WASHINGTON – While Republicans are clamoring to pass the Contract with America, environmental groups this week said some of its provisions may have a chilling effect on Maryland’s ecological health.
One bill now moving through the House would “create a procedural nightmare and endless litigation that would … effectively roll back environmental protection,” said Russell Train, former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
The job creation and wage enhancement bill would require government agencies to justify proposed environmental standards based on costs and benefits, according to a report released Tuesday by the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council.
The bill would “be nothing short of a disaster for Maryland’s environment and its people,” said Joy Oakes, director of the Sierra Club’s Appalachian region.
She said Maryland has “spent a lot of money to restore the [Chesapeake] Bay and we’re very concerned” the proposed reforms would undo cleanup efforts.
Oakes said specific costs of environmental standards could only be only guesses. She wondered aloud what dollar loss would be placed on a child’s intelligence if damaged by lead poisoning.
“What’s the cost to the Chesapeake Bay if there’s a crash of the bald eagle [population]?” she asked. “There’s no way you can put a value on that with any integrity.”
Eastern Shore Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, a Republican who has voted in favor of every part of the Contract with America so far, said the bill needed to be modified before he would vote for it.
He said it goes too far in attempting to reform environmental regulation. It’s “like killing a mosquito with a sledgehammer,” he said. “I’d prefer to use a fly swatter.”
But Edmund Amorosi, a spokesman for the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, said the bill is meant to “restore some sanity to the process … by taking a breather from burdensome government regulations.”
He said government agencies are now developing about 600 new environmental regulations.
Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett of Western Maryland said he is still reviewing the measure, but supports the provision ensuring “the cost of the [environmental] regulation [will] be justified by the benefit.”
Environmentalists said the bill would also:
* bar agencies from making surprise inspections to catch “midnight dumpers” and force them to allow a lawyer and an accountant to be present at any inspection.
* give new authority to the violators of environmental laws to sue federal and state officials personally – for up to $25,000 a day – for such undefined offenses as “misallocating resources.”
* allow the federal Office of Management and Budget to veto specific lines of environmental regulation without the possibility of congressional override. The president would retain veto power over complete bills.
* compel the federal government, in some cases, to pay polluters for the costs of complying with environmental or health laws.
Oakes said the contract would allow polluters to get off too easy, without paying for their hazardous waste site cleanups.
“This bill would turn on its head a policy that the [Maryland voters] have agreed with for years,” that polluters, not taxpayers, should pay for the cleanups, she said.
Gilchrest said he’d get rid of the provision requiring the government to pay polluters for the costs of complying with environmental laws. But some environmental reform is needed, he said. For instance, he said, the government classifies pulled teeth as toxic waste. “When a kid can’t take away a tooth from the dentist’s office, that’s too much regulation,” Gilchrest said. -30-