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Friday, April 26, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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House votes to block Obama rules on public lands, education

In this photo taken Jan. 18, 2017, President Barack Obama speaks during his final presidential news conference, in the briefing room of the White House in Washington. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)
In this photo taken Jan. 18, 2017, President Barack Obama speaks during his final presidential news conference, in the briefing room of the White House in Washington. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)
By Matthew Daly Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The Republican-controlled House voted Tuesday to overturn Obama-era rules on the environment and education as GOP lawmakers seek to reverse years of what they see as excessive government regulation during the past eight years of a Democratic president.

The House voted, 234-186, to repeal a rule that requires federal land managers to consider climate change and other long-term effects of proposed development on public lands. The rule also requires the federal Bureau of Land Management to use the best available science in making decisions about the 245 million acres of public lands it oversees, mostly in the West.

Lawmakers also voted, 234-190, to repeal a separate measure aimed at helping states identify failing schools and come up with plans to improve them. The rule provides a framework for states to develop their own accountability plans under a bipartisan education law signed by President Barack Obama in 2015.

The two measures now go to the Senate.

Republicans called both rules examples of government overreach.

The land-management rule “imposes Washington’s vision on land management over vast areas of the West,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

The rule “was devised by people who don’t live on our land and who don’t know our land, and they just try to dictate how to use our land,” McCarthy said. “They are undermining the very idea of multiple use of federal lands by making the lands entirely off limits for any type of economic purposes.”

McCarthy and other critics say the new rule improperly shifts decision-making authority away from state and local officials to the federal government.

The House votes come after lawmakers approved three other resolutions last week that target environmental rules adopted in the final months of Obama’s term.

Lawmakers backed measures scuttling regulations that prevented coal mines from dumping debris into nearby streams; clamped down on oil companies that burn off natural gas during drilling operations; and forced energy companies to disclose payments to foreign governments relating to mining and drilling.

Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala., called the land-management rule “government overreach at its worst” and said land-use planning has historically been and should remain a function of local government.

“The federal government should not be telling states and local government what works best for them,” he said.

The Obama administration said the planning rule would help federal land managers address issues such as increased wildfires and an influx of invasive species.

The rule also requires that management plans be updated more frequently and adhere to a 2013 climate change strategy ordered by former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. Under the previous rule, the land-management bureau took an average of eight years to finish a land use plan.

Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., said the rule, developed after thousands of public comments, “increases transparency, enhances the role of science in decision making and strengthens the role of the public’s voice early in the planning process.”

On education, the House voted to repeal a separate Obama-era rule intended to help states identify failing schools and hold them accountable. A 2015 law allows states to consider measures beyond test scores and high school graduation rates. The states have flexibility in deciding how much weight to give to each – as well as other measures including school climate, advanced coursework and chronic absenteeism.

The rule requires that the plans measure the performance of all students, including “sub-groups of students” such as racial minorities, children from low-income families and special education students.

Republicans called it an unfunded mandate and an unprecedented move to take away state power.

“This rule dictates a Washington standard that undermines state and local control over education and further strains state and local budgets,” McCarthy said.

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