Attacking the environment through the yearly appropriations process is not new. But this year's Congress may take it to new heights.
No less an authority than
House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., has acknowledged the scope of
policy changes hooked on to appropriations bills: he called them
"without precedent going back to 1933."
attacks range from the bold move by the House to prevent the
Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing 17 environmental
regulations to an obscure waiver of the Clean Water Act so that a
golf course developer can build on wetlands in the district of a
Although some observers say
cutting the fat from environmental programs is long overdue, most
say the congressional ax is aimed at too much meat, and could have
a dramatic effect on public lands, wildlife, and air and water
The attacks are woven through 13
appropriations bills Congress must approve each year to give
federal agencies money to carry out their programs. They take one
of two forms: straightforward cuts in existing programs or riders
that fundamentally change existing law. These changes to law are
more difficult to stop than legislation which openly seeks to
change policy, such as the rewrite of the Endangered Species
One reason is timing. Unlike other bills,
appropriations measures must be signed into law by Oct. 1. If they
are not, the government shuts down. A recent story in the
Congressional Quarterly notes that this puts enormous pressure on
the President to sign the bills, even if he disagrees with some
By folding cuts and
legislative changes into spending bills, Republicans also blunt the
lobbying efforts of environmentalists. The timber salvage sales
rider that was attached to the 1995 Rescission Bill is a case in
point, says Cathy Carlson, a lobbyist with the National Wildlife
Federation (HCN, 6/26/95). The measure was deftly tucked into the
much larger bill, which cut $16 billion in spending for housing and
social programs and provided funds for aid for disaster relief in
California and Oklahoma.
Although the House has
inserted drastic changes into the appropriations bills, their final
forms may be substantially more moderate. Already there are cracks
in the Republicans' once-solid front. House Republicans just barely
passed the restrictive Environmental Protection Agency's budget
bill. And the Senate has not included many of the more radical
The differences between House and
Senate bills will be worked out in September by conference
committees working mostly behind closed doors.
the end, President Clinton could still veto the bills: He recently
threatened to veto the EPA bill, which he called "the polluters
protection act." But environmentalists shut out of the negotiations
this year aren't betting on vetoes.
some of the budget cuts and policy changes in this year's
* Endangered Species. The
House Interior appropriations bill halts funding for endangered
species listing and prelisting for FY 1996. It also removes $15
million for regular activities, such as recovery planning for
already listed plants and animals.
bill axes the National Biological Survey, which collects data on
plant and animal species and their habitats. The Senate version
maintains the NBS.
The Senate bill halts all
funding for the model Columbia Ecosystem Management Project and
prevents development of new guidelines to protect fish habitat,
such as PACFISH and INFISH.
* Bureau of Land
Management. Both the House and Senate bills cut funding for the BLM
by 5 percent. "I think we are not doing as much for the resources
as we would like to do, and now we will be doing less," says Ann
Morgan, BLM state director for Nevada.
and Water Conservation Fund. Both houses slash federal land
acquisition funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund by
over 70 percent. For BLM alone, that puts 80 priority acquisition
projects at risk, says BLM spokesman Bob Henry.
National Park Service. The House bill provides no money to the
agency for managing the new Mojave National Preserve. "Were looking
at potentially the first park closure," says Phil Voorhees,
spokesman for the National Parks and Conservation Association. The
bill also cuts $68 million from the Park Service's land acquisition
budget. The bill does add $10 million for park
* Mining. After a one-year
moratorium, the Senate bill opens the door for the selling of
mining claims based solely on the surface value of the land. The
House bill maintains the ban against low-priced sales of mining
claims on federal lands as well as the 14-year moratorium against
offshore oil and gas drilling in many coastal
Both House and Senate bills force the
Office of Surface Mining to cut 38 percent of its staff. OSM
enforces environmental regulations at mining sites through the
West. The bills shuts down the rural abandoned mine program, a move
supported by the Clinton administration.
of Reclamation. The House bill adds $5 million in start-up money
for the Animas-La Plata Project in southern Colorado, despite a
recent Bureau of Reclamation study that the project was
* Forest Service.
The House bill cuts resource protection programs while increasing
the timber budget by 30 percent. Compared to last year's actual
spending, this year's budget proposals cut forest research by $12
million; state and private forestry by $24 million; ecosystem
planning by $20 million; recreation spending by $1.3 million; fish
and wildlife management by $3.2 million; and rangeland management
by $27 million.
Timber sales, however, get a
$7.5 million increase, allowing a green harvest level of almost 3
billion board-feet. That is in addition to the estimated 4 billion
board-feet that could be cut over the next two years under the
salvage logging rider mentioned above.
Environmental Protection Agency. The House bill slashes by
one-third the budget of the agency charged with enforcing most
pollution laws. The bill forbids adding new hazardous waste
superfund sites and cuts $725 million from Safe Drinking Water Act
programs. In addition, it contains 17 separate riders which kill
enforcement programs that monitor areas such as raw sewage
discharges, stormwater runoff, pesticides in processed food,
wetlands, toxic releases at oil and gas refineries, radon in water,
and lead-based paint.
Rick Keister is a
Research Fellow at High Country