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The Planet

    The Planet
    July/August 1998, Volume 5, Number 6

    Sneak Attack
    How Anti-Environmental Measures 'Ride' to
    Passage on the Back of Funding Bills


    by Alita Wilson

    It's budget season. Watch out for the sneaky stuff. And hold the bad guys accountable.
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.

Though the 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 must-pass bills."

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 another favorite.

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 departments.

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 Tahoe Basin.

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 tactics.

"Throughout the summer, we'll be asking those who care about environmental protection to keep a close eye on this complicated process," said Sease.

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 end runs."

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 national forests.
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 Canyonlands.

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 directly.

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.


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