The rocky relationship between the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and EPA took a turn for the worse, as lawmakers approved a number of measures last week that EPA Administrator Carol Browner called the most serious "anti-public health assault" by the House in several years.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a potentially groundbreaking case that challenges EPA''s power to set tough new standards under the Clean Air Act.
What provoked Browner''s ire was a House vote cutting EPA''s budget $112 million below President Clinton''s $7.256 billion request, and three additional "anti-environmental" riders.
"The result is less protection for drinking water, fewer cleanups of toxic waste sites, reduced enforcement of environmental laws, and an extremely irresponsible gag order on EPA''s ability to inform the American people about the quality of air they breathe," charged Browner.
The so-called gag order, one of the three riders attached to EPA''s appropriation bill, is the latest twist in EPA''s attempt to crack down on air pollution. A federal court has ruled the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), an initiative that aims to improve air quality damaged by automobile and factory emissions, an unconstitutional usurpation of congressional authority. The case has been appealed to the Supreme Court, but in the meantime EPA wants to compile air quality statistics that can be used to compel local governments to cut pollution or risk losing federal transportation money.
"The only common-sense approach is to delay this process until the Supreme Court reaches its decision," argued Rep. Mac Collins, R-Ga., one of the provision''s sponsors.
The NAAQS case involves a clash over environmental standards, but also could affect the regulatory powers of an even broader array of government agencies.
The case took on added weight recently when the Supreme Court agreed to re-examine its previous ruling that EPA could not take into account the cost to industry of complying with regulations that affect public health.
Lower court rulings dating to 1980 interpreted earlier versions of the Clean Air Act as prohibiting EPA from considering compliance costs when setting anti-pollution standards.
"Once and for all, the Supreme Court can put an end to EPA''s unconstitutional attempt to extend its regulatory power and ignore the will of Congress," said USCC President Thomas Donahue.
The case will be heard in the fall, and a decision is not likely until 2001.
by James Nash