October 23, 1996
Read Senator Graham's responses to your questions.
NewsHour Coverage of Environmental Issues
Browse the Online NewsHour Environmental issue backgrounder.
July 29, 1996:
The Timber Industry begins to re-assess the way it does business.
June 10, 1996:
With the passing of the Cold War, the government begins to clean up the fallout from past weapons programs.
April 16, 1996:
Spencer Michels reports on efforts to reform the Superfund system.
Feb. 19, 1996:
Rod Minott looks at the "Wise Use" movement in the West.
Dec. 21, 1996:
A report from California looks at the changing role of the Environmental Protection Agency, and how politicians view its power.
Senator Bob Graham
Approximately two years ago, the House Republicans signed their Contract with America. The Contract promised swift action on a variety of topics, including Term Limits, a Balanced Budget Amendment and regulatory reform. When the Republicans took Congress they began to move on several fronts to limit and reduce regulations seen as burdensome to many businesses. Many Democrats and environmentalists saw these efforts to reform regulations as a wholesale rollback of 25 years of environmental protection. In the ensuing fight many moderate Republicans joined Democrats in defeating several efforts to pass regulatory reform.
Yet, Republicans did succeed in passing "Unfunded Mandates" legislation which made it difficult to pass regulations which may cost states money without promising compensation. Clinton signed a modified version of the unfunded mandates bill early in 1995. But, with the environment, the Democrats had found a wedge issue between themselves and what they said were the "extremist policies of the Republican majority."
All partisan bickering aside, several important environmental bills did make it through the Congress. These included the Safe Drinking Water Act and stricter controls on pesticides. Other notable bills up for re-authorization were not dealt with by the 104th Congress; these included Superfund and the Clean Water Act.
Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) serves as the ranking Democrat on the Clean Air, Wetlands, Private Property and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee. His work has focused on preserving the Everglades as well as working on Safe Drinking Water legislation and pesticide controls.
Our Forum asked: Did Republican proposals to reduce environmental regulations truly threaten the environment or were they needed reforms give an unfair wrap? Is the Democrats' promise to preserve and protect the environment a heart-felt policy or cynical politics? How does the government balance the need for regulation with the protection of property rights? Have environmental regulations gone too far or not far enough?
Questions asked in this forum:
- What is the record of the 104th and what will the 105th have to do?
- How do we codify environmental protections?
- Balancing property rights and environmental protection
- Read Additional Comments
A question from Margaret Stone of Sarasota, FL:
What are the issues that have not been addressed by the Republican Congress? Are the accusations that this "is the most anti-environment Congress ever" true in your opinion or are they election-year rhetoric? What would really change if the Democrats won control of the Senate?
Senator Bob Graham responds:
I believe that the Republican Congress did, in many cases, move too quickly and severely to weaken protection for our nation's precious natural resources. Anti-environment sentiment was stronger in this Congress than it has been in a long time. Fortunately for the environment, President Clinton vetoed some of the harshest measures and pro-environment members of Congress either defeated or deterred several other harmful bills.
Ensuring that our nation's oceans, wetlands, rivers, forests, and other environmental treasures are healthy -- and that the air that we breathe and the water that we drink are clean -- should be a national goal, not a partisan one. So regardless of which party has a majority in the 105th Congress, I hope that Republicans and Democrats will forget their political stripes and remember that they are all citizens who enjoy the natural beauty of America.
Those of us who do believe in environmental preservation did win some significant achievements in the 104th Congress.
- Because no American should have polluted or dangerous water coming from their kitchen faucet, we passed the Safe Drinking Water Act, which will strengthen oversight over our nation's drinking water supplies.
- We secured a one-year moratorium on oil drilling off the Florida coast.
- We blocked legislative efforts to abolish wetlands protection and wildlife preservation.
- And we passed the Water Resources Development Act, which authorizes numerous water and shoreline protection projects and bolsters Everglades restoration efforts.
The 105th Congress will face many important environmental questions. It is vital that we answer them in a bipartisan fashion that protects our nation's natural habitats.
Return to question index...
A question from Jason Robertshaw of Tampa, FL:
I am currently taking a course in Environmental Ethics at the University of South Florida with Dr Shrader-Frechette. One of the ideas we have discussed in this class is the notion of establishing an Environmental Bill of Rights that would grant each citizen constitutional rights to a liveable environment. This to me would seem the ultimate example of environmental protection.
Given your experience in Washington, and noting how the voters chastened the Republicans for their attacks on existing environmental protection, how far do you think the nation will go towards ensuring we have a liveable environment? Do you foresee more regulation and codification in the decade ahead?
Senator Bob Graham responds:
No amount of regulation or codification will be effective unless we learn to work together -- across party lines -- in safeguarding the environment.
So I think the most important step that we can take to preserve our nation's natural treasures is to build bipartisan consensus for environmental protection.
For those who say it can't be done, I offer the example of the Florida Everglades. Over the years, its bipartisan corps of supporters has included Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and Bill Clinton.
But perhaps the beat evidence that Everglades protection is an idea that will continue to resonate across party lines was a press conference that occurred in early March of this year. There, an unlikely coalition of public officials -- Senator Connie Mack (R-FL), Senator Bob Dole (R-KS), Democratic Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), and myself -- gathered to announce that the Congress had appropriated over $200 million in Everglades restoration funding.
I was extremely proud of this achievement. But I was even more proud at the fact that it came about through a bipartisan effort.
All of the major environmental initiatives in our nation's history -- the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, the Alaska Lands Bill in 1980, the Endangered Species Act, and other pieces of legislation -- came to pass when legislators chose to vote not as Democrats or Republicans but as citizens who benefit universally from our nation's natural beauty.
The benefits of Everglades National Park, the sparkling Gulf Coast, Ocala National Forest, the Grand Canyon, and the redwood forests in California do not accrue to Democrats or Republicans. They go to Americans. And it is high time that we honor that principle in Congress.
Removing partisanship from our debates on this issue must be the foremost environmental goal of the 105th Congress. The stakes are too high to do otherwise.
Return to question index...
A question from Shelley Potter of Seattle, WA:
You serve as the top Democrat on the committee focusing on protecting private property rights. What is your opinion of the current balance between the need to protect the environment and the need to protect the rights of private property owners.
Senator Bob Graham responds:
Ensuring private property rights -- without eroding public health and environmental safeguards -- can and must be addressed by the 105th Congress. A good place to start would be the overall reauthorization efforts for the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.
Although I strongly support private property rights, I could not endorse "takings" legislation of the type that was considered in the 104th Congress. I was concerned that the strict compensation requirements of this legislation would undermine the federal government's ability to protect the general public's well-being.
It also would have caused some very serious problems for the American taxpayer. The "takings" bill would have created a new spending program with a potentially unlimited burden on the taxpayer. And it would have established a new federal spending program to handle compensation claims. More spending and bureaucracy are burdens that Americans do not need.
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Lee Boutell of Eugene, OR
Environmental regulations have been severely rolled back since the Republican-led Congress came to power. Case in point: the so-called "Salvage Rider" that has allowed timber companies to ignore 30 years of environmental protections and go ahead with wide-spread felling of our American heritage of the virgin old-growth cathedral forests in the Pacific Northwest. This "little provision" attached to a larger bill that Clinton was forced to sign, effectively allowed the destruction and irretrievable loss of hundreds of thousands of acres of healthy trees that are 300 to 600 years old.
We're not talking private property rights here. These forests are on public lands. This means that the forests are owned by all the citizens of the United States, not the timber companies. We should be allowed to retain our natural heritage: the beautiful and awe-inspiring lands sought after by Lewis and Clark almost 200 years ago.
Joe Rogerson of Katy, Texas
Now that you've found a way to indiscriminately seize the private property of United States citizens without due process of law, why not go ahead and admit that private property and its control by citizen owners is soon to become a thing of the past?
Mike Benefield of Prineville, OR.
With the Republican track record on the environment over the past 15 years, do you think that Republican politicians will be able to convince the American People that they will work to truly protect the environment if it means alienating themselves from their core constituents, which has mainly been large corporations and extractive industries?
Dani Adams of Lancaster, Ohio
First, I don't think this is an un-biased poll. I am one of the few, lucky, "working stiffs" to be able to respond to this poll. As to your questions; Q1) Yes. The Republican proposals do threaten the environment, in a nutshell, if we lose the earth we lose it all. Q2) Does it really matter what the motivation is? As long as the results are there and other global problems aren't beget, who cares? Q3) I have seen some incredible horror stories about the affect Env. Protection laws have had on people but they ALL seem to be easily and cheaply solved problems. Those in charge need to have more empathy and education. Why have a situation where a farmer loses his land over a wetlands debate? Be ready to offer ample compensation before it gets out of hand. In the long run I am sure it's MUCH cheaper and certainly better press.
Bill Simerly of Santa Rosa, CA
The first priority of the major candidates is to acquire and maintain. To that end they will say whatever they think voters want to hear. I believe some of President Clinton's rhetoric on the environment falls into this category, but at least he's talking about it. On the other hand, because of the large campaign contributions the GOP receives from the extractive industries, Bob Dole never even utters the ‘E' word. Even at the Republican National Convention the subject never came up. To get real sincerity on this issue, you have to listen to the Green Party which I believe has the right idea of developing a sustainable economy that co-exists in harmony with the natural environment.
C.A. McCormick of Pine, CO
The house draft Clean Water Act that was circulated late last fiscal year contained many provisions that were designed by industry representatives. On such provision dealt with suspending industrial pre-treatment limits for the toxic metal silver in lieu of Best Management Practices (BMPs). Local Industrial Pre-treatment programs already have the ability to implement BMPs for silver control. By adopting a provision that eliminates limits for the toxic metal silver, Congress is limiting the flexibility of local and state governments. Let's not continue to move forward to limit the power of state and local governments, while concentrating controls at the federal level. I believe that Kodak and the Silver Coalition will continue to provide support regardless of the status of this provision.
When revision to the CWA is undertaken in Conference, can you look at the changes and use the following criteria to test all proposed changes?
Does the change:This should be a bipartisan criteria list. Sometimes you just have to say no to some type of lobbyists.
1. Meet the intent and goals of the Act;
2. Strengthen, not weaken, state and local ability to protect the environment;
3. Provide relief to dischargers that go beyond the Act to reduce and eliminate pollution;
4. Provide significant negative impact to dischargers that violate the CWA and pollute our nations waters;
5. Does create a foreseeable future problem that will require significant tax dollars to clean up.
Blane Cox of Crystal Lake, IL
When we jail a farmer for running over a rat or throw away property rights for the sake of ecology, we have gone too far. Are the proposed cuts in regulation too much, why not ask if they are enough. Since we have the knack at creating regulations, why not roll back regulations further than we think necessary. We can always add a few back later if necessary. The earth is ours t