Clinton Arsenic Standards, Denies EPA Enforcement Budget
Friday's House of Representatives vote blocking the Bush administration's effort to delay and weaken the standard for arsenic in drinking water was a landmark vote for water protection, but this victory for the environment and public health was tarnished by the House's subsequent vote refusing to restore funds for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to enforce laws. On a 218 to 189 vote, the Members approved an amendment to prevent the EPA from spending funds to weaken arsenic standards. However, by 182 to 214, the Representatives voted down an attempt to restore $25 million to EPA's enforcement and compliance budget.
"Today's arsenic vote sends a clear, bipartisan message to President Bush: The American public doesn't want people messing around with their drinking water and environment," said NRDC Senior Attorney Erik Olson. "The Republican-controlled House's clear rejection of the special interest-driven effort to gut the arsenic standard is an important landmark. We hope that the Senate quickly follows suit, so we can put the dark days of anti-scientific and anti-public health backroom deals on arsenic behind us.
Joining the Democrats to pull out a win on the arsenic standards, were the following 19 Republicans: Castle, English, Ferguson, Frelinghuysen, Ganske, Gilman, Hart, Johnson (CT), Kelly, Kirk, Leach, LoBiondo, Morella, Ramstad, Saxton, Scarborough, Shays, Simmons, and Smith (NJ).
On March 20, 2001, President Bush suspended the revised arsenic standard for drinking water that would have protected more than 12 million Americans currently drinking water that contains unsafe levels of arsenic. The amendment introduced by Reps. David Bonior (D-MI) and Henry Waxman (D-CA) protects public health by prohibiting the EPA from using funds to delay or weaken its January 2001 arsenic standard of 10 parts per billion, the same standard adopted by the World Health Organization, European Union, and many developed and developing nations around the world. According to the National Academy of Sciences, long-term exposure to low concentrations of arsenic in drinking water can lead to skin, bladder, lung, and prostate cancer. Non-cancer effects of ingesting arsenic at low levels include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and anemia, as well as reproductive and developmental, immunological, and neurological effects.
Despite the good news,
environmentalists were still disappointed that EPA's enforcement was not
restored. "The House missed the opportunity to protect Americans
from President Bush's irresponsible cuts to the EPA but stepped up to
the plate to get cancer-causing arsenic out of our drinking water,"
said Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club. "Because air
and water pollution don't recognize state boundaries, the EPA must enforce
tough federal environmental laws that set a level playing field for the
whole country. Bush's budget takes the federal "cop off the beat,"
and instead relies on a patchwork quilt of state agencies with mixed records
on protecting families from pollution."