"Congress, We Have A Problem"

Earth Day 1996

April 1, 1996

"Congress, We Have A Problem": Introduction

"Congress...We Have a Problem" details the environmental impacts of eight specific proposals or actions in the 104th Congress. Reports have been developed for 37 states, as well as this national report that highlights some of the most hazardous and outrageous effects of these proposals on the nation as a whole.

Several additional major initiatives in the 104th Congress take aim at the bedrock environmental safeguards that the American public depends on every day, and affect all states more or less equally. Congressional efforts to slash the EPA budget, enact so-called regulatory reform, undermine the nation's pesticide laws, and eliminate support for family planning efforts in developing nations are just some examples of this type of wholesale rollbacks.

Efforts to dismantle the EPA through drastic budget cuts, and to enact sweeping rollbacks of all environmental laws via "regulatory reform", represent truly unprecedented attempts to simply do away with the basic institutions and laws that have made possible the progress America has made in protecting the environment over the past 25 years.

Congress Dismantles the EPA

Perhaps nothing exemplifies the anti-environmental fervor of the 104th Congress more than the frontal assault on the EPA budget.

In 1995, the House of Representatives voted to cut the EPA budget by 34 percent compared to the previous year's funding, the biggest reduction by far for any major federal agency. Adding insult to injury, the House-passed budget initially contained 17 so-called "riders" that would have prohibited EPA from spending money to enforce many critical provisions of environmental law.

Specifically, this budget bill would have:

  • Slashed funds by 50 percent for enforcement of all environmental laws.
  • Made tap water dirtier by eliminating $725 million in loan funds needed by cities and towns to upgrade deteriorating drinking water treatment and delivery systems.
  • Maintained current levels of cancer-causing pesticides in food by forbidding the EPA from spending any money to enforce the Delaney clause, a ban on cancer causing pesticides in processed foods.
  • Added raw sewage to beaches and waterways by slashing enforcement money to control this pollution.
  • Delayed the cleanup of toxic dump sites by cutting $560 million from the programs supporting their cleanup.
  • Continued the spewing of thousands of tons of toxics into the nations waters by eliminating all funds to establish limits on these discharges.
  • Denied the public's right to know about toxic chemicals released in their communities by sharply cutting funds to support the Toxics Release Inventory.
  • Maintained current levels of toxic air pollution from oil refineries by prohibiting expenditures to implement regulations to reduce this pollution, that were over a decade in the making.

Ultimately these riders were eliminated from the House-passed budget, but efforts to insert them into other environmental laws continue unabated. As matters stand today, there is no agreement between the Congress and the Clinton Administration on the appropriate funding levels for the EPA.

Consequently, the agency is operating under a continuing budgetary resolution that cuts EPA's funding by 20 percent compared to last year's levels. These reduced funds severely hamper the EPA's ability to carry out its congressional mandates. Enforcement actions are off by one third in many regions of the country, meaning that pollution that is illegal and would otherwise be avoided, is occurring with little likelihood of control in the near future.

Regulatory Reform

While the attack on the EPA budget was arguably the most blatant assault, it was just one of many efforts by the 104th Congress to cripple the EPA and weaken the nation's environmental statutes.

So-called regulatory reform bills in both the House and Senate were nothing more than crude overhauls of current law designed to undercut nearly all existing environmental safeguards and require any new regulations designed to protect the environment or public health to clear a gamut of procedural roadblocks. In particular, both Senate and House bills mandated detailed risk assessment and cost/benefit studies which favored polluters, as well as new opportunities for legal challenges which would allow industry lawyers to tie up badly needed environmental safeguards for years.

As part of the "Contract with America" the House passed H.R. 1022, the so-called regulatory reform bill, on February 28, 1995. In the Senate, opponents of an almost identical bill (S. 343) successfully fought off floor consideration with parliamentary tactics on three separate occasions.

More Pesticides in Food

More than half the members of the House of Representatives have signed on to a bill, duplicitously titled "Food Quality Protection Act", that would rollback health and environmental protections that currently govern pesticides in food and the environment. The bill is sponsored by 29 members of the Senate.

The bill, which was drafted by the food and pesticide industries, would:

  • Weaken already meager protections for infants and children
  • Lift a 38-year old ban on cancer causing pesticides in processed foods (the Delaney Clause)
  • Require the EPA, when setting standards, to give greater weight to grower profits than protection of the public health
  • Deny states the right to set stricter standards for pesticides in food.

If passed and signed into law there will be more pesticides in food and water, and the EPA will have virtually no power to ban or restrict the used of the most hazardous pesticides.

International Family Planning

Stabilizing human population growth is critical to achieving environmentally sustainable economic development and reducing poverty worldwide. Family planning and reproductive health programs are critical to efforts to control population growth and protect the health of women and children in the developing world.

Opponents of family planning have raised concerns about U.S. foreign assistance funds being used to perform abortions, even though current law prohibits use of foreign assistance funds for this purpose.

In the Senate, the 1996 Foreign Operations Appropriations bill contained language which prohibited family planning assistance to organizations which, without using U.S. funds, provided legal abortion services or participated in health policy discussions on abortion. Senator Leahy (D-VT) successfully offered an amendment to strike the language.

The House Foreign Operations Appropriations bill contained similar language which was added to the bill on the floor by Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ).