The Big Push

Environmental Legislation Gathers Momentum

"The extractive and polluting industries won’t be setting the agenda in the next two years, and they"ll hold less sway in Congress," Betty Loyless, a National Audubon Society vice president predicted shortly after last November’s elections.

Environmental advocates hope more money in the new Farm Bill is geared toward conservation.© Getty Imges

So far, she’s right. In addition to bills on global warming and energy, environmental groups are making a big push on reform legislation around farming, chemical exposure, clean water, national wildlife refuges, and many other issues.

Both the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and National Audubon are concentrating on reauthorization of the massive Farm Bill, in particular asking for greater conservation funding (estimated at $18 billion in the Farm Bill of 2002, which expires this year). Ken Cook, EWG president, says, "Farm policy is the main way we can influence federal conservation investment on private lands. Funding for conservation programs within the Farm Bill is crucial to restoring wildlife, reducing soil loss and preserving water quality."

Cook points out that the Conservation Reserve Program, which allows 40 million acres of sensitive land to lie fallow, is the second-biggest U.S. Department of Agriculture program in the state of Montana, home of newly elected U.S. Senator (and organic farmer) Jon Tester.

"These programs need to be funded much more robustly," says Sandra Schubert, EWG’s director of government affairs. "And funding should be far more equitable across the farm states—right now the vast majority goes to just 10 states in the Southeast and Midwest to support commodity crops such as corn, soybeans and rice."

Many environmental groups are also lobbying to strengthen the Clean Water Act, following a series of Supreme Court decisions that limit what is officially deemed a "wetland" and thus covered by the Act. Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI) has introduced the Clean Water Authority Restoration Act, S.912, which has a companion bill in the house introduced by Representative James Oberstar (D-MN).

"It’s an issue with momentum," says Tony Iallonardo, a spokesman for National Audubon. "These bills would clarify where the Clean Water Act has jurisdiction, and ensure that the Army Corps of Engineers no longer ignores what it calls "isolated bodies of water" that exist only a few months per year."

Meanwhile, environmentalists are also gearing up to fight the Bush Administration’s new attack on the Endangered Species Act (ESA) through a proposed administrative rulemaking. Among other things, they say, it would severely limit new listings, remove recovery as a protection standard and allow states to veto new introductions. "The draft regulations slash the ESA from head to toe," says Kieran Suckling, policy director of the Center for Biological Diversity. "They undermine every aspect of the law. It is the worst administrative attack on the ESA in the past 35 years."