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Waiving Points of Order Against Conference Report on H.R. 2361, Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2006

Location: Washington DC



Mr. HASTINGS of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from Utah (Mr. Bishop) for yielding me this time, and I yield myself such time as I may consume.

As my colleague from the majority mentioned, the rule is typical to that for all conference reports, and I will not oppose it.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today not in opposition to the Interior and Environmental Appropriations conference report, but, rather, in disappointment that we have not done enough. Indeed, we live in trying times with enormous fiscal constraints, many of which we have brought upon ourselves. As the chairman and ranking Democrat of the Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies will probably note today, they did the best that they could with what they were given. Indeed, they did, Mr. Speaker.

I commend the gentleman from North Carolina (Chairman TAYLOR) and the gentleman from Washington (Mr. DICKS) for their hard and, perhaps most important, their bipartisan work on this legislation. I do believe that they did the best with what the majority gave them.

The Interior conference report includes $84 million for Everglades restoration in my district and throughout

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south Florida. It increases funding for the National Endowment of the Arts and Humanities, as well as operations at our national parks and Indian health care.

The underlying report also includes a provision that I offered during floor consideration prohibiting funds in the bill from being used to work in contravention of a 1994 executive order requiring that Federal agencies take the necessary steps to achieve health and environmental equity across all community lines.

The inclusion of this provision in the conference report sends a clear message to the Environmental Protection Agency that it must change the way it goes about doing business. On behalf of every community in the country which will benefit from this provision, I thank the gentleman from North Carolina (Chairman TAYLOR) and the gentleman from Washington (Mr. Dicks) for their commitment to working with me on this issue of critical importance.

The conference report also includes a provision championed by my good friend, the gentlewoman from California (Ms. Solis), that stops EPA from intentionally exposing pregnant women and children to pesticides and requires the agency to establish standards which will come down on the side of public health.

While I am pleased that the aforementioned is included in the conference report, I am greatly concerned about the report's major cuts in clean drinking water and conservation programs. These programs are essential to protecting our environment and the health of our citizens. It is offensive that this Congress has found the money for tax cuts for the best-off of us in our society, but not enough for these critical programs.

Finally, this legislation includes $1.5 billion in emergency funding for veterans health care. Frankly, this money should have been appropriated before the July 4 recess. Instead, the majority played politics with the Senate, and our veterans were told no.

More than 1 year ago, Democrats came to this floor with the former Republican chairman of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith), arguing that the majority was shortchanging veterans health care by more than $1 billion. What did the majority do about our concerns? Absolutely nothing. Democrats got stonewalled, the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith) lost his job, and America's veterans got shafted.

This spring, Mr. Speaker, our Democratic prophesy came true. The Bush administration finally admitted that it had pushed a budget which shortchanged veterans health care by some $1 billion. Democrats countered that $1 billion still was not enough, and the administration waffled. Eventually and embarrassingly, the Bush administration finally admitted that the actual shortfall was closer to $1.5 billion, the amount appropriated in this conference report.

How is it that this body can willingly authorize sending our troops into harm's way, yet refuse to provide them with the health care benefits they were promised? I am pleased that the other body has the backbone to fix what is wrong, but I am not pleased by the efforts of the administration and House Republicans to cover up these shortfalls. Shame on all of us for letting this happen.

Mr. Speaker, individuals on their own are not going to conduct major environmental restoration, force power companies to reduce toxic emissions from their smokestacks, or clean up our Nation's drinking water. But collectively, collectively, we can all make this happen.

Enforcement is not free, and neither is environmental restoration. Is there anybody in this body who is unwilling to pay just a little more to ensure that every American has clean air to breath and safe drinking water? If given the chance, who would not be willing to pool his or her resources with others in their neighborhood to collectively ensure that everyone has safe drinking water, or that no child would be forced to grow up playing in backyards polluted by dangerous levels of mercury and other toxins?

I will most likely support the underlying conference report, but I say to my colleagues, we had an opportunity to do more in this conference report. Our willingness to do so, however, was the missing ingredient.

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.


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