The House approved an amendment to a $32.1 billion spending bill Tuesday evening that would take money away from the Environmental Protection Agency and put it into coal country.
The amendment, which passed by voice vote, was offered by Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., to the Interior-Environmental Protection Agency appropriations bill that is making its way toward a vote on the House floor Tuesday night.
Ironically, the Griffith plan is based on President Obama's "PowerPlus" program, which is meant to help hurting coal communities suffering from major layoffs to transition to new skills and jobs.
The amendment provides a "distribution of funds among Appalachian states for reclamation of abandoned mine lands in conjunction with economic and community development, offset by funds from the Environmental Programs and Management account."
Republicans blame a host of EPA regulations for causing economic collapse in many coal mining communities in Appalachia.
A top Democratic on the appropriations committee said she supported the amendment's intention of helping the struggling mining communities in Virginia and around the country. But she could not vote for it because it would remove $90 million from key EPA programs meant to guard public health.
"I understand EPA is an easy target," said Betty McCollum of Minnesota, the top Democrat on the Interior panel of the House appropriations committee. But "I cannot support a deeper cut to EPA."
The spending bill received a veto threat Monday from the White House because of the steep cuts it makes to the EPA's and the Interior Department's budgets.
McCollum said Griffith's amendment would cut vital funds to EPA's brownfields and pesticide listing programs, among others. She added that she "appreciates" the amendment because it is "modeled" after the administration's plan and would act similarly.
"What we are trying to do … is take reclaimed mine land [and] make them right" and "use those lands for economic development," Griffith said.
He said parts of southwestern Virginia can't afford more of the "wait-for-next-year approach" from Washington and needs assistance now.
Voting on 131 amendments to the spending bill is expected to go late into the evening.