Sierra Club: The Planet--July/August 1996
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The Planet
The Lowest of the Low

A Sample of Congressional Attacks on the Environment in 1995

At the behest of corporate polluters and extractive industries, leaders of the 104th Congress used a dizzying array of back-door tactics in an attempt to roll back America's hard-won environmental protections. Here's a sampling:

Polluter's Bill of Rights

What it is: Wrapped in Constitution-thumping rhetoric, the GOP leadership's Contract With America nevertheless contains fine print that takes away America's hard-won environmental and public-health protections. Equally damaging are a Senate "takings" bill, S. 605, and Sen. Bob Dole's (R-Kan.) "regulatory reform" bill, S. 343 -- which would roll back the nation's health, safety and environmental laws by subjecting them to draconian "risk assessment" and "cost-benefit" analyses.

Where it's at: The House approved most of the Contract during its notorious first 100 days, but it stalled in the Senate. The Senate defeated Dole's S. 343 three times; President Clinton has vowed to veto both S. 343 and S. 605.

Logging Without Laws

What it is: GOP leaders attached a timber industry-written rider to a 1995 budget-rescissions bill that ostensibly mandates "salvage logging" of dead and dying trees -- but in fact allows the timber industry to sidestep environmental laws and clearcut healthy old-growth forests. Despite receiving more than 50,000 calls and letters from citizens opposing the rider, President Clinton signed it into law in July, unleashing a wave of public anger. Since then, chainsaws have been roaring in America's old-growth forests, sparking massive citizen protests.

Where it's at: Reps. Elizabeth Furse (D-Ore.) and Connie Morella (R-Md.) introduced a House bill in December, H.R. 2745, that would repeal the rider.

If At First You Don't Succeed...

What it is: Initiatives to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge have consistently been shot down by the American people. So to avoid another messy confrontation with the public, the new congressional leadership drew up a seven-year budget plan that assumed huge revenues from oil-and-gas leasing in the refuge (though Alaskan GOP Rep. Don Young and Sen. Frank Murkowski have since admitted that they will go to court to ensure that Alaska gets 90 percent of the revenue). That done, they presented President Clinton with the infamous train-wreck scenario: go along with the plan, or veto the entire federal budget.

Where it's at: Thanks to relentless pressure from citizen activists nationwide, Clinton vetoed the budget reconciliation bill in November. At press time Congress had yet to present Clinton with another version of the bill.

Hiding Dirty Work in Budget Bills

What it is: Peeved that the 103rd Congress actually passed a piece of environmental legislation, the California Desert Protection Act, new leaders in Congress retaliated by allocating just $1 for Park Service administration of the new Mojave National Preserve in H.R. 1077, the 1996 Interior Department appropriations bill. They also buried several other anti-environmental provisions in the bill, including a measure to allow clearcutting in Alaska's ancient Tongass National Forest.

Where it's at: President Clinton vetoed the Interior appropriations bill in December.

EPA Funding Follies

What it is: Americans haven't asked Congress to stop enforcing environmental protections. Yet congressional leaders, calling the Environmental Protection Agency "the Gestapo of government," took it upon themselves to slash the agency's budget by a third, which would seriously impair the EPA's ability to protect Americans' health and safety. GOP leaders also attached 17 riders to the EPA funding bill, H.R. 2099, that would weaken environmental and health safeguards.

Where it's at: Buoyed by support from the public and the media, moderates in the House rallied twice to peel the 17 riders off the EPA appropriations bill. Some of the riders were eventually restored in the Senate, but President Clinton vetoed the final bill in December.

If You Don't Like It, Rewrite It (1)

What it is: Lobbyists from polluting industries openly penned a Clean Water Act reauthorization, H.R. 961, introduced in the House this spring by Rep. Bud Shuster (R-Pa.). Dubbed the "Dirty Water Act" by the Sierra Club, the bill rolls back protections for the nation's wetlands, lakes, rivers and streams.

Where it's at: H.R. 961 won approval from the House, but it stalled in the Senate. President Clinton has promised a veto if it's sent to his desk.

If You Don't Like It, Rewrite It (2)

What it is: First, Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.) introduced an Endangered Species Act reauthorization that throws out the scientific basis of the law by claiming that habitat has nothing to do with species protection and allows government bureaucrats to "play God" by deciding to let certain species go extinct. Reps. Don Young (R-Alaska) and Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) then introduced a similar House bill, H.R. 2275.

Where it's at: Congressional leaders, confronted by a rising tide of public anger, decided not to try for a full House vote on the bills in 1995; Clinton has vowed to veto them both.

Sham Wilderness

What it is: A coalition of citizen groups, including the Sierra Club, developed a people's proposal to protect 5.7 million acres of Utah's remaining wildlands, introduced in Congress by Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) as H.R. 1500. But Utah's congressional delegation ignored their constituents' plan, and instead introduced S. 884 and H.R.1745, bills that would nominally protect just 1.8 million acres of Utah's public lands and redefine the 1964 Wilderness Act to allow resource exploitation, development and motorized recreation in wilderness.

Where it's at: A Senate committee passed S. 884. Reps. Jim Hansen and Enid Waldholtz, both Utah Republicans, yanked H.R. 1745 from consideration for a House floor vote at the last minute when moderate Republicans began to line up in opposition to the bill.

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