Inquirer Editorial: No way to run the government

Posted: March 01, 2011

As lawmakers negotiate a temporary budget bill, Congress must reject a House-approved assault on clean air and water standards.

In their effort to cut spending, House Republicans two weeks ago also tried to gut environmental protections. Their bill would block the Environmental Protection Agency from limiting emissions of greenhouse gases from coal-fired power plants and other industrial sources. The plan also would restrict the EPA from reducing Chesapeake Bay pollution.

The EPA's regulations would, by 2013, reduce mercury emissions from cement plants by 92 percent. EPA would also require reductions in other pollutants.

Opponents of these rules say the regulations are too costly for business, and will drive jobs overseas. That's the same type of wrongheaded argument the auto industry used to postpone improvements in mileage standards and cleaner tailpipe emissions.

Among the lawmakers who voted against cleaner air standards and for the final House bill, were Pennsylvania Republicans Mike Fitzpatrick, Pat Meehan, and Jim Gerlach. They ought to know better, given the serious air-quality issues in eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and the related health problems particularly for children. Pennsylvania power plants emit the second-most mercury nationwide, behind Texas.

The EPA's job merits more, not fewer, resources. In Pennsylvania, for example, the rapid expansion of natural-gas drilling has raised concerns about the impact on the quality of drinking water. Thirty-nine legislators in New Jersey have asked the Delaware River Basin Commission to maintain a ban on drilling in the watershed until the EPA completes a study.

House Republicans' attack on the EPA was part of a broader partisan assault on funding that conservatives love to hate, including appropriations to Planned Parenthood and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The Democratic-led Senate should not stand for these ideologically driven cutbacks.

Democrats have signaled they will agree to $4 billion in spending cuts, in a deal to keep the federal government running for two more weeks.

Spending reductions are needed, but this is no way to run a country. Lurching from deal to short-term budget deal is like playing two innings of a baseball game, then huddling to decide whether to keep playing.

Congress needs to settle on a sensible spending plan to keep the government running through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. Federal employees, and the rest of the world, ought to know whether Washington will remain open for business.

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