Although environmentalists in both the Clinton Administration and in Congress rejected many ‘anti-environmental’ riders from the budget, the Sierra Club has described the first session of the 106th Congress as “a missed opportunity,” brought on by last minute budget negotiations just before the Congress adjourns for the yeasr.

The Sierra Club accuses the Congress of:

  • Barring the Administration from raising automotive fuel economy standards. Sierra Club says this would be “the single biggest step to curbing global warming.”
  • Inaction on the Community Open Space Bonds bill. This is a proposal for a federal partnership with local communities to help them prevent urban sprawl.
  • Failing to act on the introduction of bills to designate 3.7 million ha of wilderness in Utah, protect the Northern Rockies Ecosystem, and permanently put the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge off limits to oil drilling.
  • Not adopting a bill to end the commercial logging of National Forests. Although the bill was introduced, gaining strong bipartisan support and a record number of sponsors, the Congress did not adopt the legislation. The Sierra Club says Congress chose to promote bills that would further expose the National Forests to logging.
  • Keeping a factory farm manure management bill bottled up in committee. The bill would require plans for beneficial use of manure, prevent the siting of factory farms in ecologically vulnerable areas, and require large meat-processing corporations, not just the individual livestock operator, to assume responsibility for the proper use or disposal of livestock waste.
  • Appropriating half of the $900 million requested by the President to fund the Land Legacy programme. The Congress also began action on a bill that would provide secure funding for land and wildlife protection. Although the bill has made progress, Sierra Club says the version pending in the House still has tradeoffs that would create new incentives for states to open their shorelines to oil drilling.

Sierra Club greeted the emergence of a growing bipartisan ‘Green Caucus’ that blocked many ‘anti-environmental’ riders. Sierra Club executive director, Carl Pope praised President Clinton, Vice President Gore and pro-environmental members on both sides of the aisle for their work.

There were also compensations for environmentalists on air pollution and renewable energy. Congress did not include an amendment tabled by electric utilities which sought to prevent the US EPA from sanctioning coal-fired power stations while the Agency goes ahead with its court case against seven utilities. (See related story).

In addition, congressional negotiators agreed to extend a tax credit for electricity produced from renewable sources as part of a $385 Bn compromise budget bill. The tax credit had expired on June 30, leading to a falling off in investment in renewables.

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