Heritage Rivers Opposition Collapses

Published September 1, 1998

Opposition to President Clinton’s American Heritage Rivers Initiative (AHRI) appears to have all but collapsed in the U. S. House of Representatives. In the months since the Initiative was first proposed, only three House members have remained steadfast in their opposition to the plan.

The AHRI proposal originally seemed destined to face stiff opposition in Congress. Not only does the Initiative usurp the authority of state and local governments by giving 13 federal agencies control over property and activities within designated watersheds, but it also violates Congress’ fundamental constitutional authority to make law and determine new spending.

Nevertheless, the public debate finds just three House “musketeers”–Helen Chenoweth (R-Idaho), Bob Shaffer (R-Colorado), and Cliff Stearns (R-Florida)–sticking by their guns in open opposition to AHRI’s power grab.

Chenoweth’s recently filed lawsuit, seeking an injunction against the AHRI’s implementation, is awaiting a date to be heard in a U. S. Appeals Court. When the AHRI Advisory Committee of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) sought to select rivers for AHRI designation in secret sessions, Chenoweth and Shaffer sent off a stern letter to CEQ Chairwoman Kathleen McGinty, warning that such secrecy would violate the Federal Advisory Commission Act. Chenoweth appeared, uninvited, at the committee’s first meeting, to personally reiterate the warning. CEQ has opened all subsequent meeting to the public.

Stearns will introduce an amendment to the Veterans Administration-Housing and Urban Development (VA-HUD) Appropriations Bill specifically aimed at defunding AHRI. It seems likely, however, that the amendment will have to be withdrawn, as it faces certain defeat at this time and supporters believe a defeat might be worse than no vote at all. House sources also indicate that members are not eager to be forced to vote on this measure so close to the election, fearing environmentalist retaliation.

Tom Randall is editor of Ramparts, the newsletter of The Citizens Alliance for Regulatory Reform.