Several pieces of controversial environmental policy are tucked away in the massive budget reconciliation measure, and most are sure to cause trouble when Congress begins its floor debates on the bill.
The shifts range from the future of offshore island development through oil spill cleanup to solar energy financing and noise control. The Energy Department's involvement in utility regulation is being challenged.
The House Banking Committee is trying to halt federal subsidies for new development on the untouched portions of the nation's ring of barrier islands. The developed portions, which would not be affected, include Miami Beach, New York's Fire Island and Rehoboth Beach in Delaware, among others, but builders with visions of Mini-Miamis are opposed to this measure.
Convinced that hurricanes, erosion and flooding will continue to destroy property on the unstable offshore islands, environmental groups and budget-cutting Republicans joined forces to back an amendment that would let private enterprise run those risks. It would deny federal loans, grants or insurance for new roads, sewage plants or construction projects on the 200,000 acres of barrier islands that are still pristine. Taxpayers subsidized $500 million in development and reconstruction on the other islands between 1976 and 1978 alone.
The House Interior Committee refused Interior Secretary James G. Watt's request to move $105 million out of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is for purchase of the nation's parks, into the National Park Service budget for rehabilitation of existing parks. The switch was a cornerstone of Watt's new land management approach but he is certain to try for it again as the budget process continues.
The committee also ordered Interior to spend no less than $275 million on buying new parks, although Watt wanted a freeze on park purchases. It also added $30 million for preservation of historic sites that Watt had zeroed out.
Democrats and Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee deadlocked 21 to 21 on their reconciliation package, and the two versions will probably be fought out on the House floor. But both revive the noise control program the administration wanted to kill at the Environmental Protection Agency, giving it $7.3 million.
Both also repeal a program in the Powerplant and Industrial Fuel Use Act ordering gas-using utilities to switch to coal by 1990. The major difference between the two versions is that the Republicans', which was written by Rep. James T. Broyhill (R-N.C.), repeals the Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act (PURPA), which gives the Energy Department authority to require consumer-oriented changes by state regulators. It also repeals energy performance standards for the building industry and all efficiency standards for home appliances.
The House Merchant Marine Committee tacked its oil spill cleanup measure to the reconciliation bill, but it may not stick. Rejected in last year's fight over the cleanup of hazardous chemical spills and dumps, the section would assess the oil industry a per-barrel fee to be used in cleaning up future spills.
The same committee also created a fee of up to $5 per wet ton on wastes such as dredge spoil and sewage and industrial wastes that are dumped into the ocean. A ban on ocean dumping set for the end of 1981 is in doubt because of court action and the fee could bring the U.S. Treasury between $300 million and $500 million annually if dumping continues at its present rate of 110 million tons a year.
House Banking revived the moribund Solar Energy and Conservation Bank with $132 million, and the Senate Energy Committee has a $50 million version, but eventual appropriations this year are not likely to come out of committee.
The House Science and Technology Committee killed two of the Energy Department's solvent refined coal liquefaction demonstration projects, one at Newman, Ky., the other in Morgantown, W.Va. The Clinch River breeder reactor was also axed, but no one will believe that any of the three are finally laid to rest until the full budget process concludes.