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Leave Our Beaches Alone, Coastal Lawmakers Tell Deregulators

July 7, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Republican and Democratic lawmakers from coastal districts have a message for members of Congress who want to loosen environmental regulations: Don’t mess with our beaches.

In efforts to keep the shore clean and sandy, conservative Republicans joined liberal Democrats to fend off congressional efforts to lift a moratorium on offshore drilling and a White House plan to take the Army Corps of Engineers out of local flood control and coastal reclamation projects.

Although these coastal lawmakers failed to derail a House overhaul of the Clean Water Act, which they warn would worsen water quality, Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., stitched together enough support for an amendment to retain protections against coastal pollution from sources other than direct discharges.

States that touch the Atlantic or Pacific oceans have 205 of the 435 members of the House and 38 of the 100 senators. The lawmakers are by no means monolithic about coastal issues, nor are they a majority in either House. But they comprise a potent base.

Along the coast, otherwise conservative and liberal lawmakers make common cause when it comes to protecting shore constituents from natural disasters, and tourists from the threat of beach pollution.

On Tuesday, Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., announced creation of a coalition for coastal and Great Lakes lawmakers that will include Sens. John Chafee, R-R.I.; William Cohen, R-Maine; and Connie Mack, R-Fla.

The House Appropriations Committee voted last week to restore an offshore drilling moratorium that one of its subcommittees had removed from a spending bill.

Supporters of offshore drilling ``underestimated that a lot of the members of Congress and certainly the average American does not want to see these changes,″ said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J. ``People care more about water than any other issue.″

Supporters of lifting the moratorium say the nation needs to develop its oil and gas reserves, but foes say offshore drilling carries too many environmental risks for too little gain.

Rep. Frank Riggs, a Republican freshman whose district includes a long stretch of California coastline, generated bipartisan support from the committee for keeping the moratorium.

``It pretty much cuts across party lines,″ said Riggs spokesman Beau Phillips. ``It was a combination of economics and the environment.″

Riggs, an advocate of risk-assessment guidelines in many federal regulations, represents a northern California district that includes the aquaculture industry, commercial fishing and stretches of the scenic Pacific Coast Highway.

The topic resonates in Pallone’s district and much of the New Jersey shore, which lost business in 1987 and 1988 because of pollution. And like other East Coast states, New Jersey faces periodic rebuilding of its shores following nor’easters and hurricanes.

Coastal defenders also showed their strength earlier this year by teaming with lawmakers from districts with flood-prone rivers to kill a proposal to scale back the Army Corps of Engineers’ involvement in local projects.

Backers of changing corps policy said it would save money in a tight budget for projects that benefit more than one state, and that state and local governments should be responsible for protecting their own shores.

``In the year 2000, coastal counties will contain 121 million people, or 45 percent, of the total United States population,″ 23 senators wrote in urging colleagues to follow the House’s lead in rejecting the proposal.

``Without this funding, countless communities would be severely economically handicapped, and the interstate commerce generated by foreign tourism would substantially decline.″

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