In the world of Congress, a rider isn't a person who takes a train or bicycle. It's actually a term for a type of amendment to legislation. And while the name sounds harmless, riders are actually a huge problem.
Here's why. Imagine you're a member of the House of Representatives and you want to delay stronger limits on dangerous ozone pollution to benefit polluters in your district.
In theory, you would write a bill and convince your colleagues to pass it. In practice, though, very few bills ever become law. Maybe your idea doesn't have sufficient support; maybe there just isn't time to vote on it; and maybe the president would veto your bill even if it did pass.
Here's another option: hitch a ride.
Every year, there are a few bills that Congress absolutely has to pass to keep things running. This always includes a bill to fund the federal government—if they don't pass one in time, the whole country has to deal with the consequences of a government shutdown, from closed parks to delayed medical research, like we experienced in 2013.
If you, as a member of Congress, can't get your bill passed on its own, you might try to attach it as an amendment to one of these must-pass bills—aka, as a rider.
This sneaky approach causes big problems. It makes funding the federal government even more difficult for Congress, and it puts critical health protections at risk for the whole nation.
Prohibit the federal government for accounting for the costs of climate change in its planning
So what now? Well, funding for the federal government runs out January 19, so Congress has until then to come to an agreement that avoids a shutdown.
Here's the good news: many members of Congress have said in the past they won't support riders, including the riders that would weaken clean air protections.
But with so many potential air pollution riders in the mix, in addition to riders on a number of other issues, we all need to join this fight. The health of everyone who breathes (yes… that's everyone!) could be impacted if riders that weaken clean air protections get passed into law.