of Public Policy
Background: As the new Congress (106th) opens, it is unclear what will happen to environmental legislation. However, it is certain that legislators will make proposals to deal with such issues as the deregulation of electricity, superfund reform, endangered species, property use (takings) and nuclear waste management. New issues will include urban sprawl and a range of Administration proposals concerning climate change and renewable and alternative energy.
Issues: The USCC's Environmental Justice Program is now in its sixth year. As a result of our efforts to assist our diocesan network, certain issues and themes have emerged. These include a concern for urban sprawl and "brownfields", children's environmental health, renewable energy and selected international concerns.
(1) Brownfields refers to the 33 thousand plus environmentally contaminated sites that dot our urban and rural landscape. In prior sessions of Congress, brownfields clean up efforts have been hampered by bi-partisan wrangling over how to address Superfund reform, which is the clean up effort for the most egregious toxic waste sites. In January 1999, the Administration announced a major financial initiative ($10 billion) to address urban sprawl (see Backgrounder on sprawl in domestic policy section). An estimated $700 million will be made available to address brownfields. It is too early to know whether this $700 million package will be adopted by Congress, but the desire to tackle urban sprawl is gaining public support. Because of the bi-partisan support for brownfields redevelopment, it is very possible that brownfields stand alone legislation will be proposed. We will keep you informed.
USCC Position: The USCC seeks to promote brownfields environmental cleanups, and it specifically supports including measures to ensure community participation in decision making, a jobs program component for community residents and other community revitalization programs as part of any brownfields legislative package.
Strategy: Urge your Congressional delegation, particularly House and Senate members of the Appropriations Subcommittee on VA, HUD and independent Agencies, to support brownfields cleanups and redevelopment with the previously cited jobs measures. We also recommend that you work closely with your local and state governments and other interested community groups to secure available funds for your community's brownfields clean up efforts.
(2) Children's environmental health is a growing concern among health professionals, parents and other children's advocates. Children's asthma and cancer and other environmentally related health problems have been rising at a rapid rate particularly among low-income families. Because of children's higher exposure rate to toxics, they are at greater risk to environmentally related health risks than adults. For pregnant women and their unborn children, these risks can be aggravated. While it is not always possible in every situation to determine if an environmental hazard is directly related to a particular children's disease, the virtue of prudence suggests taking action as a precaution.
The recently enacted Food Quality Protection Act contains measures specifically designed to safeguard and ensure protection for children from environmental health hazards. This is the first piece of legislation to do so. While this is a necessary first step, additional policy measures are needed to provide adequate protection.
USCC Position: The USCC supports the adoption of special protections for children and the community's right to know what chemicals they are exposed to. As part of USCC's effort, the Environmental Justice Program is now working with colleagues from the National Council of Catholic Women, Catholic Charities USA, the Catholic Health Association, the National Association of Catholic Facilities Managers, and the USCC Offices of Pro-Life, Education and Domestic Social Development to promote better environmental health protections for children.
Strategy: Work with state and local representatives of the groups just cited to urge your Representatives and Senators, particularly members of the Senate Agriculture and Environment and Public Works and House Agriculture and Resources Committees, to support special children's protections in all major environmental legislation.
(3) Energy efficiency and renewable and alternative energy resourcing is also a Conference concern. The source of the Conference's energy policy is its 1981 statement, Reflections on the Energy Crisis, and the 1991 pastoral reflection, Renewing the Earth. As the issue of global climate change "heats" up, there will be more debate about improving energy efficiency and whether and how to produce more renewable and alternative energy resources. The current Congressional debate is about whether and how much of the budget should be devoted to developing alternatives and how much should be devoted to current fossil fuel use and the development of nuclear power.
USCC Position: In its 1981 statement, Reflections on the Energy Crisis, the USCC encourages the transition to alternative energy resource use as a long run policy. While this statement does not propose a full set of specific energy policy proposals, it does recommend strong conservation measures and moving toward an energy future that relies less on fossil fuels and more on environmentally benign energy sources. The statement also recognizes the place that fossil fuels play in our economy including nuclear power.
Strategy: Contact your Members of Congress, especially chairs of the Appropriations committees, to support additional incentives and research to develop and maintain energy conservation and efficiency and to promote renewable alternative energy resources as part of the United State's overall energy mix.
(4) International environmental issues include global climate change, debt/environment and trade/environment. The Kyoto Treaty mandates the states that signed the treaty reduce their greenhouse emissions by a specified %. The treaty has been signed by the Administration but not submitted to the Senate for ratification. In August 1998, the Senate passed a resolution indicating its opposition to ratification. Its opposition is based on its fear that the Kyoto Treaty would place the U.S. economy at a competitive disadvantage because several major developing countries are not signatories. For more details on the debt or trade, please see those back grounders.
USCC Position: The bishops' Domestic and International Policy Committees have established an Advisory Panel on global climate change, which is charged with the responsibility to study and report back its recommendations to the Committees. The work is likely to take about a year to complete.
For further information contact Walt Grazer at (202) 541-3182.
How to Reach Us Catholic Framework for Economic Life
International Issues National Issues
SDWP News Special Projects