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House Reversal Gives GOP Win on Curbing EPA


WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders succeeded Monday in reversing a legislative defeat of restrictions that would greatly curtail the power of the Environmental Protection Agency to enforce major anti-pollution regulations.

A Democratic-led amendment to strip the EPA restrictions from an appropriation bill failed on a tie vote of 210 to 210. The amendment required a majority for approval. The action reversed an unexpected vote Friday, in which moderate Republicans joined Democrats to reject the restrictions.

The GOP leadership failed to persuade a single moderate Republican to switch positions from the Friday vote. The only congressman to switch was Calvin Dooley (D-Visalia), who had opposed the restrictions in Friday's 212-206 vote.

But GOP vote-counters got five Republicans who were absent Friday to the House floor Monday, just enough to ensure the tie.

At issue were 17 provisions that would prevent the EPA from enforcing regulations affecting wetlands protection, automobile emission inspections, drinking water standards and other provisions of the anti-pollution law. The appropriations bill was approved Monday night, 228 to 193. The legislation now goes to the Senate, which was not expected to take up the measure right away.

The legislation cuts the EPA's budget by one-third and trims the Department of Housing and Urban Development budget by one-fifth. The cuts are so deep, EPA supporters warned, that even if the regulatory restrictions are removed, the agency will be crippled.

"Pressure from polluters and special interests has prevailed over the health and safety of the American people," EPA Administrator Carol Browner said after the vote.

House leaders are now far short of the two-thirds vote they would need to override a threatened veto by President Clinton. The provisions also would have to be approved by the Senate.

Republicans, led by House Speaker Newt Gingrich, argued that the EPA regulations were unnecessarily burdensome and, as such, were examples of federal excess in areas better left to state and local authorities.

The floor manager of the legislation, Rep. Jerry Lewis (D-Redlands), said that curtailing EPA power breaks "the pattern of undue burdens on sectors of our economy."

"We can strengthen our environment without putting people out of work," Lewis said.

But moderate Republicans who opposed the provisions argued against making changes of such magnitude without going through a full debate at the committee level. GOP leaders, they said, would be acting without first hearing from the public.

"In years gone by, the Republican Party has been a leader in environmental protection," Rep. Marge Roukema (R-N.J.) said during debate last week. "In fact, it was President [Richard] Nixon who created the EPA in the first place. And the American people have come to agree overwhelmingly that they want a healthy environment for their children and their grandchildren."

Lewis took exception to such characterizations. "I am disconcerted by the rhetoric that we were trying to take the heart out of the environmental movement. My district is the most smog-infested in the country, so I am very sensitive about the environment."

But the leadership victory had its costs. Many moderates, arguing that the GOP was going too far in scaling back popular environmental protection statutes, said that they had fired a warning shot that will force their party's leaders to pay more heed to the moderate wing.

"I don't think the leadership will again entertain major legislation that is anti-environment in nature," said Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y).

In the end, 50 Republicans defected to join with Democrats in voting to strip the EPA restrictions from the appropriations bill.

"We didn't really lose," said Ohio Democrat Louis Stokes. "You win any time you stand up for the people.

"The people who won were the polluters of this nation. This is one [vote] that is not going to go away. People are going to remember."

Clinton said Friday that the Republican leadership is conducting "a stealth attack" on public health and environmental protections by including the regulatory restrictions in the appropriations bill. He said that, if the measure "comes to my desk in this form, I would veto it."

Despite two attempts on the House floor to kill the space station project--also part of the same appropriations bill--funding for it was not deleted. The measure also would end funding for Clinton's Americorps community service program, one of the President's favorite projects.

The measure was the first of two major appropriations bills key to the conservative effort to slice the federal government's authority.

Later this week, the House will take up the second and more sweeping appropriations measure, which would abolish more than 170 education and labor programs, including popular programs to help the poor pay their energy bills and find summer jobs. It would also rein in the power of agencies that regulate workplace safety and labor-management relations.

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