Next Hot Issue on Hill: EPA vs. Property Rights

Article excerpt

Its call for term limits is getting the spotlight, but the "Contract with America's" fine print on curbing regulatory powers may pack an even bigger wallop for government.

Buried in the House Republicans' 10-bill package are provisions that could make it vastly harder for federal agencies to issue regulations, especially new environmental rules in cases where the need may not be urgent.

One of the proposals - forcing the government to pay compensation if a regulation harms property values - is shaping up as a key environmental battle in the new Congress. Environmental advocates contend that the contract amounts to a dangerous attack on pollution control.

"What they propose would undermine the government's ability to carry out federal laws in a significant way," said Gary D. Bass, an analyst with OMB Watch, an environmental group in Washington that focuses on federal spending and on the Office of Management and Budget.

The regulatory changes are buried in the contract's bill No. 8, the Job Creation and Wage Enhancement Act. The bill is best known for proposing a cut in the capital-gains tax. Other provisions would:

Set up a private-property compensation program that would require government to reimburse landowners when protection of wetlands, endangered species, shoreline or any regulation reduced the value of property by more than 10 percent.

Place curbs on "unfunded mandates" by barring new rules unless federal agencies provided money to state and local governments to enforce them.

Require the government to conduct two kinds of studies before issuing any regulation that would affect more than 100 people. One study would look at risks of pollution. Another would weigh the costs and benefits of regulations. Both types of studies would have to be reviewed by panels of experts outside government.

The contract also calls for a ceiling on how much the government can spend on regulations that carry out federal laws. Under one provision, the government's spending for regulations could not exceed 5 percent of the gross domestic product - the country's economic output. Republican sponsors also may seek an immediate cut of 6.5 percent in the government's regulatory budget.

Most of the provisions were drawn up before Republicans scored their startling successes in the elections, giving them control of the House for the first time since President Dwight D. Eisenhower was in the White House.

`A Lot Of Thought'

Brian Gunderson, a top aide to Rep. Richard Armey, R-Texas, the incoming House majority leader, said the Republicans remained committed to pushing the curbs on regulatory power with minimal changes. …