While the scramble to strike a debt deal dominates headlines, Republicans have been filling an appropiations bill with measures that would sharply curtail environmental regulations, The New York Times reported.
One proposal would prevent the Bureau of Land Management from designating new wilderness areas for preservation, while another would permit more uranium prospecting near Grand Canyon National park. A measure barring the Fish and Wildlife Service from adding any new plants or animals to the endangered list was rejected in a rare bipartisan vote.
Republicans say they are trying to remove cumbersome regulations that inhibit economic growth -- U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Ind. said that "overregulation from the [Environmental Protection Agency] is at the heart of our stalled economy." But critics have charged that the rollbacks would trade the government's ability to safeguard natural resources for economic gain.
"The new Republican majority seems intent on restoring the robber-baron era where there were no controls on pollution from power plants, oil refineries and factories," said U.S. Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., called the provisions a "wish list for polluters."
Politicians on both sides of the aisle have long used the tactic of attaching what are known as "riders" to bills, but observers said that Republicans have been unusually ambitious in seeking to exploit the gridlock in Washington to secure long-sought limitations on environmental regulation.
"You have a fatal political momentum," said David Goldston, director of government affairs for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group. "They are going to load up this bill in an unprecedented fashion."