|POLITICAL SCENE||September 1996|
Clean Water Act
This act was first passed in 1972 to regulate the discharge of pollutants into U.S. surface waters. Many of its provisions have expired since it was last reauthorized in 1987. The House passed its revision (H.R. 961) last year, but the Senate never took it up. The House bill proved controversial because it redefined wetlands and the protections provided for them. Wetlands reform was the sole focus of S. 851, introduced by Sen. Lauch Faircloth (R-N.C). Opposition from Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Chafee (R-R.I.) limited action on the bill to a series of hearings.
Clean Air Act
Rather than overhaul the entire Clean Air Act, which was last amended in 1990, critics of this legislation tried to address specific grievances. Nearly 30 bills were introduced in the House and Senate. Only one (H.R. 325) has been signed by the President. This bill makes voluntary a program to reduce emissions in areas where ozone nonattainment is rated severe by cutting the number of work-related vehicle trips.
The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (better known as the Superfund law) established broad authority to clean up sites contaminated by a hazardous substance. Reforming Superfund was a high priority of this Congress, but despite a nearly universal concern over the current legislation, lawmakers proved unable to deal with the complexities of the statute. Neither the House nor the Senate scheduled even a committee vote on the two principal bills, H.R. 2500 and S. 1285.
Endangered Species Act
Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) was the somewhat unlikely culprit in slowing down progress on a bill to reauthorize the Endangered Species Act. His opposition to H.R. 2275, introduced by Resources Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska), led moderate Republicans to seek a compromise bill, but those efforts have been abandoned in the face of election-year politics. Efforts to move a bill in the Senate were derailed when sponsor Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.) admitted that industry lobbyists had written large parts of it.
Safe Drinking Water Act
The Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 protects the nation's underground sources of drinking water by regulating municipal drinking water systems and injection wells. An exception to the rule of environmental gridlock, this reauthorization effort has enjoyed broad bipartisan support. The Senate version (S. 1316) passed unanimously last November. The House originally considered a major overall of the act, but after the Administration applauded the Senate measure, it instead passed a bipartisan bill (H.R. 3604) that earned even higher marks from the White House. Representatives from the two bodies hammered out their differences in conference in late July and sent an acceptable bill to the President.
One other success story is H.R. 1627, the Food Quality Protection Act, which was signed into law last month after passing both houses by unanimous votes. The new law makes changes to the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act and the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, the two major statutes regulating pesticides.
Both the drinking water and food quality bills owe their success to broad, bipartisan support in both chambers and the lack of Administration opposition. The complexity of the congressional system combined with the checks and balances between the legislative and executive branches demand compromise on both sides of any issue.