Showdown looms as rider-infested funding bills head to president.
by Jenny Coyle
In the end, it will be up to Bill Clinton.
The House has already passed two spending bills loaded with anti-environmental riders, and in late July, as The Planet went to press, it looked like the Senate had even nastier measures in store.
A "rider" is an amendment, often completely unrelated, that is attached to a priority bill that is very likely to pass. Most riders could not survive independent scrutiny, which is why their champions attach them to "must-pass" bills.
A conference committee will hammer out final spending bills and decide which attachments will go along for the ride to President Clinton's desk. So in September, representatives and senators will have another chance to vote down these measures.
A similar scenario brought the government to a halt in 1995 when Clinton and Congress locked horns over rider-laden funding bills. Congress - not Clinton - took the political shrapnel that time.
"Attaching undebated anti-environmental riders to must-pass spending bills is an unacceptable way to do the nation's business," said Melanie Griffin, director of the Club's Lands Programs. "The showdown will come when these bills hit the president's desk."
Clinton has already signed one bill that includes riders allowing roads to encroach on Petroglyph National Monument in New Mexico and Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska, and delaying the cleanup of polluted air in national parks, like the Grand Canyon.
Spending bills not yet signed into law, but that have passed the House, include dozens of anti-environmental riders. For example, these measures would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from controlling mercury pollution from power plants, cleaning up dangerous PCBs from some of our nation's waterways or from developing new programs to combat global warming. Other riders would double logging in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska.
Still waiting in the wings at press time were riders to convert more than 12,000 acres of Idaho's Owyhee Canyonlands into a bombing range and authorize helicopters in Alaska's wilderness. Another measure would allow the Pentagon to ship PCBs into the country for incineration in communities that lack the resources to fight the Defense Department plan.
Conservation activists worked hard to fight back by rallying support for amendments to strip some of the worst anti-environmental riders from the Interior and EPA spending bills in the House, but most of these efforts were unsuccessful. The next battleground will be in September when these bills are acted on by the Senate.
The Wilderness Society recently released a poll that shows 75 percent of the public opposes such riders. And Vice President Al Gore recently delivered a major speech attacking riders.
Whether the administration will veto these rider-burdened bills will depend partly on public outcry.
"President Clinton must stand firmly on the side of sound public policy and environmental protection," said Griffin. "He should get his veto pen ready."
To Take Action: Write letters to the editor and expose this tactic. And tell your members of Congress and President Clinton to oppose any bill with anti-environmental riders attached. Here's a sample letter.
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