Bloated Omnibus Bill also Blighted by Anti-Environmental Riders

WASHINGTON (December 8, 2003) - This year's FY 2004 omnibus appropriations bill, recently reported by House and Senate negotiators, contains damaging provisions on an array of environmental issues, affecting fisheries management, air pollution, and energy development.

"Controversial policy decisions such as these should be fully debated out in the open, not slipped into massive spending bills behind closed doors," says Wesley Warren, a senior fellow at NRDC (the Natural Resources Defense Council).

Some of the troubling provisions include the following:

Small Engines, Big Pollution:

A deal has been negotiated between Senators Bond and Feinstein that would undermine air pollution protections in 49 states, excluding California. Language included in the omnibus bill would strip states' existing Clean Air Act authority to reduce air pollution from "non-road" engines, a substantial and growing source of smog and soot pollution. The rider would block states from reducing pollution from non-road gasoline engines under 50 horsepower, such as those used in lawn and garden equipment, forklifts, off-road motorcycles, all terrain vehicles, and recreational boats. California's authority under the Clean Air Act remains intact.

Tossing Groundfish Conservation Overboard:

A rider by Senator Collins (R-ME) seeks to remove the ability of the National Marine Fisheries Service to implement new regulations required to prevent overfishing and rebuild severely depleted fish populations (including species such as cod, haddock and yellowtail flounder) in North Atlantic waters. The rider would allow for continued overfishing of these stocks, and is in contravention of a federal court order and the statutory requirements of the Magnuson Stevens Act.
The majority of New England's groundfish stocks are at unsustainably low levels and nearly half are being fished at unsustainably high rates. Any further delay in stopping overfishing and in rebuilding New England's groundfish populations not only jeopardizes the sustainability of New England's fishery resources and fishing communities, but sets a dangerous national precedent for Congressional micro-management of complex federal fishery conservation rules, rules that the National Marine Fisheries Service and the New England Fishery Management Council are currently in the process of developing through a public process. This rider would subvert that public process and threaten conservation of an imperiled, nationally significant resource.

Sinking Fish Protections:

A rider by Senator Stevens (R-AK) would establish controversial quotas for fish/crab processing companies and shut out citizens, local communities, and state officials from participating in key fishery management decisions. While the harmful essential fish habitat provision has been removed during Senate negotiations, the final package contains the majority of the riders' objectionable provisions.

Mandating a Pipeline Pipe Dream:

A last minute rider was added to the Omnibus Appropriations bill after first being defeated during the conference committee meeting on the Energy Policy Act of 2003 (HR6). It would make available $14.4 billion in loan guarantees ($2 billion in federal costs) for building an alternative "west route" of the Alaska gas pipeline which would follow the Alaska oil pipeline to tidewater in south central Alaska where the gas would be liquefied and loaded on tankers for shipment to a mandated west coast "receiving LNG terminal." The pending energy bill makes these subsidies available for the all-land route which follows the Alaska oil pipeline and then the Alaska highway to the Lower 48 which has been debated extensively. All parts of the "west route" system including the terminals would qualify for the loan guarantees. Before this rider was included in the Omnibus bill, neither the House nor the Senate had fully considered either a "west route" or the proposal.

A project of this magnitude should not be tucked into a huge spending bill after being rejected by another conference committee. Concerns regarding the economic and environmental impacts of these plants have not yet been fully addressed. More public scrutiny and debate is needed to investigate the potential impacts on coastal areas both on and off shore. By providing massive subsides for LNG facilities the Alaska delegation has once again mandated that the environment and American taxpayers pick up the tab for their allies in the oil and gas industry.

Dreadful Columbia River Dredging:

A rider in the omnibus spending bill extends the authorization of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to spend $148.4 million deepening the lower Columbia River and estuary by 3 feet. This dredging would create 14.5 million cubic yards of spoils -- with an additional 90 million cubic yards to be dredged over the next 20 years to maintain the depth. In the current plan, these dredging activities would degrade the lower Columbia River and its estuary, habitat identified by scientists and a federal recovery plan as critical to the recovery of threatened and endangered Columbia River salmon. Dredging and dredge spoil disposal will also harm crab, sturgeon and other aquatic life valuable to the communities along the Columbia River. Not only is this project an environmental catastrophe, but also it is an economic boondoggle, with the Corps ignoring the concerns of its own expert economic review panel about overstated costs and benefits to the American taxpayer and U.S. companies.

For more information contact NRDC's Wesley Warren at (202) 289-2392.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 550,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.