WASHINGTON -- America's environmental protections are under a sweeping, concerted assault in Congress that could effectively roll back the federal government's ability to safeguard air and water more than 100 years, Democrats and advocates say.
The headlines have not been dramatic, and the individual attacks on relatively obscure rules seldom generate much attention beyond those who are most intently focused on environmental regulation.
But taken together, the separate moves -- led by House Republicans -- add up to a stunning campaign against governmental regulatory authority that is now surprisingly close to succeeding.
In just the year since the GOP took control of the House, there have been at least 159 votes held against environmental protections -- including 83 targeting the Environmental Protection Agency -- on the House floor alone, according to a list compiled by Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
"Republicans have made an assault on all environmental issues," said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the committee. "This is, without doubt, the most anti-environmental Congress in history."
Some of the efforts are broad-based, like the TRAIN Act, which would install overseers for the EPA and require cost considerations to trump health and science concerns for new rules. Another such effort is the REINS Act, which essentially requires Congress to approve all new regulations, essentially granting each chamber the ability to veto the executive branch.
Both have passed the House and are pending in the Senate. Still another proposed measure that would have all-encompassing reach is the Regulatory Accountability Act, which would make cost the top consideration for all federal regulations.
"It single-handedly amends probably more laws of the United States than any law ever introduced in Congress," said John Walke, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council.