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E-M:/ Pending Bill Threatens Environmental Protections

Enviro-Mich message from Vicki Levengood <vlevengood@voyager.net>

A bill which, if passed, would threaten current and future health,
safety, and environmental protections, goes to the floor of the U.S.
House for debate tomorrow. Following are talking points and a fact sheet
on HR 3534, the Mandates Information Act.  It's important that we in the
environmental community log in calls and / or fax letters to the
Michigan Congressional delegation -- especially Reps. Vernon Ehlers and
Fred Upton -- ASAP.   Encourage them to support the Waxman "Defense of
the Environment" amendment to the bill (detailed below), and express
your opposition to passage of the bill UNLESS the Waxman amendment is
adopted.  The Natural Resources Defense Council is a good source for
additional information on this bill.  Contact Sharon Buccino at
202-289-2406 or Greg Wetstone at 202-289-2409.

Vicki Levengood
National Environmental Trust / Michigan

Oppose H.R. 3534
New Procedural Hurdles Could Block Critical Health and Safety

On Wednesday, 5/13, the House is expected to vote on a bill, H.R. 3534,
which on its face seems innocuous enough, but in practice could impede
important new environmental legislation.  H.R. 3534, the Mandates
Information Act, would establish a new point of order against
considering bills that impose costs exceeding $100 million on the
private sector.  Such procedure creates an opportunity for Members of
Congress to kill important health and safety protections without voting
directly against them.  The bill ignores the crucial fact that federal
environmental laws have not created new costs, but simply helped to
distribute them where they belong. Cleaning up pollution and making
workplaces safer has shifted costs from the people who suffered such
harms to the enterprises that inflicted them.

H.R. 3534 would inappropriately elevate cost above the public's health
and safety.  The bill requires a calculation of costs to regulated
entities without any consideration of benefits.  A bill could have
benefits that greatly outweigh its costs, but still be held up or
stopped by the new congressional procedures.  The cost analysis required
by H.R. 3534 would provide a distorted picture of reality and a poor
basis upon which to make legislative decisions.  Cost analysis of a bill
to reduce the use of cancer-causing pesticides, for example, might show
a burden on agri-businesses, but not the benefits to farm workers and
consumers from improved health and lower medical bills.

The cost data required by H.R. 3534 is inherently unreliable.  Industry
has consistently exaggerated the costs of complying with environmental
laws.  For example, while utilities complained that the Clean Air Act's
acid rain controls would cost $1,500 per ton, in reality, they cost
about $100 per ton.  What often gets ignored is that new technologies
are developed in response to pollution control requirements that
dramatically reduce compliance costs.  These new technologies in turn
generate new profits and jobs for American companies.  According to 1997
Commerce Department statistics, the U.S. environmental products industry
is responsible for over 1.2 million U.S. jobs.

H.R. 3534's new point of order represents a significant impediment to
important health and safety protections.  While a simple majority can
defeat a point of order, such procedure gives Members of Congress the
opportunity to kill a bill without voting directly against it.  The
procedure could impede important pending legislation such as the
proposal to expand the public's right to know about toxics in their
communities or efforts to address polluted runoff into our lakes and
rivers which has contributed to devastating pfiesteria outbreaks in
Virginia and Maryland, as well as North Carolina.  Furthermore, debate
on the point of order as provided in the original Unfunded Mandates Act
of 1995 is limited to ten minutes per side, limiting any real discussion
of the
underlying issues.
H.R. 3534 could effect existing environmental protections.  While on its
face, H.R. 3534 only appears to affect new legislation, it could have
significant impact on existing health and environmental protections. 
Many environmental laws require Congressional reauthorization to assure
their continued effectiveness.  Such reauthorization would be subject to
H.R. 3534's requirements.

Private sector mandates should not be treated the same as public sector
mandates.  Proponents of H.R. 3534 are seeking to extend the point of
order applicable to requirements imposed on state and local governments
to those that apply to industry.  Whatever merit may support limiting
federal interference with state and local autonomy, these arguments
simply do not apply to the private sector.  In fact, the local
government groups that promoted the Unfunded Mandates Act of 1995 would
be unlikely to support efforts to limit private sector mandates.  If the
private sector is not paying to clean up its waste, cities and counties
get stuck with the contaminated land and increased health costs.

For More Information Contact:  Sharon Buccino (289-2406) or Greg
Wetstone (289-2409) at the Natural Resources Defense Council



Tomorrow, May 13, the House will vote on the Mandates Information Act,
H.R. 3534. As written, the bill will be used to block critical public
health, safety and environmental protections.  If enacted, H.R. 3534
would establish a new point of order against bills that impose mandates
on businesses without regard to the importance of the measures in
protecting public health and the environment. 

An amendment will be offered to H.R. 3534, entitled the "Defense of the
Environment Amendment."  If passed, the Defense of the Environment
Amendment ("Environment Amendment") would require a specific debate and
vote on legislation that would weaken current public health and
environmental protections.  It is crucial that the Environment Amendment

-- The Environment Amendment provides for an informed debate and
accountable vote on legislation that seeks to weaken public health and
environmental protections.  It places no increased costs or burdens on
businesses and does not prevent Congress from repealing, amending, or
weakening any environmental law.
-- Under current law, federal mandates on state and local government are
subject to a point of order.  A point of order is a procedural objection
that requires a short debate, and majority vote, in order to defeat the
objection and allow debate on the underlying bill to proceed.  H.R. 3534
would expand this procedure to federal mandates on the PRIVATE sector. 
For instance, if Congress wanted to pass a law to protect drinking water
and such law would impose new costs on the private sector, then a point
of order could be raised.  The drinking water protection measure could
only remain if a majority voted in favor of it, i.e., if a majority
expressly decided to impose additional costs on the business community.  
-- The Environment Amendment would extend this procedural protection to
laws protecting public health and the environment.  If congress sought
to weaken environmental protections, a point of order could be raised
that would force Congress to STATE ON THE RECORD whether they favored
reducing public health and environmental protections.   If the House
could not get a majority of the Members to publicly vote in favor of
weakening environmental protections, then the measure would fail.
-- Public health and environmental protections are just as important to
ordinary people as costs are to the business community.  Environmental
protections should be accorded the same respect as measures that shield
the business community from costs.  Parity is fairness.  Congress should
explicitly debate the merits of provisions that would roll back existing
laws that protect the environment and public health. 
-- Call House Members and urge them to vote YES, ON THE ENVIRONMENT

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