President Obama's allies in the House couldn't save some of his key environmental regulations from Republican amendments in a massive spending bill Tuesday night.
Republicans put many policy provisions into the $32.1 billion funding bill for the Department of Interior and Environmental Protection Agency that struck at the heart of Obama's regulatory agenda. Democrats tried to keep those policies from making it to a final vote, but failed.
Democrats proposed amendments to keep the bill from stripping Interior's ability to reevaluate the royalty rates for oil, gas and coal produced on public lands; institute safety rules on offshore drilling rigs; and update rules on air quality control and reporting for offshore oil and gas producers. Each of those amendments was voted down.
In addition, Democrats failed to pass several amendments keeping Republicans from defunding the EPA implementation of the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration's rules on new and existing coal power plants, and strike portions of the bill delaying the EPA's use of the social cost of carbon in environmental rule-making.
An amendment that would have removed a policy rider preventing the EPA from coming up with methane emissions regulations died on a voice vote.
Much of the debate centered around possible executive overreach by Obama and the EPA in service of the president's environmental goals.
California Republican Rep. Ken Calvert, the primary author of the bill, said the amendments had to be voted down in order to keep the Obama administration in check.
"The administration cannot be allowed to change the laws of the land administratively," he said.
The $32.1 billion spending bill contains many provision striking at the Obama administration's regulatory agenda. Republicans said it was a purposeful rebuke to the executive branch, which they see as overreaching with environmental regulations in the face of a hostile Congress.
But, Democrats believe the administration is only using regulations because the issue of climate change is real and urgent. Faced with an opposition party that controls both chambers of Congress, Democrats said the Obama administration is justified in using regulations to go around the opposition.
Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., said the EPA's Clean Power Plan is workable and supported by the public. It could position the United States as a world leader in cutting carbon emissions — its goal is to cut carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030 — but Republicans stand in the way.
"They refuse to act to limit carbon pollution," Peters said. He quoted Obama in saying that Congress should not stand in the way because "what we cannot do … is condemn our children to a planet that is beyond their capacity to repair."
Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., offered six amendments that were not voted on Tuesday night regarding sections of the bill dealing with California's water supply. He argued the bill would harm fish supplies and regulation in California by over-pumping if the riders were included and chastised Republicans for attaching them to a funding bill.
"I'm disappointed that my Republican colleagues continue to attach bad policy to important appropriations bills," he said.
However, Republicans argued that they weren't trying to harm the environment but were instead trying to block the Obama administration from expanding the executive branch's power.
Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va, said Obama and the EPA have exceeded their authority. He said the Clean Power Plan, along with other environmental regulations, pick winners and losers in the energy market and regulated coal power plants twice, a sort of double jeopardy that is against the law.
The Supreme Court has blocked the implementation of the Clean Power Plan while a legal challenge from a majority of the states is heard, and Jenkins said Democrats should take that as a sign.
"The other side would simply take casually that there is no legal authority for the administration to pursue rules and regulations like in this particular case," Jenkins said.
The House voted on 45 of the 131 amendments being considered on the House floor Tuesday night. Debate on other amendments continued into the early morning hours and would continue Wednesday morning, when further votes were expected.