A chorus of Democrats and activists are raising hackles about the potential of Republican policy riders being added to a year-end omnibus spending bill. Policy riders (or “limitation riders”) are the opposite of earmarks. Where the now-extinct earmark required money to be used on a certain project, a rider is a paragraph or two in an appropriations bill dictating what the money cannot be used for.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid told Roll Call:
"The president, Pelosi, Reid, my entire caucus has agreed to hold hands. We are not going to approve anything that has all these ideological, short-sighted, crazy ideas; to do away with women’s health, to do away with clean air, to attack Dodd-Frank and all these.”
David Goldston, director of government affairs at the environmental group National Resources Defense Council told E&E News in an interview: “on riders there’s going to be a very private, intense tussle between Democrats and Republican leaders on whether spending bills will be used to block environmental progress.”
This, Majority Leader McConnell has said, is the likely outcome: “Both sides will get into a negotiation here at the Appropriations Committee level, and at the end of the day, there will be some riders.” Reid, however, has claimed “We don’t have any riders.”
The sudden about-face on riders from Democrats may seem strange, since in recent years Democrats have repeatedly sought and successfully secured policy riders. But, this is the first appropriations season during the Obama presidency where Republicans control both chambers, so now policy riders are a bad thing, of course.
It remains to be seen how far Democrats will go in their newfound opposition to riders. Just last week, 25 Democratic senators, a majority of that caucus, wrote to the president, urging him to “reject all spending bill riders that would undermine Endangered Species Act protections…” If Reid, Pelosi, and the President insist they’re quitting policy riders cold turkey, there are likely to be some Democratic casualties.
One of the biggest winners (and perhaps hypocrites) has been California senator Dianne Feinstein, who has used her position on the Appropriations Committee to stop a planned water project in her state. Feinstein has fought the project for 15 years.
The project is called the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery, and Storage Project. Cadiz owns 34,000 acres of land in the Fenner Valley in San Bernadino County, and below it are millions of acre-feet of water. With an acre-foot clocking in at 326,000 gallons, that’s hundreds of billions of gallons of water. Currently, the project is a combined effort by Cadiz, the Arizona & California Railroad, and a handful of water districts, like the Santa Margarita Water District.
California, as most know, is experiencing severe drought, and the project’s backers say 400,000 Californians could benefit from this water, some of which would otherwise evaporate into the thin desert air. An Environmental Impact Report, required by California’s stringent Environmental Quality Act of 1970 observes the following about the Cadiz project:
"California’s Constitution mandates maximizing the reasonable and beneficial use of water and avoidance of waste. The fundamental purpose of the Project is to save substantial quantities of groundwater that are present wasted and lost to evaporation by natural processes. In the absence of this Project, approximately 3 million acre-feet of groundwater presently held in storage between the proposed wellfield and the Dry Lakes would become saline and evaporate over the next 100 years. By strategically managing groundwater levels, the Project would conserve up to 2 million acre-feet of this water, retrieving it from storage before it is lost to evaporation.”
But even given the water emergency, Feinstein and other opponents of the project aren’t relenting.