Congress flunks environmental test

At special interests' behest, members loaded budget with riders, failed to pass laws to protect wild lands, halt water pollution, curb global warming.

provided by The Sierra Club

ongress has adjourned for the year, ending a session in which it failed to act on Americans' demands to clean up pollution and protect our remaining wild lands. In its final action, Congress passed a federal budget that includes damaging anti-environmental riders, although hard work by the Clinton-Gore Administration and by Congressional environmentalists in both parties paid off as many riders were rejected from the budget.

"Congress larded up the federal budget with a heap of anti-environmental riders, and they completely failed to pass a pro-environmental agenda this year," said Sierra Club executive director, Carl Pope. "The first session of the 106th Congress can be summarized in two words, 'missed opportunities.' The Congress could justifiably called 'do nothing' for failing to take much needed action to protect America's environment for our families, for our future."

A quick overview of the missed opportunities:

Fighting Sprawl: Community Open Space Bonds bill languished. This is an innovative proposal for a federal partnership with local communities to help them plan for smart growth and fight sprawl.

Protecting our Wilderness: Although bills to designate 9.1 million acres of wilderness in Utah, protect the Northern Rockies Ecosystem, and permanently put the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge off limits to oil drilling were introduced, and gathered a record number of cosponsors, the Congress failed to act on them.

Protecting our Forests: A bill to end commercial logging of our National Forests was introduced, gaining strong bipartisan support and a record number of sponsors, but the Congress did not adopt the legislation, and instead pushed bills that would further expose our National Forests to damaging logging.

Cleaning Up Factory Farms: Legislation was introduced to give the EPA the authority it needs to require better management of livestock manure from large factory farms (H.R. 684). The bill would require plans for beneficial use of manure, prevent the siting of factory farms in ecologically vulnerable areas, and require large meat-processing corporations, not just the individual livestock operator, to assume responsibility for the proper use or disposal of livestock waste. However, it has been bottled up in committee.

Land Legacy: Congress appropriated half of the $900 million requested by the President to fund the Land Legacy program. The Congress also began action on a bill that would provide secure funding for land and wildlife protection. Although the bill has made progress, the version pending in the House still has troubling trade-offs that would create new incentives for states to open their shorelines to oil drilling.

Global Warming: Congress barred the Administration from taking the single biggest step to curbing global warming -- raising automotive fuel economy standards. It also blocked the Administration from taking other needed actions.

Family Planning: A compromise made by President Clinton and Congressional leadership attached the "Global Gag Rule" to the repayment of US debts to the United Nations. The rule will bar family planning organizations abroad from receiving US funds if they provide legal abortion services or participate in public debates on abortion policies with their own money. The President can waive the rule, but at the cost of reducing the budget for international family planning services by $12.5 million.

Despite some the missed opportunities, the good news to emerge from this Congress was a growing bipartisan "Green Caucus" that blocked many harmful riders that would have made existing regulations impotent and caused irreparable environmental damage.

"As Congress shuts down for the year, the only bright spot is that President Clinton, Vice President Gore and pro-environmental members on both sides of the aisle were able to keep the federal budget from being worse on the environment," Pope said.

"In 2000, not only will we solidify our green caucus, but we'll add to it as Americans increasingly focus on the environment and quality-of-life issues," Pope added.