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Year in Review: Congress vs. Environment

Environmental laws suffer under GOP-controlled Congress

December 29, 1995
Web posted at: 12:50 a.m. EST

From Correspondent Bruce Burkhard

(CNN) -- The Republican majority swept in this year on the strength of a contract that didn't even mention the environment, but the silence didn't last long.

"The EPA, the Gestapo of government, pure and simply has been one of the major clawholds that the government has maintained on the backs of our constituents," said the majority whip, Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas. (128K AIFF sound or 128 WAV sound)

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska said the EPA has "put my people out of work. Thousands of jobs right now are in jeopardy, (and) mills are being shut down." (102K AIFF sound or 102K WAV sound)

The leader of the Republican revolution, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who once taught a college environmental studies course, was more restrained, but the message of change was still clear.

"There are things we do in this country in the name of the environment that aren't defensible as common sense," Gingrich said.


Twenty-five years after the first Earth Day and the founding of the EPA, nearly every major environment law faced a stiff challenge from the new Congress in 1995. The assaults on the Clean Water Act and its wetlands restrictions, the Endangered Species Act and more prompted the Clinton administration to use some fighting words of its own.

"They're out to simply repeal those laws, they make no secret of it," said Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt. "Their job is to tear down the bipartisan architecture of laws and regulations that have been put together over the last generation." (153K AIFF sound or 153K WAV sound)

By year's end, it was a standoff: proposed changes in endangered species protection, clean water and property rights law are still on hold. So are the deep cuts passed by Congress in the EPA and Interior Department budgets.

The reformers did win exemptions from environmental laws for salvage logging.


The timber industry says it needs to cut dead and dying trees to protect forest health and preserve jobs. Conservationists call it a ploy to open up new forests to cutting. They blasted President Clinton for signing the salvage logging bill into law. But they later praised the president for sticking to his environmental guns in the budget battle.

"This budget would give oil companies the right to drill in the last unspoiled Arctic Wilderness in Alaska," said Clinton as he vetoed a spending proposal. "It is loaded with special interest provisions that squander our natural resources."

Some observers expect this year's battle to be a prelude to environmental issues playing a key role in next year's elections.

"Just in the past year, (Clinton) has found it's become a useable political issue for him," said Phil Shabecoff, co- publisher of The Greenwire. "He has become much more active and outspoken on the environment." (94K AIFF sound or 94K WAV sound)

But a leaders of the backlash against environmental regulations say it may cost the president in the West, the portion of the country most affected by environmental laws.


"I think that President Clinton's War on the West has cost him at least five states that he won in 1992," said Chuck Cushman of the American Land Rights Association. "He's going to have to pick up those electoral votes other places. My guess is those states will not go with him again."

While conservationists say key environmental laws will be far from safe in 1996, the future for both the bald eagle and peregrine falcon looks better. Both were removed from the endangered species list this year.

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