House, Reversing Itself, Drops Bid to Limit EPA Powers : Congress: Vote shelves 17 proposals to ease environmental rules. Clinton hails move, but aide says veto threat remains over funding cuts in the measure.


Rejecting efforts by Republican leaders to relax environmental regulations, the House on Thursday abandoned a controversial plan to sharply restrict the power of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Three times in barely three months, the House has tackled a series of 17 legislative proposals, or “riders,” authored by conservative Republicans that would restrict the environmental agency’s authority to enforce some of its most stringent limits on air and water pollution. The House voted in August to kill the riders, reversed itself on a second vote four days later and then, on Thursday, reversed itself yet again.

The latest vote was 227 to 194 and reflected the sharp divisions within Congress when environmental regulations come up against the anti-regulatory fervor at the heart of this year’s Republican legislative agenda.

The turnabout means that for at least another year the EPA, despite sharp cuts in its funding, will be able to enforce regulations limiting hazardous emissions from sewage plants, oil refineries and other industrial sites.


“This is the most important and closely watched environmental vote of the year,” said Rep. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.) moments before the vote.

Thursday’s vote instructs those House members who negotiate with Senate counterparts over differences in EPA funding legislation to ignore the 17 environmental riders contained in the House bill. Although the instructions are non-binding, the conferees are expected to take them into account.

The Senate version of next year’s EPA funding bill lacks most of the restrictions included in the House version. But even if the final funding measure contains none of the riders, its future is problematic. The Clinton Administration objects to proposed cuts in the environmental agency’s budget--a 34% reduction approved by the House and a 23% reduction voted in the Senate measure.

President Clinton, while praising Thursday’s vote, said in a written statement that it represents “a step in the right direction but we still have a long way to go if we are to stop Congress’ assault on public health and the environment.”

Indeed, a White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Clinton’s threat to veto the measure remains in force. The official noted that the legislation still would eliminate funding for Clinton’s national service program, cut in half the environmental agency’s budget for enforcement of regulations and reduce spending for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Opponents of the 17 riders put together a winning coalition made up of minority Democrats and crossover Republicans, largely a moderate bloc from the Northeast and Midwest, to overcome a nearly uniform vote among conservative Republicans in support of the restrictions.

Among the 227 members voting to instruct the conferees to ignore the riders were 63 Republicans. A total of 165 Republicans and 29 Democrats voted to retain the riders.

Meanwhile, a House subcommittee tried Thursday to take the initial steps down what is likely to be a long and difficult trail leading to revision of the Superfund program, which provides government payments for cleaning up toxic waste dumps. But parliamentary maneuvering by Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) tied the panel in knots, forcing it to delay its work at least a week.

The 17 restrictions to which the House objected were attached to the fiscal 1995 appropriation bill for the EPA. Among other steps, the provisions would have:

* Limited the wetlands protection program;

* Banned new limits on discharges of pollutants into waterways;

* Halted the implementation of uniform water quality standards for the Great Lakes;

* Prohibited the implementation of controls on sewage overflows;

* Exempted oil refineries from standards regulating emission of toxic gases into the atmosphere;

* Exempted kilns used in making cement from toxic air standards,

* Prohibited the issuance of standards on the amount of arsenic and radon in tap water.

“These riders are poison,” said Rep. Louis Stokes (D-Ohio), who led the effort to overturn them.

Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands), who fought to retain the restrictions, said that “there’s little question . . . Uncle Sam has gone much too far” in imposing regulations protecting the environment.

“There is no doubt government has a role to play. But excessive regulation . . . is undermining public support for environmental concerns,” he said during the House debate.

Later, Lewis said in an interview that he lost the vote because he was “dealing with issues that are very emotional ones.” Those who voted in favor of backing off the restrictions on the environmental agency were “concerned about political ramifications at home,” he said.


House Vote on EPA

WASHINGTON--Here is how members of the California delegation voted on the EPA measure:

Republicans for--Bilbray, Cunningham, Gallegly, Horn

Democrats for--Becerra, Beilenson, Berman, Brown, Dellums, Dixon, Eshoo, Farr, Fazio, Filner, Harman, Lantos, Lofgren, Martinez, Matsui, Miller, Pelosi, Roybal-Allard, Stark, Torres, Waters, Waxman, Woolsey

Republicans against--Baker, Bono, Calvert, Cox, Doolittle, Dornan, Dreier, Herger, Kim, Lewis, McKeon, Moorhead, Packard, Pombo, Radanovich, Riggs, Rohrabacher, Royce, Seastrand, Thomas

Democrats against--Condit, Dooley

Republicans not voting--Hunter

Democrats not voting--Tucker