ENVIRONMENT: POLITICS AND POLICY Fall '96
Passage of the Safe Drinking Water Amendments, August, 1996
Passage of measures to re-regulate Pesticides, August, 1996
Browse the NewsHour's files on the Environment
House Democrats' recent hearings on the environment
In 1992, Republicans swept Congress with what they believed was a mandate from voters to cut back government regulations. If the Republicans guessed correctly, this "mandate" would mean a green light to shake up federal environmental rules.
In short order, Republicans began to introduce legislation that many environmentalists claimed would have effectively halted enforcement of all environmental regulations issued after November 1994. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which was founded in 1970 to clean up toxic wastes, would slowly erode. Other previously hard won protections for endangered species and healthy water supplies also appeared to their supporters to be in peril.
Environmental activists said, however, and have been for the most part, correct, that the new Congress would quickly find voters sent no such deregulation message vis-a-vis the environment. Citing opinion polls showing as many as 80 percent of Americans call themselves environmentalists, and strong majorities support environmental laws now on the books, activists believed the GOP was in for a shock when it took its ideas back to constituents.
Key environmental action in the 104th Congress confirms that the EPA, and citizen support for environmentalism is still very much alive and well.
Republicans agreed to significant changes to the Safe Drinking Water Act which President Clinton then signed into law in August 1996. A major re-write of federal pesticides controls, making them stronger, also became law this year.
Wrangling over revisions to the 1973 Endangered Species Act continues. The push for private property rights, backed mostly by Republicans, is one of the hotly contested provisions.
And then there's the Superfund. Republican efforts to eliminate retroactive liability have failed for this session. And a Clinton re-election all but assures a moderate compromise on the liability issue.
Moreover, "Many activists are trying to move beyond the confrontational tone of the debate over environmental regulations," according to the Congressional Quarterly Researcher. Activists are looking for practical solutions, and after 20 years, now know how to use sophisticated strategies.
Further, the Researcher concludes, " At the grass-roots level, support for environmental protection continues to grow. From kindergarten to graduate school, a full-bore effort has been launched to educate a new generation of Americans on the need to achieve a sustainable society - one that consumes no more natural resources than are needed for future generations."