Anti-Environmental Riders: Law without Debate

    So growing up we all learned that in order for a bill to become law,
Congress must first debate and vote on it.  Somewhere through the
educational process we were not enlightened to the fact that laws can be
swiftly enacted without a vote, while the public is unaware of such
actions.  This, my friends, are what are known as "riders" on unrelated
spending bills.  Currently, conservatives in Congress, are determined to
continue attacks on the environment and our health through
controversial, last-minute additions.
     Although legal, riders are snuck onto unrelated bills by committee
chairs to promote their agendas which avoids a separate vote and results
in the rider being overshadowed by larger policy issues.  Congress uses
this strategy because they know that the riders are not likely to win a
vote on their own merits, or should I say "de-merits", therefore they
are usually attached to spending bills that are likely to pass.  This my
friends, is a very undemocratic process.  By attaching such riders, they
can change existing legislation, side-step pro-environment court
rulings, or prevent federal agencies like the Environmental Protection
Agency from enforcing environmental laws and regulations.
     It's very clear that President Clinton has already signed the following
national and regional anti-environmental riders into law this year as
part of larger bills:  Air Quality in National Parks introduced by
Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) was attached to the transportation bill
which delays states from acting to combat regional haze in national
parks for nearly a decade.  Senator Larry Craig added a rider to the
supplemental spending bill negating the Administration's 18 month
moratorium on building new roads in roadless areas in national forests,
and Representatives James Oberstar (D-MN) and Bruce Vento (D-MN) added a
rider to the transportation bill allowing motorized vehicles in quiet
wilderness areas, which sets a dangerous precedent in reversing federal
protection of national wilderness areas.
     Environmental groups a currently watching out for potential riders on
other upcoming legislation.  The Washington-Post reported on June 28
that possible riders would "scale back Administration plans for clearing
up toxic waste sites, allow construction of a highway in a protected
federal wilderness in Alaska, delay implementation of new restrictions
on toxic air emissions, block attempts to reform mining regulations, and
require higher levels of harvesting (timber) in Alaska's Tongass
forest."
    In May of this year, Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) introduced the
Defense of the Environment Act, which if passed, would force a separate
vote on environmental riders attached to bills.  The bill only received
190 votes, 28 votes shy of passing.  Another vote on the Waxman bill may
take place this year.  In 1996, public scrutiny managed to call
attention to the practice of Congress legislating through
anti-environmental riders.  This public pressure is needed now to
educate the public and expose this undemocratic and anti-environmental
tactic which challenges our democracy and threatens our environment by
creating law without debate, vote or public input.

T.R. McKotch
Freelance Writer