WASHINGTON -- Some lawmakers are criticizing the Bush administration for rejecting the wetlands preservation rules proposed this month by the Environmental Protection Agency.
"The White House should respect the judgment of its ow scientific staff and not inject politics into the wetlands issue," Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., said in a statement this week. "A sound wetlands policy is one based on a combination of scientific judgment and common sense -- not politics."
Mikulski was responding to reports that officials in the White House and Office of Management and Budget were attempting to narrow the definition of wetlands proposed July 10 by EPA Administrator William K. Reilly.
Reilly had told a Senate panel he expected White Hous support, but OMB officials and some top White House aides are demanding changes.
EPA officials concede that compromises will be needed to produce a final regulatory manual.
"I think this is going to be a tough one for us," said a administration official sympathetic to Reilly's point of view.
A White House group headed by Vice President Dan Quayle is reviewing proposed wetlands regulations and may ask President Bush to decide key issues concerning the definition of wetlands.
The group met Monday with Reilly and other officials to discuss changes to the regulatory guide.
A Quayle spokesman said afterward the administration is still seeking a "consensus" on ways to define and protect wetlands.
Environmentalists are furious, saying the changes sought by OMB would exempt millions of acres of wetlands from regulatory protection.
Reilly released his proposal to a Senate panel headed by Sen. Max S. Baucus, D-Mont.
Baucus wants a set of regulations as soon as possible to replace the controversial current regulations, which property owners and business interests say are too restrictive and confusing.
At stake, in Maryland, are several hundred thousand acres that environmentalists would like to see declared wetlands.
Baucus' press secretary, Phil Roeder, said the senator "does no want to sit around and I don't think he's going to stand for it much longer."
Roeder said he expects that the subcommittee headed by Baucus will "keep the pressure on the administration."
However, the Senate and House are scheduled to recess at the end of the week and not return until September.