Reagan Vetoes Clean Water Act Because of Cost

Times Staff Writer

President Reagan, citing the measure’s high costs, announced Thursday that he was vetoing a major piece of new legislation to clean up the nation’s rivers and lakes over the next eight years.

In a “memorandum of disapproval,” the President said he was exercising a pocket veto of the $20-billion Clean Water Act of 1986, which both houses of Congress passed unanimously in the closing days of the legislative session last month.

California Loses Funds

Under the Constitution, a bill is pocket vetoed if the President does not sign it within 10 days--excluding Sundays--after receiving it while Congress is not in session. The 10-day period expired at midnight Thursday.


For California, the bill would have provided about $174 million each year over the next eight years toward construction of sewage treatment plants. Another provision would have established San Francisco Bay as a “priority estuary” that would receive $65 million to improve water quality. The veto was also a setback for an experimental sludge pipeline proposed by an Orange County sanitation agency.

Because Reagan’s action comes after the 99th Congress has adjourned, members of Congress have no chance to try to override his veto. But Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), a leading advocate of the bill, pledged that the new Democratic-controlled Congress will begin working on new legislation next year and that it will be able to override any future veto.

Moynihan, in line to be chairman of the subcommittee on water resources of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said that “we’ll pass it in a spirit of confrontation,” if necessary.

Sen. Robert T. Stafford (R-Vt.), the outgoing chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said Reagan “was obviously acting on very bad advice. If he was dissatisfied with the cost, then he should wait to see what the Democratic Congress comes up with next year.”


Anger and Disappointment

Leaders of some environmental groups expressed anger and disappointment over the veto and said they will work with the new Congress to revive the legislation.

Reagan, in his veto message, said he was “committed to the act’s objectives” but that the legislation “far exceeds acceptable levels” of budget commitments. Massive federal grants for sewage treatment plants envisioned in the act must be cut down, he said.

“With the backlog of needed treatment plants financed in major part by the federal government since 1972,” Reagan said, “it now is necessary for the federal government to reduce its expenditures and complete the transition from federal to state and local responsibility.”


The President said he recommended $6 billion to finish the sewage treatment projects that had been started with federal funds, the major expenditure called for in the act. Congress authorized $18 billion to finish those projects and $2 billion for other miscellaneous projects.

Will Cooperate With Congress

Reagan added that he will cooperate with the next Congress to rework features of the bill that he likes. He said they include expanded pollution enforcement in some areas as well as “an easing of the regulatory and financial burden on cities in dealing with storm water discharges.”

An amendment to the act would have authorized the Environmental Protection Agency to grant a permit for construction in Orange County of an eight-mile, experimental pipeline to discharge treated concentrated sewage off the coast of Huntington Beach.


Even if identical legislation is re-enacted next year, an official for the Orange County Sanitation Districts said, the pipeline’s future may be in doubt. The issue will go back to the districts’ board of directors for review, Wayne Sylvester, general manager for the agency, said. For the present, he added, “we are just going to continue to be regulated by the 1972 law,” which does not provide for such projects.

David Baker, political director of the Friends of the Earth environmental organization, criticized the veto, saying: “It was bad public policy decisions such as this one that cost Ronald Reagan the Senate. His political stupidity would be amusing if the public health wasn’t the victim of this blunder.”

Sharon Newsome, legislative director of the National Wildlife Federation, the nation’s largest conservation group, said: “It is astounding that the President would veto legislation that is at the top of the public’s agenda. Now all Americans will have to wait for cleaner water.”

Staff writer Maria L. La Ganga in Orange County contributed to this story.