Conservationists Win Important Environmental Budget Battles

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But Numerous Destructive Riders Survive

(10/16/1998) - Washington, D.C. - Environmentalists are praising the Clinton Administration for the funding and policy fights it has won in negotiations on the gigantic FY 99 omnibus appropriations bill. However, they also warn that a large number of anti-environmental provisions remain in the draft legislation, and they encourage White House negotiators not to accept a final bill until most if not all destructive riders have been axed.

"We applaud the Clinton Administration for standing up to Congress; for defeating some of the worst anti-environmental riders; and for boosting funding for clean water, global warming research, endangered species and public lands-- including critical acquisitions and Everglades restoration," said Defenders of Wildlife President Rodger Schlickeisen.

"The Administration deserves tremendous credit for what it has accomplished thus far in the battle over this giant funding bill," he noted. "Unfortunately, even at this eleventh hour, congressional negotiators keep finding new ways to attack the environment. Pernicious riders keep slipping into the appropriations package. And only a few people have had a chance to read the fine print in this huge package -- still in draft form -- being rammed through in the chaotic last days of Congress."

The Defenders president said that the chaos reflects a deliberate congressional strategy. "The congressional leadership purposefully left most appropriations bills until the end-of-Congress rush and slipped in a slew of anti-environmental riders so that they could do their dirty work out of the spotlight, without public debate. New destructive measures keep popping up."

As an example, Defenders notes, within the past 24 hours, a few Members of Congress have slipped in a provision authorizing the Wellton-Mohawk Irrigation District in Arizona to block changes to water contracts by the Secretary of Interior and thus opt out of requirements for protection of water needed by endangered species.

"With so many balls being thrown in every direction, we can't catch them all," said Schlickeisen. "If Congress enacts the dozens of anti-environmental measures still pending, it will have passed even more dirty-environment provisions than the previous Congress."

During the summer congressional recess, Defenders compiled a list of measures enacted or pending in the 105th Congress that are opposed by conservation groups. Two dozen groups sponsored a newspaper ad comparing those 70 measures to 30 enacted during the 104th Congress.

"We thank the President and his Administration for their continuing commitment to the environment during this chaotic time," Schlickeisen said today. The Defenders president has joined Administration officials repeatedly over the past four years in opposing stealth riders. Most recently, he joined Vice President Al Gore at a June White House press conference on the riders.

Defenders pointed to a number of examples of anti-environmental provisions remaining in the omnibus package. For instance, some of the measures previously contained in the Interior and other individual appropriations bills would:

  • delay mining reform on public lands
  • allow grazing on public lands without environmental review
  • allow oil and gas companies to dodge millions in royalties
  • prohibit the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service from spending money to reintroduce grizzly bears in Idaho
  • withhold funding for removal of dams on the Elwha River in Washington
  • remove Florida coastal barrier habitat from protection and
  • other provisions weakening protection for national wilderness areas, national forests and other public lands.

Moreover, an amendment to the Senate Treasury and Appropriations bill would tie up regulations of all kinds -- including environmental and health protections -- in a mass of cost-benefit red tape.

Schlickeisen emphasized, "Defenders of Wildlife greatly appreciates the Administration's pro-environment efforts. But there is still an opportunity to significantly improve this bill. Who cares if the Congress is in a rush to go home and run for re- election? The President should make them stay here until they get it right. The central lesson of this battle is that Congress is still very much out of step with the American public on the environment."

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Contact(s):

Joan Moody, 202-682-9400 x221
Mary Beth Beetham, 202-682-9400 x231 (Program)