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Environmental Policy Battles in the Congressional Budget Process: The 104th Congress' Back-Door Assault

March 1997

Citation: ELR 10113

Author: Sharon Buccino and Gregory S. Wetstone

It is no secret that on coming to Washington in January 1995, the 104th Congress launched an assault on the nation's landmark environmental laws. In all, the 104th Congress considered over 60 legislative proposals that were intended to weaken environmental protection statutes. These proposals included bills to scale back or eliminate central elements of the Clean Air Act (CAA),1 the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA),2 the Endangered Species Act (ESA),3 and other environmental laws. More than merely symbolic gestures, many of these bills were priorities of powerful congressional leaders, and many passed either the full House or Senate and in several cases both.

These direct attacks on environmental statutes, however, provoked widespread public criticism and fierce legislative opposition. Outspoken critics of environmental protection programs therefore sought a less visible means of attack. The amendment of environmental laws generally requires public debate and open hearings, and attracts media attention. Those who sought to weaken environmental protection programs during the 104th Congress turned instead to the budget process as a means of achieving their antienvironmental goals while limiting opportunities for public scrutiny. They initially sought to cut spending on environmental protection programs drastically. Congressional leaders singled out federal environmental agencies for draconian and disproportionate funding cuts in the fiscal 1996 budget. The initial 1996 spending bill approved by the House for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for example, cut the Agency's budget by more than one-third.4

Ms. Buccino is a Senior Project Attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) working on a variety of legislative issues. She spear-headed NRDC's campaign to defeat the many antienvironmental proposals included in the 1996 budget bills. Ms. Buccino received her law degree from Stanford Law School and clerked for Justice Allen Compton on the Alaska Supreme Court. Mr. Wetstone is the Legislative Director for NRDC. Before joining NRDC, he served as Chief Counsel for the House Subcommittee on Health and the Environment chaired by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Cal.). Previously, he was the Director of the Air and Water Pollution Program at the Environmental Law Institute. Mr. Wetstone received his law degree from Duke University Law School.

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