|Last year, Minnesota Rep. James Oberstar (D) introduced a
bill that would roll back wilderness protections for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area
Wilderness in his state. It would allow trucks to haul boats across three portages in
wilderness areas. The Sierra Club has been fighting this measure vigorously, not just to
protect the Boundary Waters, but to prevent such a step backwards from becoming a
precedent for other wilderness areas.
bill is controversial and has drawn strong bipartisan opposition, it escaped public
scrutiny and floor debate. Oberstar used his position as senior Democrat on the House
Transportation Committee to attach a slightly scaled-back version to the $217 billion
federal transportation bill, which then passed both houses by a wide margin on May 22.
President Clinton signed it on June 8.
"Rep. Oberstar ignored the public will," said
Becky Rom, chair of the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. "This bill would
never become law if it were standing alone."
There's more sneaky stuff ahead, warned Sierra Club
Legislative Director Debbie Sease. "Members of the 105th Congress know that a direct
attack on laws that protect our environment is political suicide. Popular support for
environmental protection is that strong. So they're resorting to backdoor deals, attaching
anti-environment measures that couldn't pass on their own as ėriders' to unrelated
Other anti-environmental riders already "hosted"
by massive budget bills this year include one that transfers National Park Service land to
the city of Albuquerque to facilitate the construction of a six-lane commuter highway
through Petroglyphs National Monument in New Mexico, another that will delay
implementation of clean-air programs for national parks and one that authorizes the
construction of a road through Denali National Park in Alaska.
"Individually, these riders may not seem that
dangerous," said Sease, "but taken together and combined with those waiting in
the wings, they represent an incremental dismantling of the laws and programs that protect
our natural heritage. Whether the Exxon Valdez spilled all its oil at once or a thousand
gallons at a time, the results would still be devastating."
In an effort to thwart these backdoor efforts, Rep. Henry
Waxman (D-Calif.) offered his Defense of the Environment Act, H.R. 1404, which would
require an open debate and vote on all efforts to weaken environmental protection. It lost
by 31 votes.
Attaching riders is not the only tactic that our opponents
use to pass anti-environmental measures as part of the budget process. Cutting funds is
The FY'99 Budget Resolution, which set guidelines for the
committees that write appropriations bills and was approved by the House Budget Committee
on May 20, included a cut of nearly $5 billion in environmental programs. These cuts will
likely come out of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior and Agriculture
Specifically, the House version provides no funding for
President Clinton's Clean Water Action Plan and his efforts to reduce global warming
emissions. It contains inadequate funding for land management agencies and the Land and
Water Conservation Fund, which are vital to protecting endangered species, wildlands,
parks and wildlife habitat.
The Senate version contains an indirect attack on the
Endangered Species Act. It calls for the sale of our western Bureau of Land Management
lands to pay for landowner incentives under the Endangered Species Act. The Club opposes
this sale because these incentives make it more likely that a weakened ESA will pass. The
Senate budget resolution also eliminates funding to buy critical land parcels in the Lake
The FY'99 budget process began in February when the
president submitted his budget and runs until Oct. 1, when the new fiscal year begins. All
funding bills must pass by then for the federal government to keep running. On those
frequent occasions when Congress fails to meet that deadline, a continuing resolution is
adopted to provide stop-gap funding. Between 13 appropriations bills, budget resolutions
and sometimes continuing resolutions, there are plenty of opportunities for underhanded
"Throughout the summer, we'll be asking those who
care about environmental protection to keep a close eye on this complicated process,"
Budget bills most likely to serve as hosts include the
appropriation bills for Interior and Related Agencies (which includes the Forest Service),
Housing and Urban Development and Independent Agencies (which includes the EPA), Energy
and Water, Transportation and the State Department.
"We'll be combing through every bill," said
Sease, "watching every vote and holding accountable those who sponsor efforts to
weaken environmental programs, and thanking those who stand up and fight these insidious
Following are some of the measures that could appear as
riders on an appropriations bill this summer:
Alaska Air Attack: Sen. Frank
Murkowski (R-Alaska) has proposed a rider to the FY'99 Senate Interior Appropriations bill
that would reverse the policy prohibiting the landing of helicopters in Alaskan national
wildlife refuges, national parks, and wilderness and wilderness study areas.
Wilderness Road: House
Resources Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) also has plans that would compromise
wilderness protection. His H.R. 2559, the King Cove Health and Safety Act, would waive
existing environmental laws to punch the Golden Gravel Highway through the Izembek
National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Alaska. Congress has never authorized a new
permanent road in a wilderness area.
No to Kyoto: Rep. Joe
Knollenberg (R-Mich.) may offer as a rider his bill, H.R. 3807, which would block the use
of federal funds for any actions that would curb global warming pollution until the Kyoto
Global Warming Treaty is submitted to the U.S. Senate for ratification. This rider would
even prevent the installation of more-efficient light bulbs in federal buildings.
Yes to Gas Guzzlers:
Miles-per-gallon standards, one of America's most effective tools for curbing global
warming and saving oil, are also under attack. A rider to the Department of
Transportation's budget forbids the administration from spending money to even study the
possibility of raising mpg standards next year.
Quincy Could Qualify: The
House Interior Appropriations bill will likely contain funding for the Quincy Library
Group bill, H.R. 858, which would accelerate logging in the Tahoe, Plumas and Lassen
Superfund Slowdown: The EPA Appropriations bill in its
current form prevents the agency from spending money to clean up new toxic-waste sites
unless Congress separately passes legislation weakening the existing Superfund program.
Bombs Away: At press time,
Sen. Dirk Kempthorne (R-Idaho) was set to attach a rider to the Defense Authorization bill
to let the Air Force build its bombing range and supersonic battlefield in Idaho's Owyhee
Can't Even Talk About Abortion:
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) attached his "Mexico City Global Gag Rule" provision
to a foreign funding bill for the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund. This
rider would deny U.S. funding to international family-planning providers who use their own
money to perform abortions or to participate in public debate on abortion policies. The
bill has passed and is awaiting President Clinton's promised veto.
To take action: Tell
your senators and representative to oppose all efforts to attach damaging riders to
funding bills or to cut funding for environmental programs.
Write a letter to the editor stating that the use of these
anti-environmental riders must end. Say that these incremental attacks are destroying the
fabric of laws and programs that protect our air, water and natural heritage.
During the Congressional recess from June 26 to July 13,
schedule an in-district meeting or attend a town hall meeting and raise these issues
For more information: Since these riders are
sneaky, it's not easy to know what's what. For regular e-mail updates, check out Sierra
Club Action Daily (see To Take Action), or call the Club's
Legislative Hotline at (202) 675-2394.