Four years ago the Kingston coal ash disaster put a spotlight on the need for federal coal ash regulations when a dam failed, releasing one billion gallons of the toxic waste, poisoning 300 acres and 2 nearby rivers. Since Kingston, there have been numerous attempts to push inadequate coal ash regulations through Congress. Last year, a report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) found two such bills, H.R. 2273 and S.3512, to be insufficient to protect human health and the environment. Now, instead of revising the bills based on the CRS’s findings, the bills’ sponsors have pressured the CRS into changing their report.
This guest post, by Lisa Evans, originally appeared on EarthJustice’s blog unEARTHED on January 22,213 and is re-posted here with permission. The original title was: Bullying the messenger, burying the truth: GOP sponsors press CRS to change its unfavorable report on coal ash bills.
The Congressional Research Service, the non-partisan research arm of the Library of Congress, drew anger from two legislators after it issued an unfavorable report on their coal ash bills (S. 3512 and H.R. 2273). Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) and Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) have aggressively pursued the CRS since early December, after it gave both bills a failing grade, finding their weaknesses “unprecedented” in environmental law. The CRS concluded in no uncertain terms that the bills lack a clear purpose and cannot ensure state standards “necessary to protect human health and the environment.”
In light of CRS’ unfavorable legal analysis, the reasonable course for Hoeven and McKinley was to redraft their bills—but instead they demanded that the CRS redraft their report. This is not the first time in recent months that Republicans have played this game.
Last September, the CRS bowed to GOP pressure and withdrew an important economic report on Bush tax cuts after finding that tax cuts to the top help concentrate wealth, but do not boost economic growth. After cries of foul play from the Democrats, which included Sen. Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) charge of “banana republic” politics, the CRS reissued its original economic report, without amendment in December 2012.
Unfortunately, the negative coal ash report has generated an instant replay. In response to the highly critical report, the bills’ GOP sponsors are trying to kill it. Yet the CRS has a longstanding, solid reputation for non-partisanship and for providing accurate data and analysis to both sides of the aisle. Lawmakers may disagree with the findings, but they have no right to censor or intimidate.
The war on facts by partisan lawmakers must cease. Bills found legally wanting must be revised or abandoned. Reports that inform Congress and, by their honest criticism, produce better laws must be applauded, treasured and most of all protected from partisan attack.