Ten Key Stories for 2002 That May Be Overlooked

December 26, 2001

This year-end issue of the TipSheet is the one where we have usually listed our picks for "Top Stories of the Coming Year." We're taking a slightly different tack this year. We're picking stories that we think will have great impact on the lives of Americans, but which we suspect will slip "under the radar" because of war-related media inattention.

This time, we hope events prove us wrong. Congress, the executive agencies, and the courts, will continue making decisions, even if nobody covers them. It could prove a prime opportunity for special interests of all stripes to do mischief with little public accountability.

Our list is hardly exhaustive. Industry lobbyists have given the Office of Management and Budget a much larger hit list of Clinton-era rules they would like repealed. See http://www.ombwatch.org/regs/2001/listof57.html

    The full Senate will resume debate next year on its version (S.1731) of the House-passed Farm Bill (H.R. 2646). With nearly 100 amendments pending, it could be a long process, as could be the conference to reconcile the Senate bill with the less conservation-oriented House version. The bills have numerous provisions on land and water conservation, as well as other environmental issues. One place to start getting up to speed is http://www.fb-net.org/index.html, a Web site sponsored by the Wildlife Management Institute. Also see http://www.sejarchive.org/go/011226-1.htm


    In any other year, the cliffhanger 215-214 vote by which the House on Dec. 6, 2001, passed the Fast Track Trade Bill (H.R. 3005) would have been big news. Because it empowers the President to send trade treaties to Congress on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, environmental, labor, and farm groups worry it will prevent them from offering amendments to fix treaties they believe hurt their interests. There is still a contest over the outcome as the bill weaves its way through the Senate. Background:


    Although comprehensive energy bills such as H.R. 4, which the House passed Sept. 2, 2001, are in play, smaller, single-issue energy legislation is also afoot in both bill and rider form. Among the key issues is whether to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling -- environmentalists have made stopping it a top priority. Less attention is going to renewal of the Price-Anderson Act, which passed the House (H.R. 2983) almost unnoticed on Nov. 27, 2001. Even as other bills address the domestic nuclear power industry's hoped-for rebirth and post-Sept. 11 worries about plant safety and security, this bill, enviros argue, protects the industry financially while doing little to protect the public. Dozens of other key issues may be settled off-camera in next year's energy legislation -- from the nation's stance toward fossil-fueled global warming to the future of electric industry deregulation. For background, start at:


    Likely to be unveiled very soon are the Bush administration's initiatives on New Source Review enforcement under the Clean Air Act. They could come in the form of reports, legislative proposals, rulemaking action, regulatory policy, or enforcement policy. At the same time, already pending in Congress are several bills that would amend the Clean Air Act. They include "multi-pollutant" bills such as S. 556 by Sen. Environment Chairman Jim Jeffords (I-VT) and H.R. 1256 by Rep. Henry Waxman (R-CA) and Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), which would for the first time control carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, as an air pollutant. Start at:


    The Bush Energy Department may be on a collision course with the Democratic Senate over nuclear waste. The administration seems ready to declare the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada suitable to be the nation's first permanent repository for high-level nuclear waste. Nuclear-powered electric utilities, among others, are eager for the feds to take spent fuel rods and the like off their hands. But legislation to mandate putting it in Yucca Mountain could be blocked by filibuster in the Senate. Now Nevada has complicated matters with a new lawsuit launched in Dec. 2001 challenging the Energy Department's change in the rules of the game. Some starting points:


    In July 2000 the Clinton EPA issued a rule that finally mandated implementation of a key provision of the 1972 Clean Water Act. For lakes and streams too polluted to be used for their designated purposes, the law requires states to calculate the "total maximum daily load" (TMDL) of various pollutants they can handle, and then restrict pollution inputs to keep them below TMDL ceilings. The rule sparked complaints not only from industries discharging pollutants from pipes (the main focus of CWA implementation until now) but also from farmers and other diffuse-pollution sources who would face mandatory targets under a TMDL regime -- and some states complaining of implementation difficulties and costs. In July 2001, the Bush EPA "deferred" putting the Clinton rule into effect, pending a restudy which will not be done until April 2003. Background: http://www.epa.gov/owow/tmdl/


    The Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 required EPA to review the health effects of many pesticides which were approved for use decades before modern health testing was developed. The Natural Resources Defense Council had sued to force EPA to push ahead with testing at a faster pace. In September 2001 a federal court approved a settlement in which EPA agreed to move faster. Under it, the agency is to finish review of 39 organophosphate pesticides by August 2002. The outcome could have major impacts, both on agriculture and on public health. Start at:


    Efforts to reform the nation's 19th-Century hard rock mining law had seemed to be resolved when the Clinton Interior Department issued new regulations in November 2000. But that rule was frozen by the incoming Bush administration, and then changed in November 2001. Now environmental groups have gone to court trying to get the changes overturned. The outcome could affect existing and proposed mines on BLM lands in many Western states. Start with http://www.sejarchive.org/go/011226-6.htm


    Controversy dogs EPA's effort to crack down on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), which the Sierra Club says produce 2.7 trillion pounds of animal waste per year, largely free of environmental regulation. Responding to industry complaints, the Bush-Whitman EPA is rethinking CAFO rules proposed by the Clinton-Browner EPA. Now the agency faces a December 2002 court-set deadline for a decision. Background:


    Struggles will continue over the destiny of pristine areas in National Forests and other federal lands, and particularly what the Bush administration will do with the Clinton "roadless rule." The forest industry won a court decision in May 2001 that forced the US Forest Service to rework the Clinton rule essentially banning road-building on about one-third of National Forest land. Now, environmentalists complain the USFS is issuing new directives making road-building easier. More at:


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