At the last minute, out of the quagmire of the 105th Congress came word that the federal government is plunking down a $40 million down payment on the sprawling Baca Ranch in New Mexico (HCN, 8/3/98).
In a Congress with few
environmental victories, environmentalists were happy to put this
one in the win column: "A year ago we had zero money," says Jeremy
Kruger of the National Parks and Conservation Association in
Albuquerque, N.M. "Now we have $40 million."
There's little else in the hastily packaged
7,000-page omnibus budget bill to cheer over, however, even though
many of the worst environmental offenders were struck from spending
packages early on.
"It's a pretty ugly
collection," says Greg Wetstone, the legislative director for the
Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, D.C. It wasn't
until Congress passed the bill that environmentalists, and even
members of Congress, discovered exactly what it contained. Some
measures, such as a rewritten version of the Quincy Library Bill,
were never debated on the floor of the House or Senate before they
were attached as riders (see story page 4). Since the measures
slipped through late in the session, the public didn't have the
chance to learn the details of what might soon become
"All this was happening in the dark,"
Wetstone says. "What we see is an unprecedented abandonment of the
democratic process on legislating environmental issues."
And that, he says, is how Congress passed
measures that couldn't have made it through as stand-alone
legislation. Anti-environmental riders leave a trail across the
West; here's a sampling of what slipped through in the final
* A failed deal between the administration
and Washington Sen. Slade Gorton, R, means that removal of the
Elwha River dams on Washington's Olympic Peninsula will not begin
this fiscal year. Gorton had been willing to back deconstruction of
the dams on the coastal Elwha River in exchange for a congressional
measure that would have made it difficult to remove any dams in the
Columbia River Basin. The administration rejected the arrangement,
and Gorton cut funding for the Elwha project.
Though new and stricter BLM hardrock mining regulations are ready,
a rider puts them on hold for another year while the National
Academy of Sciences studies the new
"Basically, there is no need to study it,"
says Dan Randolph of the Mineral Policy Center. "It's just a stall
* Another rider stalls for nine years a
new clean-air program for the national parks. It's a frustrating
blow to clean-air advocates.
"We have the ability
and the technology and the knowledge to protect park air right
now," says Dave Simon of the NPCA in Albuquerque, N.M. "It's the
worst kind of political meddling."