CONGRESS AND THE ENVIRONMENT:
President Clinton and Vice President Gore Urge an End to Anti-Environmental Riders
President Clinton and Vice President Gore are calling on Congress to honor both the environment and the legislative process by renouncing the use of anti-environmental riders. Repeatedly, the 105th Congress has attempted to roll back environmental protections by attaching riders to unrelated bills. The President and Vice President are declaring that they will not tolerate stealth tactics that do unacceptable damage to our environment or threaten public health.
Stealth Attacks on the Environment. The 105th Congress, like its predecessor, has tried repeatedly to enact anti-environmental changes by attaching riders to complex, unrelated legislation. Last year, for instance, disaster relief for flood victims was held hostage to a rider that would have allowed road-building in national parks. This abuse of the legislative process denies the public, and Members of Congress, the opportunity to examine and debate these proposals in the light of day. It is part of a concerted strategy to whittle away hard-won environmental protections.
More on the Way. In recent weeks, Congress tried to attach anti-environmental riders to the Supplemental Appropriations bill providing relief to U.S. victims of natural disasters and funding the Bosnian peacekeeping effort, and the transportation funding bill known as TEA-21. Many of these riders came at the last minute in conference. If the past is any indication, appropriations measures for fiscal year 1999, which come before Congress in the coming weeks, are likely targets for more such assaults. (A list of potential riders is below.)
The Administration Stands Firm. In the past, anti-environmental riders have drawn vetoes from President Clinton and led to a government shutdown. Congress should bear these lessons in mind before engaging in such tactics again. The President and Vice President are putting Congress on notice: they will not tolerate stealth tactics that do unacceptable harm to the environment or threaten public health.
Riders previously or currently under consideration in this Congress include:
Paving and Development in the Parks --Riders would facilitate unwanted roads, motorized access, and land exchanges leading to other development in National Parks and wilderness areas, including sacred Native American land in the Petroglyph National Monument in New Mexico; Denali National Park, home of Mt. McKinley, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; wilderness area within the Izembek Wildlife Refuge, the Chugach National Forest, Lake Clark National Park, and the Tongass National Forest in Alaska; the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area in Minnesota; Cumberland Island National Seashore in Georgia; and non-emergency helicopter landings throughout federal wilderness areas in Alaska. Air Pollution, Toxic Cleanup, and Climate Change
Interfering With Forest Management -- Riders would interfere with the Forest Service's proposed "time-out" on road construction in roadless areas while transportation policy is being completed; and prohibit the Forest Service from an orderly revision of its science-based land management plans, and from updating its resource planning data.
Giveaways to Special Interests at the Expense of Taxpayers for Oil Extraction from Federal Areas -- Riders have blocked an Interior Department rule that would have ensured fair market value to the taxpayers for oil extracted from public lands and offshore areas. Some of this funding goes to the purchase of land for conservation purposes, and to public schools in many states. The Department estimates that the taxpayers lose $5.5 million each month this rule is not finalized.
Removal of Threatened Coastal Areas from Coastal Barrier Resources System -- The Coastal Barrier Resources System is made up of undeveloped areas in which development would be dangerous because of storms and flooding, and would threaten the coastal barrier system. For that reason, no federal programs related to development such as flood insurance are available in those areas. For the benefit of developers, riders have been offered to remove designated areas from the Coastal Barriers System, including 75 acres in Florida.
Commercial Fishing Within the Gulf Island National Seashore (Florida and Mississippi) and Glacier Bay National Park (Alaska) --These waters contain important habitat for aquatic species, and for that reason commercial fishing either has never been allowed or is being phased out in portions of these areas. Riders may attempt to overturn the judgement of the expert managers of these areas and mandate commercial fishing.
Blocking New Mining Rules --The Bureau of Land Management is preparing a draft rule that would protect public lands subject to mining under the 1872 Mining Law from unnecessary or undue degradation due to irresponsible mining practices and ensure reclamation of that land. Riders may be offered to block publication of that rule.
Interference With Management of Columbia Basin Ecosystem --Would shut down the environmental planning process for ecosystem management by the Departments of Interior and Agriculture and temporarily suspend Endangered Species Act protection measures for 75 million acres of federal lands in the Columbia Basin of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana.
Blocking Implementation of Inventory of Wilderness on BLM Lands in Utah --The Department of Interior has almost completed an inventory of wilderness within public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management in Utah, an inventory important to proper management of those lands. A lawsuit to prevent completion of that inventory was unsuccessful. A rider may be offered to overturn that court decision and stop this inventory.
Blocking Grizzly Bear Reintroduction Program --This consensus-based plan to reintroduce endangered grizzly bears to the Selway-Bitteroot area in Idaho and Montana was halted for one year in the FY 98 Interior Appropriations bill. It is scheduled to resume in the fall, but there may be riders to further block this important species recovery program.
Stopping Toxic Waste Cleanup --Would prohibit the dredging of PCB-laden sediments in the Hudson River, the Housatonic River in Massachusetts, and other rivers, in provisions offered at the request of the polluters; attempt to limit the size, and permit state veto over designation, of EPA's Superfund priority cleanup sites; and attempt to limit the use of federal funds to promote clean up and development of abandoned industrial "brownfields" sites.
Interfering With Efforts to Achieve Clean Air --Would delay EPA's regulation of the regional transport of smog-producing ozone; and prevent EPA and the States from regulating the volatile organic compounds in paints.
Interference With Efforts to Improve Energy Efficiency and Develop Innovative New Technologies --Would prevent the Administration from pursuing long-standing, bi-partisan policies to improve energy efficiency and promote the development of innovative clean energy technologies. The efforts rely upon the false charge that these programs in some manner "implement" the global warming agreement reached last year by more than 150 nations in Kyoto.
Delay in Phaseout of Methyl Bromide --The pesticide methyl bromide is highly toxic and a threat to the ozone layer. Efforts are underway to delay the phaseout of methyl bromide; some proposals would even put the United States out of compliance with its international obligations under the Montreal Protocol.
Delays in Pesticide Reassessment --One of the few environmental achievements of the 104th Congress was the Food Quality Protection Act, which strengthened public health protection from pesticides and required EPA to undertake a reassessment of current exposures to pesticides, especially for children. There already have been efforts to insert language in a Senate report that would delay the process until EPA completes an elaborate rulemaking, delaying important safeguards for families.