Swamped With Cash

Political campaign contributions and the assault on America's wetlands laws

Friday, March 1, 1996

Swamped With Cash

Political campaign contributions and the assault on America's wetlands laws

Last year, the House of Representatives passed the most sweeping bill to weaken Federal protection of wetlands ever considered by Congress. This bill passed as part of H.R. 961, a comprehensive rewrite of the Clean Water Act that would also dismantle most federal protections for the nation's rivers, lakes and streams, jeopardizing drinking water supplies and harming the economies of many communities that depend on clean water. A bill with almost identical wetlands provisions, S. 851, is currently pending in the Senate.

A minimum of 73 million acres of wetlands, or 71 percent of the remaining wetlands in the contiguous U.S., would no longer be designated as wetlands under the two bills, according to evaluations conducted by federal and state officials. (Table 1.) Many of the wetlands that would lose Clean Water Act protection are important, widely recognized wetland systems, including portions of the Florida Everglades and Virginia's Great Dismal Swamp; prairie pothole wetlands in the north-central U.S.; bottomland hardwood swamps throughout the central and southeast U.S.; and many coastal wetlands, including wetlands surrounding the San Francisco Bay and Chesapeake Bay.

Table 1. In ten states, at least three million acres of wetlands would lose Clean Water Act protection under S. 851 and H.R. 961.

State Minimum wetlands acres that lose protection under H.R. 961 Minimum wetlands acres that lose protection under S. 851
Texas 7,231,791 6,851,171
Florida 5,519,150 7,174,895
Minnesota 5,220,000 4,611,000
North Carolina 4,978,313 4,978,313
Georgia 4,763,082 4,763,082
Michigan 4,745,890 4,745,890
South Carolina 4,551,843 4,551,843
Louisiana 3,777,206 3,777,206
Alabama 3,556,772 3,632,448
Wisconsin 3,198,835 2,825,638
Total, Contiguous U.S. 73,978,817 74,410,275

Source: Environmental Working Group. Compiled from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service data and results of interagency field tests.

Government evaluations indicate that H.R. 961 and S. 851 would lead to substantial increases in water pollution and degradation of water quality. Greater levels of pollution mean more contaminated drinking water, higher costs for drinking water treatment, and loss of jobs dependent on clean water. When wetlands are lost, these costs are passed on to taxpayers, local communities and the public at large. Wetlands developers, however, reap most of the profits.

Analysis of Federal Election Commission records shows that political action committees (PACs) associated with companies that have lobbied for weaker wetlands protection laws have given $25.4 million in contributions to political candidates since the 1990 election cycle. In the past two election cycles alone, anti-wetlands PACs gave $5.5 million to members of the House of Representatives. These PACs also gave $5.9 million to current members of the Senate since 1990.

Big contributions by anti-wetlands PACs appear to have paid off in terms of anti-wetlands votes and cosponsorships. An amendment offered on the House floor on May of 1995 by Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) to strip the worst anti-wetlands language from H.R. 961 was defeated by a vote of 247 to 180. Total anti-wetlands PAC contributions to members who voted against the Gilchrest amendment exceeded $4.1 million in the 1994 and 1996 election cycles, or $16,768 per vote. Anti-wetlands PAC contributions to members who voted for the Gilchrest amendment totaled just $1.15 million over the same period, or just $6,385 per vote. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1. In the 1994 and 1996 election cycles, anti-wetlands PACs gave $4.1 million to members of the House who voted against the Gilchrest amendment.

Figure showing In the 1994 and 1996 election cycles, anti-wetlands PACs gave $4.1 million to members of the House who voted against the Gilchrest amendment.

Source: Environmental Working Group. Compiled from Federal Election Commission data. Note: data for the 1996 election cycle include contributions through Dec. 31, 1995.

Similarly, Senate cosponsors of S. 851 received an average of $95,393 from anti-wetlands PACs from 1990 through 1995. Senators who did not cosponsor S. 851 received just $50,249 on average, over the same period.

Introduction:  Swamped With Cash

Since 1990, a coalition of industry groups seeking to weaken federal protection of wetlands has backed legislation to dismantle the Clean Water Act. In the past year, the efforts of the industry coalition intensified dramatically, culminating in the passage of a sweeping wetlands deregulation package as part of a comprehensive bill, H.R. 961, which effectively repeals the Clean Water Act. This bill was approved by the House of Representatives in May of 1995.

In the Senate, a wetlands deregulation bill (S. 851), introduced by Senators J. Bennett Johnston (D-LA) and Lauch Faircloth (R-NC), currently has 21 cosponsors. The Senate Environment committee is expected to act on wetlands legislation this spring. As this report goes to press, S. 851 is the only major Clean Water Act wetlands bill pending before the Senate. (See Note 1.)

Soon after the passage of the House wetlands deregulation bill, the government agencies responsible for implementing federal wetlands policies--the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service--undertook a series of field tests and evaluations to determine the on-the-ground effects of H.R. 961 and S. 851. The federal agency staff, joined in many cases by state officials and private consultants, evaluated the standards in the two bills for determining what is and what is not a wetland. The evaluation teams did not attempt to judge the ramifications of the many loopholes and exemptions for specific industries contained in the two bills. Instead, the teams simply estimated how many acres of existing wetlands--areas that are widely recognized as wetlands by scientists--would still qualify as "wetlands" under the proposed bills.

Wetlands Protections:  Removed by Redefinition

Field tests of the wetlands definition in H.R. 961 and S. 851 yielded dramatic results. In every state, H.R. 961 and S. 851 would immediately and permanently remove protection for a significant percentage of remaining wetlands:

  • For the lower 48 states, the two bills would eliminate Clean Water Act protections for a minimum of 73 million acres of wetlands--a minimum of 71 percent of all remaining wetlands in the country (Figure 2, Table 2, and Table 3.)
  • In 22 states, H.R. 961 and S. 851 would eliminate federal protections for at least of 80 percent of existing wetlands.
  • In all but 7 states, H.R. 961 and S. 851 would remove at least half of all wetlands from eligibility for Clean Water Act protection.

Figure 2. In the lower 48 states, at least 73 million acres of wetlands would lose all Clean Water Act protections under S. 851 and H.R. 961.

Bar chart

Source: Environmental Working Group. Compiled from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service data and results of interagency reviews of H.R. 961 and S. 851.

Table 2. H.R. 961 would remove Federal Clean Water Act protection from more than 73 million acres of wetlands in the contiguous 48 states.

State Estimated wetlands acreage, Mid-1980's Minimum wetlands acres that lose protection under
H.R. 961
Estimated percentage of wetlands that lose protection under
H.R. 961
       
Alabama 3,783,800 3,556,772 94%
Arizona 600,000 450,000 75%
Arkansas 2,763,600 2,072,700 75%
California 454,000 317,800 70%-90%
Colorado 1,000,000 700,000 70%
Connecticut 172,500 97,290 56.4%-85%
Delaware 223,000 189,550 85%
Florida 11,038,300 5,519,150 50%
Georgia 5,298,200 4,763,082 90%
Idaho 385,700 323,988 99%
Illinois 1,254,500 1,129,050 90%
Indiana 750,633 750,633 100%
Iowa 421,900 379,710 90%
Kansas 435,400 339,612 78%
Kentucky 300,000 285,000 95%
Louisiana 8,784,200 3,777,206 43%
Maine 5,199,200 2,095,278 40%-71%
Maryland 440,000 308,000 70%
Massachusetts 588,486 153,006 26%-64%
Michigan 5,583,400 4,745,890 85%
Minnesota 8,700,000 5,220,000 60%
Mississippi 4,067,000 2,806,230 69%
Missouri 643,000 610,850 95%
Montana 840,300 630,225 75%
Nebraska 1,905,500 1,429,125 75%
Nevada 236,350 189,080 80%
New Hampshire 200,000 139,600 70%-90%
New Jersey 915,960 824,364 90%
New Mexico 481,900 433,710 90%
New York 1,025,000 820,000 80%
North Carolina 5,689,500 4,978,313 88%
North Dakota 2,490,000 1,369,500 10%-100%
Ohio 482,800 386,240 80%
Oklahoma 949,700 940,203 99%
Oregon 1,393,900 1,031,486 74%
Pennsylvania 499,014 424,162 85%
Rhode Island 65,154 26,062 40%-69%
South Carolina 4,659,000 4,551,843 98%
South Dakota 1,780,000 1,157,000 65%
Tennessee 787,000 621,730 79%
Texas 7,612,412 7,231,791 95%
Utah 558,000 251,100 45%-70%
Vermont 220,000 66,000 30%-83%
Virginia 1,074,613 827,452 77%
Washington 938,000 891,100 95%
West Virginia 102,000 81,600 80%-90%
Wisconsin 5,331,392 3,198,835 60%
Wyoming 1,250,000 887,500 71%
       
Total, Contiguous U.S. 104,374,314 73,978,817 71%

Source: Environmental Working Group. Compiled from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service data and results of interagency field tests.

Table 3. S. 851 would remove Federal Clean Water Act protection from more than 74 million acres of wetlands in the contiguous 48 states.

State Estimated wetlands acreage, Mid-1980's Minimum wetlands acres that lose protection under
S. 851
Estimated percentage of wetlands that lose protection under
S. 851
       
Alabama 3,783,800 3,632,448 96%
Arizona 600,000 420,000 70%
Arkansas 2,763,600 2,487,240 90%
California 454,000 317,800 70%-90%
Colorado 1,000,000 700,000 70%
Connecticut 172,500 97,290 56.4%-85%
Delaware 223,000 189,550 85%
Florida 11,038,300 7,174,895 65%
Georgia 5,298,200 4,763,082 90%
Idaho 385,700 320,131 99%
Illinois 1,254,500 1,003,600 80%
Indiana 750,633 750,633 100%
Iowa 421,900 337,520 80%
Kansas 435,400 330,904 76%
Kentucky 300,000 285,000 95%
Louisiana 8,784,200 3,777,206 43%
Maine 5,199,200 2,095,278 40%-71%
Maryland 440,000 198,000 45%
Massachusetts 588,486 153,006 26%-64%
Michigan 5,583,400 4,745,890 85%
Minnesota 8,700,000 4,611,000 53%
Mississippi 4,067,000 2,806,230 69%
Missouri 643,000 610,850 95%
Montana 840,300 630,225 75%
Nebraska 1,905,500 1,429,125 75%
Nevada 236,350 189,080 80%
New Hampshire 200,000 139,600 70%-90%
New Jersey 915,960 824,364 90%
New Mexico 481,900 433,710 90%
New York 1,025,000 820,000 80%
North Carolina 5,689,500 4,978,313 88%
North Dakota 2,490,000 1,369,500 10%-100%
Ohio 482,800 386,240 80%
Oklahoma 949,700 940,203 99%
Oregon 1,393,900 1,031,486 74%
Pennsylvania 499,014 424,162 85%
Rhode Island 65,154 26,062 40%-69%
South Carolina 4,659,000 4,551,843 98%
South Dakota 1,780,000 1,157,000 65%
Tennessee 787,000 590,250 75%
Texas 7,612,412 6,851,171 90%
Utah 558,000 251,100 45%-70%
Vermont 220,000 66,000 30%-83%
Virginia 1,074,613 827,452 77%
Washington 938,000 891,100 95%
West Virginia 102,000 81,600 80%-90%
Wisconsin 5,331,392 2,825,638 53%
Wyoming 1,250,000 887,500 71%
       
Total, Contiguous U.S. 104,374,314 74,410,275 71%

Source: Environmental Working Group. Compiled from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service data and results of interagency field tests.

It should be noted that these loss estimates represent a minimum, or lower bound, of the wetlands acreage that would be affected by the two bills. In some states, including many New England states, the evaluation teams provided a range of estimates for the acreage that would lose protection under HR. 961 and S. 851. The acreage figures cited in this report use the lowest value in the range as the "point estimate" for the acreage of wetlands that would lose protection. (See Note 2.)

Proponents of H.R. 961 and S. 851 have argued that the two bills would only affect "drier" wetlands systems--areas that an average person might have difficulty identifying as wetlands. Federal field tests show otherwise. When asked to describe the types of wetlands that would lose protection under the two bills, field teams mentioned, among other wetland types:

  • Sweetbay and red maple swamps, bottomland hardwood wetlands, and swamp hardwoods;
  • Many bogs and fens;
  • Riparian (river-related) wetlands;
  • Vernal pools, including rare vernal pool systems in California;
  • Carolina bays;
  • Non-tidal marshes, inland fresh marshes, coastal high marsh, saltmarsh;
  • Floodplain wetlands; and
  • Wet prairies, wet meadows, and saturated mountain meadows.

While not all of these wetlands are flooded or saturated year round, they are recognized as wetlands both by scientists and by the general public. Furthermore, they provide significant wetlands functions and values, including, in many cases, maintenance and improvement of water quality.

What the field teams had to say about H.R. 960 and S. 851

In their state-by-state evaluations of S. 851 and H.R. 961, the officials who would be responsible for implementing the wetlands definition established by the two bills provided detailed comments on the effects that the bills would have on wetlands delineation in their states. Almost universally, the field teams found that the bills violate so profoundly violate the principles of wetlands science that many wetlands systems would simply not be defined as wetlands under the two bills.

Here's what some of the field teams had to say:

  • Alabama. "Essentially all of the wetland systems which are saturated with groundwater will be eliminated from jurisdiction. These include essentially all of the pine flatwood wetlands, pine savannahs, and scrub-shrub wetlands which have a seasonally high water table. In addition, most of the sweetbay/red maple swamps and seasonally flooded bottomland hardwood forests occurring in the second terraces of floodplains will be affected."
  • Alaska. "Loss of wetland classification for all forested wetlands (temperate rain forest), most black spruce forested and scrub-tussock areas, many moist tundra and some wet tundra areas (permafrost areas), many bogs and fens, and most riparian wetlands."
  • Delaware. "Virtually all of [the affected] systems are flooded or saturated throughout the spring, drawing down in summer."
  • Louisiana. "We estimate that at least 73% of all non-tidal wetlands would become deregulated."
  • Missouri. "No major rivers within Missouri and almost no streams and creeks will result in 21 days of consecutive out of bank flooding, during the growing season, on a frequent basis. With the exclusion of soil saturation as a component of wetland hydrology, remaining wetlands will generally be steep sided oxbow channels and cutoff channels; man made impoundments (lakes and wildlife management areas) and borrow pits."
  • Oregon. "The growing season for these [warmer] areas would now be defined as about April 20 through October 30. This equates to a loss of about 45 days in the spring for documentation hydrology. These 45 days are the critical "wet" period for the temporary and seasonally flooded wetlands for western Oregon and probably western Washington and much of California."
  • South Carolina. "It was the consensus of the testing team that even though some of the hydric soils...might meet the hydrology duration criteria in H.R. 961 and S. 851, flooding would occur outside the newly proposed growing season. Therefore, these soils that flood for long periods would not be considered as jurisdictional wetlands."
  • Texas. "Logic should allow team members to easily deduce that the tidal wetland hydrology could easily be met...However, scientifically tested logical deductions (best professional judgment) were not presented as acceptable tools in the proposed resolution's wetland delineation methodology...Any delineation methodology should relate directly to scientific findings from actual field tests. The proposed resolutions contemplate criteria based on arbitrary (non science based) standards."
  • Washington. "The high salt marshes found all around the Puget Sound region may only be influenced by periodic storm surges. These areas are clearly recognized by the general public as wetlands, however, the specific requirements of the bills may exclude them from jurisdiction."

What the field teams had to say about wetlands and water quality

In virtually every state, field evaluation teams mentioned that the wetlands that would lose Clean Water Act protections under H.R. 961 and S. 851 help to keep rivers, lakes and streams clean and healthy. Here's what some of the field evaluators said:

  • New England States (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont): "Primary wetland functions and values affected: ...Water quality: Retention of sediments; removal or degradation of toxicants and pathogens; retention or transformation of nutrients, for which seasonally saturated wetlands are particularly important because of their fluctuating water table.
  • Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina: "Water quality functions: (1) Sediment and toxicant trapping; (2) Filtration of pollutants; (3) Chemical and nutrient absorption; (4) Nutrient cycling; (5) Oxygen production"
  • Louisiana: "Affected wetlands provide essential water quality...functions."
  • Maryland: "Primary wetland functions and values affected: water quality, groundwater recharge/discharge...detrital export...pollutant removal."
  • Michigan: "Primary wetland functions and values affected: Water quality - impact on headwater wetlands, filter surface runoff, water temperature maintenance of stream fishery environments.
  • Mississippi: "Wetland functions and values associated with these wetlands habitats include water quality...sediment and toxic chemical retention...erosion control.
  • New Jersey: "Water quality of the Delaware River system and the various coastal bays could be adversely affected if jurisdictional areas are lost due [to] the House and Senate Bills. Wetlands in metropolitan New Jersey serve to filter out nutrients and sediments that would, without the wetlands, degrade the quality of water...Degraded waters would detract from tourism, commercial fishing and recreation.
  • Oregon: "With the potential loss of wetland under the proposed bills, nearly all types of functions and values would be affected. Of the wetlands types discussed...the primary functions affected would be maintenance of water quality, retention of flood waters, [etc.]."
  • Texas: "Since the impacts are on the majority of the state's wetlands, it is safe to assume that ALL functions and values will be affected. This would include significant impacts on water quality, wildlife habitat and human usages."

Developers Win, Everyone Else Loses

Not only do wetlands serve important habitat functions in their own right, but they help keep the nation's rivers, lakes and streams clean and healthy. Wetlands act as natural filters, trapping sediment, pathogens and other pollutants from waters that flow through them. Every time a wetland is destroyed, it makes it that much harder, and more expensive, to keep our water clean for drinking, swimming, fishing and other uses.

The federal field testing teams were asked to evaluate the types of wetlands functions that would be lost if H.R. 961 or S. 851 were to become law. In virtually every state, the wetlands that would lose protection were identified as providing important functions for maintaining water quality. These functions included filtration of pollutants, including pesticides and fertilizers, from runoff; sediment and toxicant retention; chemical and nutrient absorption; and removal or degradation of pathogens from waters flowing through wetlands into lakes, streams, and rivers. All of these functions are vital for maintaining healthy water quality, and are particularly valuable if the wetlands filter water that is later used--downstream or from groundwater--for public drinking water supplies.

Greater levels of pollution mean more contaminated drinking water sources, higher costs for drinking water treatment, and loss of jobs dependent on clean water. When wetlands are lost, these costs are passed on to taxpayers, local communities and the public at large. The developer of the wetland, however, walks away with most of the profits.

Following the Money:  Political Contributions from Anti-wetlands PACs

Proponents of wetlands deregulation have been lobbying for years, and lobbying hard, to substantially weaken the Clean Water Act's protections for wetlands. (See Note 3.) The most prominent anti-wetlands group in the nation, the misleadingly named "National Wetlands Coalition," includes a membership of corporations and industry associations that reads like a "who's who" list of major wetlands developers. Included in their membership is the Louisiana Land and Exploration Company, a major oil prospector in Louisiana's threatened coastal wetlands; Exxon, Arco, BP America, and other major oil and gas companies; the National Association of Homebuilders; the International Council of Shopping Centers; the National Cotton Council, which represents major cotton producers, wholesalers and processors; and the American Petroleum Institute, a trade coalition of petroleum extraction and refining companies.

Nearly all the members of the National Wetlands Coalition, and most of the members of the American Petroleum Institute, have a direct financial interest in weakening the Clean Water Act's protections for wetlands. Section 404 of the Clean Water Act requires anyone who wants to drain or fill a wetland to obtain a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Analyses of the Corps' permitting record suggest that the Corps rarely denies wetlands permits. Nevertheless, the Corps does deny some permits, (See Note 4) and complying with Section 404 is sometimes costly for permittees wishing to undertake major projects in wetlands. Oil and gas companies, shopping mall developers, and agribusinesses would find many new and inexpensive sites for development if Clean Water Act wetlands protections were relaxed.

For the industries that would benefit financially from weaker wetlands protections, spending money to weaken Clean Water Act wetlands protections is a potentially lucrative investment. That's one reason why PACs associated with companies that are members of the National Wetlands Coalition and the American Petroleum Institute have spent more than $25 million on political campaign contributions, including presidential campaign contributions and contributions to unsuccessful candidates and candidates who have since left office, since 1989.

Anti-wetlands PAC Contributions to the House of Representatives

Anti-wetlands PACs have given considerable sums of money to influence current members of Congress. In the 1994 and 1996 campaign cycles (See Note 5) anti-wetlands PACs associated with members of the National Wetlands Coalition and the American Petroleum Institute made $5.5 million in contributions to current members of the House of Representatives. (Table 4 and Table 5.)

Table 4. PACs associated with members of the National Wetlands Coalition gave more than $2.6 million to members of the House who voted against the Gilchrest amendment.

Name of Political Action Committee Contributions
to House members
who voted against
Gilchrest amendment,
1994-1996 cycles
Contributions
to House members
who voted for
Gilchrest amendment,
1994-1996 cycles
Ratio of
contributions: anti-Gilchrest
vs.
pro-Gilchrest
       
Union Pacific Fund For Effective Government $405,045 $101,240 4.0
Exxon Corporation Political Action Committee $282,950 $42,880 6.6
Tenneco Inc. Employees Good Government Fund $220,525 $81,550 2.7
International Council Of Shopping Centers Inc PAC $189,146 $35,549 5.3
Chevron Employees Political Action Committee $179,764 $22,300 8.1
National Association Of Realtors $107,345 $86,855 1.2
Texaco Political Involvement Committee $138,200 $38,735 3.6
Atlantic Richfield Company, Arco Pac $138,390 $39,550 3.5
National Cotton Council Comm. for the Adv. Of Cotton $116,396 $21,850 5.3
Nat. Util. Contr. Assn. Legislative Info. & Action Comm. $81,800 $44,700 1.8
Mobil Corporation Political Action Committee $83,075 $23,550 3.5
Panhandle Eastern Corp Political Action Committee $73,264 $21,650 3.4
Shell Oil Company Employees' Political Awareness Committee $73,050 $11,500 6.4
Interstate Natural Gas Association Of America PAC $58,296 $16,900 3.4
G-P Employees Fund Of Georgia-Pacific Corporation $63,993 $11,800 5.4
Freeport-McMoran Inc Citizenship Committee $49,000 $15,500 3.2
BP America PAC $47,950 $15,550 3.1
Williams Companies Political Action Committee $55,600 $6,700 8.3
Entergy Services, Inc. Good Government Action Committee $47,100 $13,350 3.5
Union Oil (Unocal) Political Awareness Fund $47,575 $12,113 3.9
Sun Company Inc Political Action Committee $37,500 $18,050 2.1
National Stone Association StonePAC $31,800 $8,900 3.6
Kerr-Mcgee Corporation Political Action Committee $33,250 $3,500 9.5
Cons. Nat. Gas Svc. Co., Inc. Executives' Political Fund $26,200 $9,950 2.6
National Realty Political Action Committee (RealPAC) $16,250 $8,350 1.9
Occidental Oil & Gas Corporation PAC $19,100 $1,000 19.1
First Commerce Corporation Political Action Committee $9,200 $8,050 1.1
American Road & Transportation Builders Association $11,100 $3,500 3.2
Fina Inc. & Fina Oil And Chemical Co. PAC $11,100 $4,000 2.8
Louisiana Land And Exploration Co. PAC $11,700 $2,000 5.9
China Clay Producers Assoc. Inc. PAC $6,250 $2,000 3.1
Hunt Oil Company Political Action Committee $2,500 $500 5.0
       
Total, all PACs associated with Nat. Wetlands Coalition $2,674,414 $733,622 3.6

Source: Environmental Working Group. Compiled from Federal Election Commission data.

Note: Data for the 1996 election cycle include contributions through Dec. 31, 1995. Listed PACs may have given additional contributions to members who did not vote on the Gilchrest amendment.

 

Table 5. PACs associated with members of the American Petroleum Institute, but not with the National Wetlands Coalition, gave more than $1.4 million to members of the House who voted against the Gilchrest amendment.

Name of Political Action Committee Contributions
to House members
who voted against
Gilchrest amendment,
1994-1996 cycles
Contributions
to House members
who voted for
Gilchrest amendment,
1994-1996 cycles
Ratio of
contributions: anti-Gilchrest
vs.
pro-Gilchrest
       
Fluor Corporation Public Affairs Committee $192,300 $25,930 7.4
Coastal Corp. Employee Action Fund $137,300 $50,405 2.7
FMC Corporation Good Government Program $153,300 $38,750 4.0
Amoco Political Action Committee $119,850 $30,500 3.9
Allied-Signal Political Action Committee $84,800 $45,350 1.9
Ashland Inc Political Action Committee For Employees $112,600 $18,250 6.2
Phillips Petroleum Company Political Action Committee $100,200 $12,400 8.1
Babcock & Wilcox Company Good Government Fund $69,100 $19,000 3.6
Dresser Industries Political Action Committee $68,200 $12,150 5.6
Marathon Oil Co. Employees PAC $62,550 $12,000 5.2
JEG Good Government Committee $43,750 $23,000 1.9
LTV Steel Active Citizenship Campaign $35,930 $28,050 1.3
Lorillard Public Affairs Committee $37,125 $10,050 3.7
Rhone-poulenc Inc Political Action Committee $25,000 $18,000 1.4
Crowley Maritime Federal Political Action Committee $25,723 $16,550 1.6
Dow Chemical Company Employees' PAC $36,750 $2,000 18.4
Cf Industries Employees' Good Government Fund $33,100 $8,000 4.1
Better Government Fund Of McDermott Inc. $27,500 $13,100 2.1
Dow Chem. Co.-Headquarters Unit Employees PAC $24,550 $6,000 4.1
Santa Fe Pacific Corporation PAC $24,450 $2,200 11.1
Nalco Chemical Company PAC $17,750 $6,600 2.7
Kirby Corporation PAC $11,677 $3,000 3.9
Maritrans Inc Political Action Committee $2,750 $4,900 0.6
Mitchell Energy & Development Corp PAC $5,500 - -
Foster Wheeler Corporation PAC $1,000 $4,200 0.2
Ethyl Corporation Political Action Committee $4,000 $250 16.0
Gatx Corporation Good Government Program $2,000 $2,500 0.8
Baker Hughes Incorporated PAC $1,750 $1,500 1.2
Stockham Valves And Fittings PAC $3,475 - -
Employees Of Mustang Fuel Corporation PAC $2,000 - -
Continental Emsco Co. Active Citizenship Campaign $1,000 $1,000 1.0
Goulds Pumps Inc. Employee PAC $400 - -
       
Total, selected PACs $1,467,380 $415,635 3.5

Source: Environmental Working Group. Compiled from Federal Election Commission data.

Note: Data for the 1996 election cycle include contributions through Dec. 31, 1995. Listed PACs may have given additional contributions to members who did not vote on the Gilchrest amendment.

These contributions appear to have yielded results in the legislative arena. An amendment offered on the House floor by Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) that would have restored a scientifically sound definition of wetlands to the Clean Water Act was defeated by a vote of 247 to 180. During the 1994 and 1996 election cycles, anti-wetlands PACs gave more than $4.1 million to members of the House who voted against the Gilchrest amendment, but only $1.15 million to members who voted for the Gilchrest amendment. (See Figure 3.) On average, members of the House who voted for the Gilchrest amendment received about $6,400 each over the period studied, as compared with nearly $17,000 each for members who voted against the amendent. (See Figure 4.)

Figure 3. In the 1994 and 1996 campaign cycles, anti-wetlands PACs gave $4.1 million to members of the House who voted against the Gilchrest amendment, but less than $1.2 million to members who voted for the Gilchrest amendment.

bar chart

Source: Environmental Working Group. Compiled from Federal Election Commission data. Note: Data for the 1996 election cycle include contributions through Dec. 31, 1995.

Figure 4. In the 1994 and 1996 campaign cycles, anti-wetlands PACs paid an average of $16,768 to members of the House who voted against the Gilchrest amendment, but only $6,385 to members who voted for the Gilchrest amendment.

Bar chart

Source: Environmental Working Group. Compiled from Federal Election Commission data. Note: Data for the 1996 election cycle include contributions through Dec. 31, 1995.

Eighteen anti-wetlands PACs gave more than $100,000 over the 1994 and 1996 election cycles; their contributions were skewed heavily towards those who voted against the Gilchrest amendment. (See Figure 5.)

Figure 5. Eighteen anti-wetlands PACs gave more than $100,000 to members of the House in the 1994 and 1996 election cycles.

bar chart

Source: Environmental Working Group. Compiled from Federal Election Commission data. Note: Data for the 1996 election cycle include contributions through Dec. 31, 1995.

Of the 25 top recipients of anti-wetlands PAC money who voted on the Gilchrest amendment, 22 voted against Gilchrest (Table 6). Anti-wetlands PAC contributions during 1995 were particularly tilted in favor members who voted against the Gilchrest amendment: of members who voted against the Gilchrest amendment, 87 percent received anti-wetlands contributions during 1995, while just 55 percent of pro-Gilchrest voters received contributions during 1995. Even contributions to members of the House water and environment subcommittee, of which Rep. Gilchrest is a member, heavily favored members who voted against Rep. Gilchrest's amendment. (See Figure 6.)

Table 6. Of the top 25 recipients of anti-wetlands PAC contributions in the House who voted on the Gilchrest amendment, 22 voted against Gilchrest, and only 3 voted for Gilchrest.

Name of member Total contributions from anti-wetlands PACs, 1994-1996 cycles

Rank Vote on the Gilchrest amendment
1 Laughlin, Greg (R-TX) $97,748 N
2 Young, Don (R-AK) $80,923 N
3 Tauzin, W. J. (R-LA) $74,600 N
4 Hayes, James (R-LA) $74,208 N
5 Fields, Jack (R-TX) $70,800 N
6 Davis, Thomas (R-VA) $67,952 Y
7 Shuster, Bud (R-PA) $60,800 N
8 Livingston, Bob (R-LA) $60,250 N
9 Brewster, Bill (D-OK) $55,114 N
10 Barton, Joe (R-TX) $54,929 N
11 Oxley, Michael (R-OH) $54,380 N
12 Cubin, Barbara (R-WY) $51,750 N
13 Payne, Lewis (D-VA) $49,866 N
14 McCrery, Jim (R-LA) $48,873 N
15 Schaefer, Dan (R-CO) $46,319 N
16 Dingell, John (D-MI) $45,500 Y
17 Moran, James (D-VA) $44,039 Y
18 Stenholm, Charles (D-TX) $41,457 N
19 Bliley, Thomas (R-VA) $40,400 N
20 Thomas, William (R-CA) $38,000 N
21 Murtha, John (D-PA) $37,800 N
22 Bonilla, Henry (R-TX) $36,750 N
23 Crapo, Michael (R-ID) $36,670 N
24 Armey, Richard (R-TX) $36,600 N
25 McInnis, Scott (R-CO) $34,653 N

Name of member Total contributions from anti-wetlands PACs, 1994-1996 cycles

Rank Vote on the Gilchrest amendment
1 Laughlin, Greg (R-TX) $97,748 N
2 Young, Don (R-AK) $80,923 N
3 Tauzin, W. J. (R-LA) $74,600 N
4 Hayes, James (R-LA) $74,208 N
5 Fields, Jack (R-TX) $70,800 N
6 Davis, Thomas (R-VA) $67,952 Y
7 Shuster, Bud (R-PA) $60,800 N
8 Livingston, Bob (R-LA) $60,250 N
9 Brewster, Bill (D-OK) $55,114 N
10 Barton, Joe (R-TX) $54,929 N
11 Oxley, Michael (R-OH) $54,380 N
12 Cubin, Barbara (R-WY) $51,750 N
13 Payne, Lewis (D-VA) $49,866 N
14 McCrery, Jim (R-LA) $48,873 N
15 Schaefer, Dan (R-CO) $46,319 N
16 Dingell, John (D-MI) $45,500 Y
17 Moran, James (D-VA) $44,039 Y
18 Stenholm, Charles (D-TX) $41,457 N
19 Bliley, Thomas (R-VA) $40,400 N
20 Thomas, William (R-CA) $38,000 N
21 Murtha, John (D-PA) $37,800 N
22 Bonilla, Henry (R-TX) $36,750 N
23 Crapo, Michael (R-ID) $36,670 N
24 Armey, Richard (R-TX) $36,600 N
25 McInnis, Scott (R-CO) $34,653 N

Source: Environmental Working Group. Compiled from Federal Election Commission data.

Note: Data for the 1996 election cycle include contributions through Dec. 31, 1995. Listed PACs may have given additional contributions to members who did not vote on the Gilchrest amendment.

Figure 6. In the 1994 and 1996 election cycles, anti-wetlands PACs gave more money to members of the House environment subcommittee who voted against the Gilchrest amendment than to members who voted for the Gilchrest amendment.

bar chart

Source: Environmental Working Group. Compiled from Federal Election Commission data. Note: Data for the 1996 election cycle include contributions through Dec. 31, 1995.

Anti-wetlands PAC Contributions to the Senate

Anti-wetlands PAC contributions are strongly correlated with cosponsorship of S. 851, the anti-wetlands bill currently pending in the Senate. The 21 Senators who are currently listed as cosponsors of S. 851 received, on average, $95,393 in anti-wetlands PAC contributions from 1990 through 1995. In comparison, Senators not listed as cosponsors of S. 851 received an average of $50,249 over the same period. All but two cosponsors of S. 851 received higher than average contributions from anti-wetlands PACs over the period studied. (See Figure 7.)

Figure 7. From 1990 through 1995, anti-wetlands PACs gave higher-than-average contributions to all but two cosponsors of S. 851.

bar chart

Source: Environmental Working Group. Compiled from Federal Election Commission data.

As with contributions to the House, anti-wetlands PAC contributions to the Senate appear to be increasingly skewed towards Senators who have cosponsored S. 851. In 1995, contributions from anti-wetlands PACs to the 21 cosponsors of S. 851 totaled $352,314--more than $18,000 higher than the total contributions to the other 79 Senators. In addition, anti-wetlands PACs were nearly twice as likely to have contributed in 1995 to Senators who had cosponsored S. 851, and gave nearly 4 times as much, on average, to cosponsors of S. 851 as to non-cosponsors. (See Figure 8.)

Figure 8. From 1990 through 1995, anti-wetlands PACs gave higher-than-average contributions to all but two cosponsors of S. 851.

bar chart

Source: Environmental Working Group. Compiled from Federal Election Commission data.

Other loopholes in H.R. 961 and S. 851

In addition to creating a new definition that would declare the majority of wetlands in the country to be non-wetlands, H.R. 961 and S. 851 contain exemptions and loopholes that would make it easier to drain and develop even areas that the bills would still define as wetlands.

  • No EPA role. Both H.R. 961 and S. 851 would eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency's role in wetlands protection. EPA currently sets standards for the wetlands program and can veto wetlands permits that are harmful to water quality or fisheries. The two bills would give all wetlands authority to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and to USDA.
  • Writes off "low value" wetlands. H.R. 961 and S. 851 would institute a "ranking" scheme to determine whether a wetland was valuable enough to deserve protection. Not only are the ranking standards arbitrary and unscientific, they would only allow protection for the largest and most pristine wetlands. "Low value" wetlands could be destroyed with no restrictions, even if the cumulative impacts on water quality or community drinking water supplies were very high. Even protections for "medium-value" wetlands would be much lower than under current law.
  • Favored industries get big breaks. H.R. 961 and S. 851 contains new exemptions for mining companies, oil, gas and utility pipelines, agribusinesses (including commercial fish farms and animal feedlots), coastal real estate developers, and timber companies, among others.

 

Why wetlands lose protection under S. 851 and H.R. 961

According to field tests, S. 851 and H.R. 961 make substantial changes to the procedures by which federal agencies determine which areas qualify as wetlands. In combination, these changes would remove the majority of the nation's wetlands -- including many obvious and well-accepted wetlands areas -- from federal Clean Water Act protection. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • Saturated wetlands lose protection. Both S. 851 and H.R. 961 require water to pond on a wetland's surface for it to be recognized as a wetland. Saturated wetlands -- areas that are wet just below the surface, but do not pond -- would not be protected as wetlands, even if a person walking through them would sink in mud. Biologically, what matters in making an area a wetland is whether the soil is saturated, not whether the ground is covered by water.
  • Wetlands ponded for less than 21 consecutive days lose protection. Some wetlands, including wetlands along rivers, are flooded or saturated repeatedly for short periods of time but do not keep water at the surface for 21 consecutive days. Under H.R. 961 all wetlands that are not ponded for 21 consecutive days during the growing season would lose all Clean Water Act protection. Similarly, S. 851 would declare non-tidal wetlands that are not ponded for 21 consecutive days to be non-wetlands.
  • Wetlands that are wet outside of the "growing season" lose protection. Both bills define the "growing season" as the frost-free period from spring through fall, when agricultural crops can grow. Many wetlands are wettest before the agricultural growing season, capturing late-winter snowmelt and early spring rains. Furthermore, many wetland plants are biologically active for weeks or months outside the agricultural growing season. Under S. 851 and H.R. 961, however, many wetlands that are flooded for many weeks or months outside the newly defined "growing season," and that perform important water-quality or flood control functions, would no longer be considered wetlands.
  • Wetlands that don't have "wetlands-only" vegetation lose protection. H.R. 961 would require the presence of plants that can only survive in wetlands in order for an area to be considered a wetland. Both bills would prohibit an area from being considered a wetland if it is dominated by plants that can survive equally well in both wetlands and non-wetlands. Some obvious wetlands that are flooded for 21 consecutive days during the growing season still would not meet these vegetative criteria.
  • New restrictions make it harder to prove that an area is a wetland. In order for an area to qualify as a wetland, both S. 851 and H.R. 961 require that clear evidence of wetlands soils, vegetation and hydrology (wetness) must be present at the time a wetlands delineation is performed--making it harder to prove that an area is a wetland if a delineation is requested during late summer or during a drought year. Furthermore, evidence of the precise duration of ponding is difficult or impossible to obtain for most wetlands. If clear evidence of precisely 21 days of ponding is unavailable at the time of a delineation, even an obvious wetland may declared to be a non-wetland.

 

What is the National Wetlands Coalition?

[A] Coalition of public and private sector entities interested in the development of a comprehensive wetlands policy for the nation."-- National Wetlands Coalition 1995 Lobbying Report Sheet

The National Wetlands Coalition (NWC) is a Washington, DC based organization that, over the past 5 years, has supported major rollbacks of federal laws protecting wetlands. The Coalition is composed primarily of oil and gas companies, and real estate and mining industries.

The Coalition was instrumental in the development of H.R. 1330, the "Comprehensive Wetlands Conservation and Management Act" introduced in the two previous congresses by Rep. Jimmy Hayes (R-LA). Most of the wetlands provisions in H.R. 961, the "Dirty Water" bill passed in May of 1995 by the House of Representatives, were copied directly from H.R. 1330.

Team Szabo. The Coalition is located at Van Ness, Feldman and Curtis, a law firm that specializes in energy, environmental and natural resources law. Van Ness attorney Robert G. Szabo serves as counsel to the Coalition. A former aide to Senator J. Bennett Johnston (D-LA), Mr. Szabo also helped write the "takings" portion of the Contract with America.

Robert Szabo also represents the National Endangered Species Act Reform Coalition (NESARC), a coalition that backs legislation that would effectively repeal the Endangered Species Act.

In May 1991, Mr. Szabo was quoted in the Washington Post as saying that it was "unfair" to characterize the NWC as an industry group, when its membership -- which included the City of Los Angeles and the Audubon Institute, a New Orleans non-profit that funds a zoo called the Endangered Species Survival Center -- proves that "it's a broad-based coalition." The City of Los Angeles resigned from the Coalition after public outcry over the effects of H.R. 1330.

Louisiana Connection. The chairman of NWC is Leighton Steward, the CEO of Louisiana Land and Exploration Corporation, the largest owner of coastal wetlands in the country. Mr. Steward is chairman of the board of the Audubon Institute and has been a member of the Coalition since 1991. A Board of Directors representing the full Coalition membership governs the NWC. Solely funded by membership dues, the Coalition collects dues reportedly ranging from $500 to $15,000 per year.

The Coalition was incorporated in September of 1989 and now has 66 members. Freeport McMoran, Inc., National Association of Homebuilders, Exxon, American Farm Bureau Federation and the International Council of Shopping Centers are a few of its members. Sixteen of the 66 members are headquartered in Louisiana.

Notes

1. Senator John Chafee, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is expected to address wetlands issues as part of a comprehensive Clean Water bill this year.

2. The North Dakota evaluation team did not provide an overall estimate for the total amount or percentage of wetlands that would lose protection in the state under the two bills. Instead, it provided estimates for wetlands losses based on the type of wetlands that would be affected, ranging from 10 percent losses for permanently flooded wetlands to 100 percent for temporarily and seasonally flooded wetlands. Weighing the relative frequency of these wetlands types, and based on estimates for neighboring states, EWG used a conservative, mid-point estimate that 55 percent of all remaining wetlands would lose protection in North Dakota under H.R. 961 and S. 851.

3. The Clean Water Act wetlands protection program, also known as the Section 404 program, requires a developer to obtain a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers before draining or filling a wetland. Permit applicants must try to avoid and minimize unnecessary damage to wetlands where practicable, and may be required to compensate for damage to wetlands by restoring other wetlands. The Section 404 permit process provides no absolute guarantee that all wetlands will be protected, but it does promote alternatives that may have lower impacts on wetlands.

4. Usually, wetlands permits are denied when there is a practicable alternative to the project that would have lower impacts on wetlands. According to data obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, only one half of one percent of all wetlands permits on which final action was taken in fiscal year 1995 were denied.

5. Data for the 1996 election cycle include all campaign contributions made on or before December 31, 1995.

Acknowledgments

Special thanks to Molly Evans who designed and produced the report, and to Kathy Nemsick, Lea Hardwick, Linda Young and Allison Daly for coordinating the release of Swamped With Cash. We are grateful to Ken Cook and Richard Wiles for their editing and insight.

We would also like to thank the many individuals who reviewed early drafts of this report for their assistance in improving the final version. We have made every effort to respond to their comments, and to double-check the data and analyses presented herein.

Swamped with Cash was made possible by grants from The Pew Charitable Trusts, The Moriah Fund, The Packard Foundation, and the Florence and John Schumann Foundation. A computer equipment grant from the Apple Computer Corporation made the analysis possible. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the supporters listed above.

Copyright March 1996 by the Environmental Working Group/The Tides Foundation. All rights reserved. Manufactured in the United States of America. Printed on recycled paper.

Cover photograph: "Scene in Marsh on Anacostia River, Washington, Capitol in distance," ca. 1882. Photography by John K. Hillers

Environmental Working Group

The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit environmental research organization based in Washington, D.C. The Environmental Working Group is a project of the Tides Foundation, a California Public Benefit Corporation based in San Francisco that provides administrative and program support services to nonprofit programs and projects.

Kenneth A. Cook, President
Mark B. Childress, Vice President for Policy
Richard Wiles, Vice President for Research

Clean Water Network

The Clean Water Network is a coalition of more than 800 organizations representing environmentalists, commercial fishermen, recreational anglers, surfers, boaters, farmers, faith communities, environmental justice advocates, labor unions, and urban communities.

Kathy Nemsick, Coordinator
Lea Hardwick, Assistant Coordinator
Linda Young, Southeast Field Coordinator

Key Issues: