Omnibus Appropriations Bill Chock-Full of Anti-Environmental Riders

Conservation Community Calls on Congress to Reject Riders

WASHINGTON (November 20, 2003) -- As the Omnibus conference committee continues to work on a final spending package, preparing to send it back to the Senate and House floors for a final vote, the conservation community is up in arms about a slew of riders in the Fiscal Year 2004 Omnibus Appropriations Bill that would weaken public health protections and harm the environment. NRDC (the Natural Resources Defense Council), as part of a coalition of environmental groups, yesterday sent a letter to Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young (R-FL) urging him to lead the congressional effort to reject these anti-environmental riders.

"Controversial policy decisions should be fully debated on the floor, not slipped into spending bills behind closed doors and without open debate," said Wesley Warren, NRDC's deputy advocacy director. "Attaching these sneaky provisions to legislation as significant as the Omnibus appropriations bill undercuts our country's democratic values and undermines public faith in this nation's legislative process."

The finalized omnibus appropriations bill could contain damaging provisions on an array of environmental issues, including national forests, fisheries management, air pollution and national security. The number of such riders in this year's budget bills is on the rise compared to recent years -- and more anti-environmental provisions likely will be discovered before the bill is finished. Some of the troubling provisions we know about so far include:

The House and Senate recently finished independent versions of the administration's "Healthy Forests" bill. An omnibus rider could take the worst provisions and roll them through Congress. The rider would promote logging of large trees, threaten water quality, fish and wildlife and forest health, and potentially increase fire risks. It would eliminate environmental review for a huge category of logging projects, while leaving homes and communities exposed to fire risk. (Based on H.R. 1904)

A rider by Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) would undermine states rights by stripping their Clean Air Act authority to reduce air pollution from "non-road" engines such as generators, forklifts, airport service equipment, and mining and logging equipment. The current "compromise" language would capture more than 93 percent of the engines covered by the original language. The engines covered by that amendment emitted 3.5 million short tons of smog-forming gases in 1999 -- equivalent to more than 78 million cars and SUVs. The conference committee has left an opening in the bill for Sen. Bond to offer a revised version of this rider for approval. (Included in S. 1584, Senate VA/HUD Appropriations, EPA Administrative Provisions)

A rider by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) would harm essential fish habitat and ancient deep-sea corals. The rider would also establish controversial quotas for fish/crab processing companies and shut out citizens, local communities, and state officials from participating in key fishery management decisions. The conference committee has approved a version of the rider, although the details are not yet known. (Included in S. 1585, Senate CJS Appropriations, Title IX)

A potential rider substantially increasing the backlog of projects at the Army Corps of Engineers could be attached to the omnibus bill. Based on legislation recently passed by the House, the rider would provide more than 70 special credits, individual exceptions, and waivers to standard non-federal cost-sharing requirements, encourage greater wetland destruction, weaken NEPA review of Corps projects. The provision also would fail to include much-needed reforms to the Army Corps civil works programs, including independent outside review of the economic and environmental costs of Corps projects. The Senate has not yet passed a version of this bill. (Based on H.R. 2557)

A potential rider, under the guise of wastewater security, would be a step backwards from the goal of increasing homeland security. Modeled after legislation previously offered by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), it would do little to increase safety and protect the American public. The rider would ignore potential risks and eliminate accountability for types of improvements or responsible use of taxpayer money. (Based on S. 1039)

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.