The nation's leading conservation groups warned today that damaging congressional attacks on the environment are expected to proliferate this summer as Congress rushes to adjourn before the November elections.
The groups expect that most anti-environmental riders will be added to "must pass" appropriations bills that Congress has to enact in order to avoid a government shutdown.
"Polluters and their allies in Congress are trying to hide their attacks on our environmental and public health protections in massive federal spending bills," said Gene Karpinski, executive director of U.S. PIRG and chairman of a task force comprising many the nation's largest environmental organizations. The groups identified in this release have agreed to jointly oppose all anti-environment riders.
Last year, more than 70 riders were proposed for 11 appropriations bills. Some of the most egregious riders were withdrawn or defeated after being exposed to public scrutiny. Nevertheless, appropriations riders remain the favorite tactic for sneaking through anti-environmental provisions that would not survive as stand alone legislation.
"We successfully held off many of these environmental sneak attacks last year and we are prepared to fight to the end again this year if necessary," said Karpinski. "But we hope that won't be necessary and that congressional leaders will respect the public's overwhelming desire to keep environmental protection laws intact."
One of the first appropriations bills of this year -- funding the Department of Agriculture – will be considered by House and Senate subcommittees today. Environmental groups expect Rep. Joseph Knollenberg (R-MI) to repeat his efforts to use the House bill to block federal efforts to address global climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Other anti-environmental proposals that conservation groups expect to be proposed this year include:
Accelerated destruction of wetlands -- The National Association of Home Builders has vowed to block new Army Corps of Engineers regulations that would reduce wetlands destruction caused by nationwide development permits. Rep. Ron Packard (R-CA) may attempt to attach this rider to the Agriculture or Energy and Water spending bill.
Exploitation of national forests -- Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) is expected to try to fatally delay a Forest Service proposal to protect 40-60 million acres of national forests as roadless areas. Sen. Slade Gorton (R-WA) has also promised to undermine this protection for old-growth forests and open up these ancient woodlands to more clearcutting. This rider is expected to be included in the Interior spending bill.
Blocking action on global climate change -- Rep. Knollenberg may try to limit the government's ability to address climate change issues and help other countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by attaching riders to several spending bills. A similar Knollenberg rider became law as part of the Omnibus Appropriations Bill last year. A rider attached to the Transportation spending bill will likely try block new miles-per-gallon standards that would help curb global warming and save consumers money at the gas pump.
Expand toxic mine wastes -- Sen. Craig also is expected to continue his efforts to weaken the 1872 Mining Law by legalizing unlimited toxic mine waste dumping on public lands for the hardrock mining industry – our nation's largest toxic polluter. He may attach such a rider to the Interior spending bill.
These are only a few of the dozens of anti-environmental riders that conservation groups fear could be offered this year, which means a particularly bad summer for the environment in Congress. "In this election year, protection for the environment is going to be a measuring stick for many members of Congress," said Karpinski. "We urge members of Congress to oppose all attacks on environmental and public health protections," he added.
Riders that were proposed last year would have jeopardized wildlife and wetlands, national parks, forests and public lands, and would have put Americans at risk from dirty water, polluted air, and global warming. Among the most damaging anti-environmental riders last year were:
A global warming rider that prohibited the Department of Transportation from increasing miles per gallon standards. This rider, passed on the Department of Transportation bill, cost consumers more money at the pump and contributed to global warming pollution.
An anti-wildlife rider, attached by Sen. Craig to the Interior spending bill but ultimately defeated, would have allowed federal agencies to ignore the devastating effects of logging and mining on wildlife in our National Forests.
A dirty air rider, pushed by Representatives Ted Strickland (D-OH), Michael Oxley (R-OH), Todd Tiahrt (R-KS) and Richard Burr (R-NC) but ultimately blocked, would have allowed electric power plants to pollute without fear of enforcement action by the federal government.
A grazing rider, enacted as part of the Omnibus Appropriations bill after being attached by Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM), automatically allowed destructive grazing on ecologically sensitive land to continue regardless of damage to public resources.
A noise pollution rider, tried to delay National Park Service efforts to reduce noise pollution in the Grand Canyon. This rider was proposed by Senators Richard Bryan (D-NV) and Harry Reid (D-NV) on behalf of the air tour industry that wanted to delay restrictions on sightseeing overflights at the park.
A full list of the proposals that were opposed by the environmental community last year can be found at http://www.defenders.org/riders/riders.html