Congress 2000 likely to oppose State of the Union environmental legislation

A US environmental NGO has warned that anti-environmental groups in the Congress will try to undo or override environmental initiatives introduced by the President in his State of the Union address.

In his State of the Union Address, President Clinton proposed measures to safeguard National Forests, stop urban sprawl, make communities more ‘liveable’, protect open spaces and parks and curb global warming (see separate article in this section). He also used his executive powers to establish new national monuments and protect US forests.

Despite public support, anti-green factions in Congress will oppose these and other environmental initiatives, the Sierra Club claims.

Below are some of the actions the Sierra Club expects to see in this year’s Congress:

  • most Congressional action regarding the environment will come in the form of anti-environmental riders on funding bills, the Sierra Club says. Along with introducing new anti-environmental legislation, riders are often used to cut or underfund programmes such as management for forests, wilderness, fish and wildlife, recreation, and curbing global warming
  • because it is an election year, Congress has scheduled only 114 legislative working days. The remainder of the year will be devoted to ‘district work periods.’ This almost guarantees that Congress will not take up much new environmental legislation or reauthorise major environmental statutes
  • last year, President Clinton announced a plan to protect up to 60 million acres (24 million ha) of US forests. Congress will probably try to halt the plan with legislative amendments
  • this month, using his authority under the Antiquities Act, President Clinton announced the designation of three national monuments. This could be the first set of a series of national monument designations this year. Congress is expected to fight to block each monument designation
  • another possible legislative vehicle could be an ‘omnibus’ public lands bill that includes measures that have not been debated by Congress. These omnibus bills can lead to popular measures being held hostage by anti-environmental amendments.

Global Warming

  • since 1996, Congress has attached a rider to the Transportation Funding bill that has frozen the fuel economy standards and has prevented the US Department of Transportation from examining the need to raise these standards. This year, three Representatives are circulating a letter in support of higher fuel economy standards. The letter urges the President Clinton to work with Congress to implement a law setting automotive fuel economy standards. Raising fuel economy standards is the biggest single step the US can take to curb global warming, the Sierra Club says
  • additional riders that could restrict the work on prevention of global warming could end up in most of next year’s appropriations bills. Attacks on funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy are also likely


  • Congress may attempt to weaken the Clean Water Act’s requirements for cities to clean up sewage overflows that occur during rainstorms. Combined Sewer Overflows (CSO) dump raw sewage, untreated industrial wastes, and contaminated urban runoff into waterways, closing beaches and shellfish beds and causing public health problems. Both houses of Congress held hearings last year on legislation to allow cities more time to clean up their sewage overflows
  • Congress may attempt to weaken the Superfund contaminated land clean-up law by lowering standards, undermining ‘polluter pays’ provisions, and eliminating the federal safety net that protects against shoddy cleanups at abandoned urban brownfield sites. House committees passed bills to weaken Superfund last year

Urban green space

  • If Congress passes the Community Open Space Bonds Act, these bills would allow communities to carry out their own conservation priorities by using zero interest bonds to purchase open space, protect water quality, improve access to parks, and help communities redevelop abandoned industrial city centres.

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