Riding high on political inappropriations
Appropriations bill is stuffed with pork
— and some horse meat, too The last few months
have seen the annual appropriations pageant in Washington, D.C., as
Congress worked to pass the funding bill that keeps the government
going. The "omnibus appropriations" bill has long been a favorite
vehicle for lawmakers’ pet projects that didn’t get a
hearing in the regular sessions or couldn’t make it through
Congress on their own.
This year, the 3,000-page, $388.4
billion appropriations bill is hung like a Christmas tree, with
funding earmarked for over 11,000 local projects and scores of
unrelated "riders." Western lawmakers were among the most prolific,
pushing through some contentious policy changes that carry
significant implications for the public lands. Not all of the
anti-environmental riders survived to see the president’s
pen, however, indicating that at least some lawmakers are aware
that the public, and the environmental movement, are watching.
Montana Sen. Conrad Burns, R, who chairs the Senate
Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, was behind some of the more
notable riders. One Burns rider prevents the National Park Service
from reducing the number of snowmobiles allowed into Yellowstone
and Grand Teton national parks this winter. A second will let the
Bureau of Land Management sell wild horses and burros over the age
of 10, or that no one wants to adopt, to commercial processing
facilities for slaughter.
Another rider from Burns’
committee allows the Forest Service to issue 900 grazing permits
without the public oversight or environmental review normally
required under the National Environmental Policy Act. During
committee hearings on the issue, New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici, R,
expressed his frustration with the agency’s backlog of
reviews intended to address the impacts of livestock on millions of
acres. Last year, a rider on the appropriations bill allowed
ranchers’ 10-year permits to be renewed before the NEPA
process was complete, but this year’s language eliminates the
requirement entirely. Randy Moorman, a legislative representative
for Earthjustice, says 80 percent of Western riparian areas are
degraded by grazing, and now, "We’re stuck with the bad
practices for another 10 years."
Another rider extends the
controversial "fee demonstration program" which allows land
managers to charge the public to visit public lands. The program
gets 10 more years of life, despite the fact that in some places,
it costs agencies more to collect the fees than they bring in (HCN,
1/19/04: A moment of truth for user fees). Rep. Ralph Regula, a
Republican from Ohio with no public lands in his district, led the
effort to include the rider, which was opposed by many Western
citizens and lawmakers. The rider was amended to prevent fees for
parking and recreation on national forests.
A few of the
more contested riders were dropped from the final bill, including
one from Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith, R, that would have prevented
citizens from mounting court challenges to salvage-logging sales on
parts of the Siskiyou National Forest burned by the 2002 Biscuit
Fire (HCN, 12/22/03: Massive logging plan shakes Northwest). Sen.
Burns stuck a rider on last year’s omnibus appropriations
bill that sped up a similar salvage-logging project in Montana.
And public heath prevailed when Idaho Sen. Larry Craig,
R, failed to sneak through a rider that would have exempted giant
dairy farms and other farming factories from reporting the amount
of toxic chemicals they release into the air. California Sen.
Dianne Feinstein, D, helped to kill the rider after neighbors of
one Idaho dairy forced its owners to admit they had dumped 130 tons
of ammonia into the air in 2003.
Also scrapped were two
riders that would have weakened the Endangered Species Act. One of
them — said to be a product of Burns’ collaboration
with the Farm Bureau — would have allowed the Environmental
Protection Agency to approve pesticides and herbicides without
considering their impacts on endangered species.
rider, which was pushed by California developers, included two
provisions related to habitat conservation plans, which protect
endangered species habitat on state and private land while still
allowing some development. The first would have made law the
Clinton-era No Surprises rule, which prevents agencies from
refining habitat conservation plans based on new science or changes
in land-management practices. The second would have exempted
habitat conservation plans from review by the U.S Fish and Wildlife
Service and NOAA Fisheries under Section 7 of the Endangered
Species Act. "They’re trying to rip the heart out of the
Endangered Species Act while claiming minor toe surgery," says
Kieran Suckling of the Center for Biological Diversity.
California Sen. Barbara Boxer, D, and Washington Rep. Norman Dicks,
D, led the charge against the rider. Environmentalists say they
expect to see these issues again, as Congress winds up to rewrite
the Endangered Species Act next year.
come back stronger in the next Congress," says Suckling. "This was
a shot across the bow." President Bush signed the bill Dec. 8.
The writer is an HCN intern.