Budget signed, groups sigh in relief
Everglades National Park is expected to be a benefactor of the Land and Water Conservation Fund appropriation in the fiscal 2000 budget.
December 1, 1999
Web posted at: 11:44 a.m. EST (1644 GMT)
By Environmental News Network staff
Substantial funding for the Lands Legacy Initiative and the conspicuous absence of several riders and proposed riders from the Fiscal 2000 Omnibus Appropriations Bill (H.R. 3194) have environmentalists issuing a collective sigh of relief. Clinton signed the $385 billion spending measure Monday.
Congress was supposed to have passed the 13 bills that allocate money to the federal government by Oct. 1, but seven continuing resolutions extending the deadline were required before the bill was sent to Clinton in a form he would sign. The bill Clinton signed Monday combines the funding for the departments of Commerce, Justice, State, Interior, Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, and the Government of the District of Columbia.
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"We value the environment and this budget protects the environment and preserves our precious natural heritage," said Clinton after signing the measure. "It includes our historic Lands Legacy Initiative to set aside more of our magnificent natural areas and vital green spaces and does not include destructive, anti-environmental riders."
Congress set aside $600 million for the Lands Legacy Initiative, twice what it had originally offered. The president had requested $847 million for the program, but environmentalists are still counting the funding as a win. "Although it does not meet his full funding request for Lands Legacy, this is a major increase in funding for land acquisition over recent years," according to the League of Conservation Voters.
The bill contains $450 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is quite a bit more than the $75 million budgeted last year and the $266 million in earlier versions of the bill.
Anti-environmental riders removed from the final legislation include:
- a provision that would have made wildlife surveys on Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land an optional part of the land management planning process;
- another that would have prevented the National Marine Fisheries Service from taking steps to protect endangered Pacific Northwest salmon in Alaska waters;
- a rider that would have prevented the reintroduction of grizzly bears in the northern Rockies; and
- a move to delay implementation of regulations governing overflights of the Grand Canyon.
Riders that were modified but still contained in the final measure include:
- Oil company royalties A rider to prevent the administration from issuing new rules to ensure that oil companies pay their fair share of royalties for oil extracted from public land was modified to allow the administration to issue the new rules after March 15, 2000.
- Mine waste dumping The Department of Interior will be allowed to limit the amount of waste dumped by mines that applied for operating permits after May 21 of this year, but the limit on waste dumping will not apply retroactively to mines that are already operating or that submitted operating plans prior to that date.
- Hardrock mining rules An attempt to prevent the Department of Interior from issuing new hardrock mining regulations was modified to allow the department to issue the regulations so long as they are consistent with recommendations made by the National Academy of Sciences.
Two riders proposed for the final spending bill were not included in the legislation. Legislation that would have exempted coal mining practices in the state of West Virginia from federal environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act, never made it into print. Also absent was a provision that would exempt a number of utility companies from having to comply with the Clean Air Act.
The League of Conservation Voters expects these two riders to return during the next legislative session.
One major anti-environmental rider remained in the omnibus appropriations bill. The Bureau of Land Management will be allowed to reissue grazing permits for up to 10 years without completing the environmental reviews which are required by the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.
In a political sleight of hand, an anti-environmental rider proposed by Sen. Robert Byrd, D-West Virginia, Sen. Larry Craig, R- Idaho, and Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, was not included in the final spending measure.
In what has been referred to by the League of Conservation Voters as a "symbolic gesture", the Senate leaders allowed H.J.Res. 82 to be attached to one of the continuing resolutions. The rider would have given mountaintop coal mines an exemption from federal environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act, allowing them to dump mining waste in streams and rivers. The rider would also have prevented the federal government from issuing new rules for hardrock mines on public land and would have prevented the federal government from limiting the amount of mine waste that could be dumped on federal land.
The rider did not become law because Clinton signed H.J. Res. 83, the second continuing resolution.
In the end, for Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope, the 106th Congress failed the test. "Congress larded up the federal budget with a heap of anti-environmental riders and they completely failed to pass a pro-environmental agenda this year," he said in a statement Nov. 22. "The first session of the 106th Congress can be summarized in two words, 'missed opportunities.'"
On the bright side, Pope does see the emergence of a growing bipartisan "Green Caucus" that successfully blocked many harmful riders.
"In 2000, not only will we solidify our green caucus, but we'll add to it as Americans increasingly focus on the environment and quality-of-life issues," he said.
Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved
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