bill from Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia would also roll back the EPA’s rulemaking so coal plants can pollute freely.

Neither of these measures have much chance to move beyond the House. In fact, congressional Republicans are limited in their power to obstruct the EPA rule entirely. Short of amending the Clean Air Act—which would need signing by the president—Congress can’t take back the authority it granted the EPA to regulate the biggest single source of greenhouse gas pollution.