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Tuesday’s U.S. House Elections Could Shine Spotlight on Trump’s Environmental Rollbacks


There’s a lot at stake in the elections on Tuesday, including which party controls the U.S. House and whether Congress will begin hearings and oversight of the Trump Administration’s rollback of environmental regulations.

The Republican-led U.S. House has passed 36 different anti-environmental bills and amendments the last two years, according to the National League of Conservation Voters.  This includes legislation that would undermine the Chesapeake Bay cleanup by stripping EPA of its authority to penalize states that fail to meet pollution reduction targets.

The House's majority also voted in favor of legislation that would – among other things – reduce protections for wetlands and streams; allow more methane pollution from oil and gas drilling sites; and override local bans on the use of pesticides in lawn care, such as have been adopted by Howard and Montgomery counties in Maryland.

Congressman John Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat, voted against all these bills and is running for re-election in a district that includes parts of the Baltimore area.  “The House has been on a crusade to overturn regulations that protect our environment,” Sarbanes said.

Sarbanes noted that Tuesday’s elections could put the Democrats in control of the House. This would allow committee oversight and investigations of the Trump Administration’s hiring of coal and oil lobbyists to run the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We need to bring the light of day to how policy is getting made, and insist that the policy is fulfilling the mission of these agencies,” Sarbanes said. “And in the case of the EPA, that’s to protect clean air, clean water, and to protect national treasures like the Chesapeake Bay.”

His Republican opponent, Charles Anthony, is a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel and former hospital administrator. He criticized Sarbanes and the other Maryland Democrats for all voting the same way under the same liberal leadership.

“From what I’ve seen, he’ll do whatever Nancy Pelosi tells him to do,” Anthony said of Sarbanes. “Of course, all those guys are the same way – (Dutch) Ruppersberger, Steny Hoyer. None of them have the ability to stand on their own merit.”

The same could be said of House Republicans, who also tend to vote in a block.

Seven of Maryland’s eight U.S. House members are Democrats, and all of them voted against the 36 anti-environmental bills passed by the House the last two years. The exception was the state’s sole Republican Congressman, Andy Harris, who voted in favor of 34 of the House’s 36 anti-environmental bills, according to the national League of Conservation Voters.  

Tiernan Sittenfeld is a senior vice president at the League of Conservation Voters (LCV.)

“Congressman Harris is a disaster when it comes to the environment and public health in Maryland and across the country,” Sittenfeld said. “He has a six percent score in 2017 on LCV’s national environmental score card, and an appalling 3 percent lifetime score.”

Congressman Harris’s office did not respond to a request for an interview. Harris did not support two House bills that would have stripped EPA of its authority to enforce Chesapeake Bay pollution limits.

It is important to note that most of the anti-environmental bills passed by the House the last two years (32 of the 36) were effectively blocked by the U.S. Senate, which requires a 60 percent majority to pass major legislation. Polls suggest the Senate is less likely to change hands in Tuesday’s elections.

The 2017-2018 legislation that did make it through both chambers and was signed into law by President Trump: relaxes restrictions on mountaintop removal coal mining; permits more hunting for bears and wolves; and allows drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. 

Tuesday’s elections will determine whether similar bills are a thing of the past or the future.

Tom Pelton, a national award-winning environmental journalist, has hosted "The Environment in Focus" since 2007. He also works as director of communications for the Environmental Integrity Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to holding polluters and governments accountable to protect public health. From 1997 until 2008, he was a journalist for The Baltimore Sun, where he was twice named one of the best environmental reporters in America by the Society of Environmental Journalists.