1982 Congress: Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act and More

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There’s a lot of legislation up for discussion in the ninety-seventh Congress on issues of importance to MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ readers. Now’s the time to become informed and make your voice heard.

A number of major decisions affecting this nation’s health, environment and energy policies are likely to be made during the second half of 1982. And, unfortunately, in many instances the general public doesn’t even hear about such legislation until after the votes are cast. However, though it’s nearly impossible to predict exactly what Congress will be debating at any given moment, one of MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ staffers has rounded up information on some of the issues that will be on the minds of the people on Capitol Hill during the current session.

We hope that the following list will be of interest to you . . . and that you’ll take the time to voice your opinions on these issues to your elected representatives.

Environmental Bills in Congress

• The Clean Air Act, which is up for re-authorization, is likely to be one of the most important pieces of legislation acted upon this year. Not much progress had been made at the time of this writing, but several different bills have been introduced … including one, sponsored by Michigan Democrat Bob Traxler (HR 4400), that would establish carbon monoxide standards for automobiles at 7 grams per vehicle mile (GPM) instead of the current 3.4 GPM. Another (bipartisan) bill, which was backed by the White House in mid-December, proposes an easing of auto emission limits (but doesn’t say by how much) and would also extend the deadlines for meeting federal clean air standards to 1993 (from the current 1982 and 1987 target dates). This bill (HR 5252) is cosponsored by John D. Dingell, another Michigan Democrat who — it can be assumed — would like to accommodate the automobile industry’s desire for major changes in the law.

• Several key environmental laws included in the Clean Water Act will be up for review this year as well. The authorization to fund many of the act’s programs expires in September (except for those concerning sewer grants, which were reauthorized in 1981). In particular, a review of Section 404 — which states that federal permits are required for any dredging in wetland areas — can be expected to result in heated debate. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers seeks to redefine “wetlands” to allow more builders to develop land without having to obtain federal permits. There is also still some question as to whether the Corps or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should issue such permits.

• Morris Udall, a Democrat from Arizona, has submitted a bill (HR 3208) that would increase appropriations to $450 million — from the present allocation of $100 million — for structural improvements to 48 federal dams in the western U.S. Udall states that the modifications are needed because the dams were built before current natural disaster prediction techniques were developed . . . and none of the dams would, at present, be capable of withstanding a major flood or earthquake.

• Lobbyists are pressing for an extension on the 1984 deadline for the cleanup of polluted river systems stating that the EPA has yet to issue guidelines. Also up for discussion is the question of whether the EPA or the individual states should decide how thoroughly industry must detoxify chemical wastes before dumping them into municipal sewage treatment systems.

• The House and the Senate both have written bills (HR 3432 and S 1095) that would establish a national water policy board to operate independently of the Interior Department. The measures appear to represent a strong bipartisan effort to prevent Interior Secretary James Watt from dominating water policy.

• In related action, both the House Interior and the Senate Energy Committees are working on revisions of a law enacted in 1902 which furnishes inexpensive, federally subsidized irrigation water to western states. Currently the law specifies that the subsidy does not extend to property of over 160 acres, but many legislators consider this figure unrealistic today, and efforts are being made to increase the maximum acreage covered by the law.

• The Endangered Species Act of 1973 is also up for reauthorization in 1982, and is expected to spark vigorous debate. As you know, the law was enacted to prevent the extinction of plant and wildlife species (and some scientists predict that one-fifth of all the species now on earth could disappear by the year 2000). The Reagan administration is expected to ask Congress to give higher vertebrate forms protection priority over invertebrates — a proposal that angers environmentalists.

• Congress has until June 1 to decide whether to permanently ban oil and gas exploration (which will be allowed until January 1, 1984) in wilderness areas.

• Yet another bill has been written that would extend the 1984 deadline for mineral exploration in wilderness areas, as well. A related piece of legislation asks that controls be tightened for royalty collections on oil and gas produced from federal lands.

• Finally, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) is up for reauthorization in 1982. This law — originally enacted in 1947, with numerous amendments passed in subsequent years — details the standards, restrictions and import/export considerations for such toxic chemicals. 

Health Bills in Congress

• Henry A. Waxman, a Democrat from California, has submitted a bill (HR 5238) that would promote the development of “orphan drugs” . . . effective medications that are so costly — or used to treat such rare illnesses — that drug companies find them too unprofitable to market.

• Another California Democrat, George Miller, has introduced a bill to set up a national compensation standard for asbestos workers suffering from job-related illnesses, textile workers afflicted with diseases caused by cotton dust, and uranium miners who contract radiation sickness. In addition Senator Orrin G. Hatch (a Utah Republican) will continue his campaign to provide federal payments to individuals whose diseases are attributed to radiation exposure from atomic weapons testing in the West during the 1950s and 60s.

• The National Institutes of Health — including the much criticized National Cancer Institute — are up for reauthorization this year. Also scheduled to expire is the Health Planning System, whose purpose is to equalize distribution of health care resources such as clinics and specialized equipment. The Reagan administration attempted to kill the latter measure in ’81, and lobbyists look forward to a heated debate this year.

• The food processing industry is urging Congress to hold hearings on the possibility of changing current food safety laws. In particular, the processors seek a relaxation of the Delaney Clause, which bars the use of cancer-causing additives in food.

• Finally, the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee has completed work on a bill (S 234) that would encourage home care for the elderly through tax credits and adjustments in Medicare and Medicaid payments.

Energy Bills in Congress

• The proposed dismantling of the Department of Energy (DOE) tops Congress’s energy agenda this year. President Reagan would like to see most DOE programs transferred to the Commerce Department, while advocates of conservation and renewable energy sources fear they’d lose out completely if the rapidly shrinking energy budget were placed in the hands of another agency.

• Several bills have been introduced to amend or repeal the 1935 law that prevents utilities from diversifying. This action comes at a time of increased financial problems for the U.S. utility industry. Some legislators believe that quick relief could be brought about by allowing the utilities to acquire other businesses.

• The Senate is working on a bill (S 1662) to provide a comprehensive plan for disposing of nuclear waste. This one is likely to cause huge fights between supporters of nuclear power who seek a solution to the waste problem and those who don’t want radioactive trash dumped in their own states. Details such as public safety, environmental restrictions, and the question of whether the bill applies to wastes generated by the manufacture of military weapons are expected to be hotly contested.

• The atomic energy industry is pushing Congress toward a separate provision that would allow the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to issue operating licenses to new power plants before public hearings on the utilities are completed. The House has already passed this legislation, and the Senate is expected to approve the provision also, as part of the reauthorization process of the NRC.

• Finally, a bill (HR 4230) allowing access of coal slurry pipelines through private lands by right of eminent domain is up before the House this year. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, coal slurry is pulverized coal that’s mixed with water and transported from place to place through pipelines. Proponents of the measure argue that the lines will provide competition for the railroads and that the end result will be lower coal costs.