Discharge Petition Would Bring PM, Ozone Bill to a Vote

Published December 1, 1997

House opponents of EPA’s new standards on particulate matter (PM) and ground-level ozone are circulating a discharge petition aimed at bringing the new rules up for a vote. The petition was initiated by Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minnesota).

A discharge petition allows lawmakers to circumvent the normal legislative process and bring a bill directly to the floor for a vote. The petition would free H.R. 1984–sponsored by Reps. Ron Klink (D-Pennsylvania), Fred Upton (R-Michigan), and Rick Boucher (D-Virginia)–from its current legislative logjam. H.R. 1984 would place a four-year moratorium on the implementation of the new standards and provide $75 million for research into the health effects of human exposure to PM and ozone.

A discharge petition requires 218 signatures, a majority of the House members. With Congress having adjourned for the rest of the year, the petition will not be taken up again until January.

By initiating a discharge petition, opponents of the new rules are venting their frustration over the way the legislation has been bogged down in the House Commerce Committee. Although the bill has already garnered nearly 200 cosponsors and is thought to have a majority in the Commerce Committee, the panel’s chairman, Rep. Tom Bliley (R-Virginia), has steadfastly refused to allow the measure to come up for a vote in his committee.

Ever since the bill was introduced in late June, Bliley has insisted that H.R 1984 must have at least 100 Democratic cosponsors before he will allow a vote. Bliley calculates that there are approximately 190 Republicans prepared to support the bill and that an additional 100 Democrats are needed to give EPA’s opponents the 290 votes they will need to override a certain presidential veto. With House Democrats still some 40 votes shy of the target Bliley has set, he refuses to budge, saying that a vote would be a waste of time.

Bliley’s Strategy Under Attack

Democrats have argued that a win in the Commerce Committee, where victory is assured, would help them get the additional votes they need. That view is shared by Republican and industry backers of H.R. 1984, who are becoming increasingly angry at Bliley’s foot-dragging. When, in late October, it was learned that Bliley had entered into negotiations with Rep. Henry Waxman (D-California and the strongest proponent of the new standards on the Commerce Committee), EPA ‘s opponents accused the Virginia Republican of selling out to the administration. So furious was the firestorm that the Bliley-Waxman talks were discontinued.

A news release issued November 6 by the office of Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Oklahoma) announced his support for the discharge and noted that the Commerce Committee has held several hearings on the controversial new standards, “but [has] taken no action on the bill.”

After this swipe at Bliley, Istook turned his fire on the EPA. “The EPA has overreached in burdening states, communities, and businesses in their proposal for new clean air standards,” Istook said. “Businesses have enough trouble understanding the current air quality standards, now they are faced with a whole new list. Even the Clinton administration’s Treasury Department and Council of Economic Advisors acknowledged the costs would exceed the benefits of the new regulations.”

Rumblings in the Senate

Meanwhile, in the Senate, another pugnacious Oklahoma lawmaker managed to stir the political pot over the PM/ozone issue. On November 7, Sen. James Inhofe, chief Republican sponsor of the Senate companion bill to H.R. 1984 (S. 1084), attached his anti-EPA measure as an amendment to legislation granting President Clinton “fast-track” authority to negotiate trade deals.

Inhofe, who opposes both the new EPA standards and the fast-track bill, brought his amendment for a vote in the evening before a nearly empty chamber. With no Democrats on hand to object, Inhofe’s amendment was approved by voice vote and attached to the trade bill.

Recognizing that the fast-track bill faced strong opposition even without dragging it into the conflict over EPA’s new air quality standards, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) persuaded Inhofe to cancel the previous evening’s vote on the amendment. In return, Inhofe received assurances from Lott that the Senate would take action on EPA’s rules soon.

Unbowed, Inhofe later issued a statement defending his action. “We have succeeded in moving this issue forward,” he noted, and have “advanced the cause of stopping implementation of these EPA rules.”