The major environmental battle in 1999 was the fight to strip several anti-environment riders attached to the Interior Appropriations bill by Republican leaders in the Senate. These riders are a backdoor attack on our environment and an attempt to protect special interests profiting from our public lands at the expense of taxpayers. Special interests are using these riders to circumvent the normal legislative process and avoid public scrutiny.
As a member of the Senate Democratic Leadership, I fought to delete these anti-environment riders when the bill was before the Senate. With the support of President Clinton, we were able to eliminate or water down many of the most harmful riders. Unfortunately, due to the vigorous lobbying of special interests, we were unable to delete all of these riders. Our experiences with these riders demonstrates the difficult challenges facing environmental advocates given the composition of the current Congress. The most controversial riders included the following:
Numerous court decisions have found that big oil companies have used the current system to defraud the taxpayers of billions of dollars in royalty payments. State governments have collected almost $5 billion in lawsuit settlements with oil companies. The Justice Department recently joined a lawsuit charging several oil companies with conspiracy to shortchange the federal government by understating the value of oil produced on public land to reduce royalty payments.
Despite this evidence, the Senate adopted the Hutchison amendment by a vote of 51 to 47. Fortunately the President threatened to veto this bill if it contained this rider. As a result, we were able to water down this provision to allow the Department to proceed with the new oil royalty rule on March 15, 2000.
Due to irresponsible mining practices and poor regulation, the mining industry has left behind a legacy of 557,000 abandoned mines. It has been estimated that it will cost between $32 billion and $72 billion to clean up these sites. The U.S. Bureau of Mines estimates that mining has contaminated 12,000 miles of rivers and streams and 180,000 acres of lakes.
Working with the White House, we were able to improve this provision. In the final bill signed by the President, only mines with plans of operation submitted before the Solicitor issued his opinion were exempted from the ruling that bars mining companies from using more than five acres to dump mine waste.
My amendment was designed to ensure that delays in the Department's permit process did not unnecessarily disrupt the valid operations of ranchers with expiring permits, while ensuring that compliance with the laws enacted to protect our public lands was not delayed indefinitely. The amendment required the Department to complete the necessary environmental reviews on expiring permits within two years. Expiring permits also would be extended for two years or until the required reviews were completed. Western grazing interests defeated the amendment by a vote of 58 to 37.
The final agreement requires the Department to automatically renew expiring grazing permits under the existing terms and conditions for 10 years. However, after the environmental review has been completed, the permit may be canceled or modified to comply with the findings of the environmental review.
"... the watersheds of the Current Jacks Fork and Eleven Point rivers are among the most beautiful and pristine areas of Missouri. These crystal clear streams are great recreational assets which should be protected for future generations to enjoy.
"The environmental risks of lead mining and the potential for toxic contamination of these pristine waterways are well understood. The Interior Secretary's authority to protect sensitive public lands should be preserved."
Thousands of Illinois residents have joined their neighbors from Missouri to canoe and camp in the Mark Twain National Forest.
I was disappointed that despite the opposition of Governor Carnahan and local environmental groups, the Republican majority adopted the amendment by a vote of 54 to 44.
The proposed refuge would preserve 30,000 acres of tall grass prairie, oak savanna, and wetlands in Northeastern Illinois and Northwestern Indiana. The Kankakee River Basin has long been recognized for its valuable wetlands and wildlife habitat. Prior to drainage for agricultural purposes in the early 1900s, the Grand Kankakee Marsh provided outstanding habitat for migratory birds, fish and other wildlife. Today, less than 1% of the original tallgrass prairie in the basin remains. Only 15% of the wetlands that existed in Illinois remain. The remaining prairie and wetlands are increasingly threatened by development.
Preservation of the remaining prairie, oak savanna and wetlands is essential to protect critical wildlife habitat and provide valuable recreational opportunities for residents in Northeastern Illinois.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has assured area residents that land for the proposed refuge would only be acquired from willing sellers. Establishment of a refuge would not affect the property rights of private landowners. Further, the Fish and Wildlife Service is working with the Army Corps of Engineers to ensure that the proposed refuge will have no impact on drainage from neighboring lands.
Although Republican leaders rejected my request to delete this provision from the final appropriations bill, I will continue to support the Fish and Wildlife Service's efforts to preserve these natural resources for our children.