GOP readies major cuts in environmental spending Compromise legislation likely to provoke veto


WASHINGTON -- House Republican leaders could bring to the floor as early as the coming week a spending bill that would make what the Clinton administration calls unacceptable cuts in the Environmental Protection Agency.

The new bill is a compromise in which House negotiators, yielding to their Senate counterparts, joined them Thursday in removing or softening the most intensely disputed provisions of the legislation as originally adopted by the House. As a result, the bill now appears likely to escape another bruising round of criticism by House Republican moderates.

Still, the legislation would reduce the EPA's budget by about a sixth from what the agency spent last year, and so the Republicans expect President Clinton to cast a veto that, they concede, will be difficult to override.

The bill would make especially deep reductions in aid to the states for water-pollution control and in the agency's enforcement programs. In all, it would provide $5.7 billion, or $1.7 billion less than Mr. Clinton requested for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

"The American people cannot be adequately protected with a $1.7 billion cut in vital public health and environmental funding," said Carol M. Browner, administrator of the EPA.

On most major issues, the compromise bill resembles the version that passed the Senate more closely than the earlier House version, which would have not only cut the EPA's budget even more severely but also sharply curtailed the agency's regulatory powers.

Thursday, the conference committee that drafted the compromise removed from the bill's text 17 disputed provisions that would have imposed such regulatory limits.

After further negotiations Friday, Rep. Sherwood Boehlert of upstate New York, the leader of a crucial bloc of pro-environment Republicans, pronounced himself satisfied with the compromise.

Despite the compromise, though, similar provisions have been included instead in a report accompanying the bill. Technically, the report does not have the force of law, but it is nevertheless intended to guide the environmental agency's actions.

At issue are environmental programs that control emissions from oil refineries and cement kilns, as well as a program requiring companies to inform the public about factory emissions of toxic chemicals and a provision sheltering companies from punishment for violations that they detect in their own audits and report themselves.

After first rejecting the 17 disputed provisions this summer and then restoring them on an unusual re-vote, the House ultimately repudiated its own actions earlier this month.

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