December 1, 1999

Federal Legislative Update

Holland & Knight Newsletter
Rich Gold

Congress adjourned for the year on November 19. In 1999, Congress took a much less confrontational approach on environmental legislation. While no major bills were enacted, Congress avoided many of the hot-button issues it addressed during the 104th and 105th sessions. In fact, in the area of CERCLA/Superfund reform and electric deregulation, some progress was made that could pave the way for floor consideration of one or both of these measures in 2000.

CERCLA/SUPERFUND. House supporters of Superfund reform legislation undertook a feverish effort to bring a bill to the House floor prior to adjournment. However, negotiators were ultimately unable to reach agreement on how to fund program reforms. During the session, two bills were reported out of full committee. H.R. 1300, sponsored by Sherwood Boehlert, (R-NY), would call for reinstatement of the Superfund tax. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved the measure in an overwhelming 69-2 vote in August. Meanwhile, H.R. 2580, sponsored by James C. Greenwood, (R-PA), makes no mention of the tax. In October, the measure received a nearly straight party-line vote of 30-21 in the House Commerce Committee.

The Senate was unable to move the leading reform measure, S. 1090, out of committee when negotiations came to a halt in July. One sad development that will certainly shape Superfund reform efforts in 2000, was the death of Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Chafee (R-RI) in October. Chairman Chafee was regarded as a moderate who maintained a close relationship with the environmental community.

The Committee's new Chairman will be Senator Robert Smith (R-NH). It is unclear what Senator Smith's agenda for 2000 will be, although at the news conference announcing his election as chairman on November 2, Smith said his priorities will likely include rewriting CERCLA and the Clean Air Act. Senator Smith has a lifetime rating of 36 on 100 key issues for environmentalists from the League of Conservation Voters. In a related development, Chairman John Chafee's son, Lincoln Chafee, was appointed by the governor of Rhode Island to complete his father's term. Senator Lincoln Chafee will become a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee and may possibly become chair of the Superfund, Waste Control and Risk Assessment Subcommittee that formerly was led by Senator Smith.

On November 19, Congress passed the Omnibus Appropriations Act 2000, which was signed by the President on November 29. The Act incorporates the Superfund Recycling Equity Act, which amends CERCLA to create an exemption from liability for persons who arrange for the recycling of recyclable materials, if certain conditions are met. "Recyclable materials" include scrap paper, plastic, glass, textiles, rubber or metal, and spent batteries. The exemption applies both retroactively and prospectively.

ELECTRIC DEREGULATION. On October 27, the House Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power approved Subcommittee Chairman Joe Barton's deregulation proposal, H.R. 2944, by a vote of 17-11. Congressman Barton's measure would call for incentives, rather than mandates, to encourage utilities to generate a portion of their electricity from renewable sources. On the other hand, the administration proposal would mandate that 7.5 percent of all electricity generated by 2010 come from renewable sources such as wind or solar energy. Republicans and other critics contend that the target is unreasonable and would result in more expensive electricity. It appears likely that a full House Commerce Committee will conduct a markup of H.R. 2944 sometime in 2000.

Meanwhile, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Frank Murkowksi (R-AK) has been working on his own electricity deregulation measure. However, he has indicated that he did not want to rush and introduce it this year. He has revealed the basics of his plan, which appear to be narrower than Barton's proposal.

APPROPRIATIONS. On October 20, President Clinton signed the FY00 VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies Appropriations Conference Report (P.L. 106-74).

The Conference Report, among other things, provides $7.59 billion for the EPA, the same as FY99 and $62.8 million more than the President's request; funds the Safe Drinking Water State Revolving program at $820 million which is $20 million above the President's request and $45 million more than FY99; funds the Clean Water State Revolving program at $1.35 billion or $500 million over the President's request; and fully funds State Air Grants at the requested level of $115 million.

The President signed the FY00 Energy and Water Appropriations Conference Report on September 30, (P.L. 106-60). The Conference Report provides a total of $21.3 billion in new discretionary spending authority for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-Civil, the Department of Interior including the Bureau of Reclamation, the Department of Energy, and several Independent Agencies. Solar and renewable energy technologies are funded at $362.2 million, $3.7 million below the FY99 level.

During the final days of the session, the FY00 Interior Appropriations Conference Report, H.Rept 106-406, was included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, H.R. 3194. Overall, the conference agreement provides roughly $14.9 billion for Interior programs, which is $338 million below the amount requested by the Administration.

For more information, contact Rich Gold at 1.888.688.8500.

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