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EPA and Congress (1994-2000): Who's Been Yanking Whose Chain?

August 2001

Citation: ELR 10942

Author: Jonathan Z. Cannon

Congressional efforts to control the actions of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA or the Agency) have dominated much of the Agency's history. In the 1980s and early 1990s, Congress cast itself in the role of EPA watchdog—acting to ensure that the Agency carried out environmental laws, often in conflict with Administration officials seen as unsympathetic to those laws. Six years ago that dynamic was transformed with the arrival of a Republican majority in Congress committed to regulatory reform (with particular attention to reform of environmental regulation), paired with a Democratic administration generally considered pro-environment.

In this Article, I describe the dynamic between EPA and Congress that emerged in the wake of the 1994 congressional elections. My account centers around the crucial showdown between EPA—backed, after some initial hesitation, by the White House—and the 104th Congress over legislative proposals for substantial regulatory reforms affecting the Agency's programs and for deep cuts in the Agency's budget. It differs from other accounts of this confrontation in its attention to the role played by the Agency, as distinct from the roles played by the White House or the Administration generally and by environmental interest groups.1

Professor and Director of Environmental Programs, University of Virginia School of Law. I am grateful for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this Article received from William Buzbee, Barry Cushman, Richard Frandsen, Gary Guzy, Elizabeth Magill, Richard Merrill, Daniel Ortiz, Peter Robertson, and Steven Shimberg. I am also grateful for the research assistance of Amy Lincoln, Amy Potter, and Nessa Horewitch.

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