S. 163. A bill to reauthorize the United States Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Environment and Public Works.
Mr. President, I am pleased to introduce legislation to continue Federal support for the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution. This legislation is identical to legislation which passed the Senate unanimously in September of last year.
The Congress enacted legislation to establish the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution in 1998, with the purpose of offering an alternative to litigation for parties in dispute over environmental conflicts. As we know, many environmental conflicts often result in lengthy and costly court proceedings and may take years to resolve. In cases involving Federal Government agencies, the costs for court proceeding are usually paid for by taxpayers. While litigation is still a recourse to resolve disputes, the Congress recognized the need for alternatives, such as mediation and facilitated collaboration, to address the rising number of environmental conflicts that have clogged Federal courts, executive agencies, and the Congress.
The Institute was placed at the Morris K. Udall Foundation in recognition of former Representative Morris K. Udall from Arizona and his exceptional environmental record, as well as his unusual ability to build a consensus amoung fractious and even hostile interests. The Institute was established as an experiment with the idea that hidden within fractured environmental debates lay the seeds for many agreements, an approach applied by Mo Udall with unsurpassed ability.
The success of the Institute is far greater than we could have imagined. The Institute began operations in 1999 and has already provided assistance to parties in more than 100 environmental conflicts across 30 states.
Agencies from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Departments of Interior and Agriculture, the U.S. Navy, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and others have all called upon the Institute for assistance. Even the Federal courts are referring cases to the Institute for mediation, including such high profile cases as the management of endangered salmon throughout the Columbia River Basin in the Northwest.
The Institution also assisted in facilitating interagency temawork for the Everglades Task Force which oversees the South Everglades Restoration Project. The U.S. Forest Service requested assistance to bring ranchers and environmental advocates in the southwest to work on grazing and environmental compliance issues. Even members of Congress have sought the Institute's assistance to review implementation of the Nation's fundamental environmental law, the National Environmental Policy Act, to assess how it can be improved using collaborative processes.
The Institute accomplishes its work by maintaining a national roster of 180 environmental mediators and facilitators located in 39 states. We believe that mediators should be involved in the geographic area of the dispute whenever possible and that system is working.
The demand on the Institute's assistance had been much greater than anticipated. At the time the Institute was created, we did not anticipate the magnitude of the role it would serve to the Federal Government. The Institute has served as a mediator between agencies and as an advisor to agency dispute resolution efforts involving overlapping or competing jurisdictions and mandates, developing long-term solutions, training personnel in consensus-building efforts, and designing international systems for preventing or resolving disputes.
Unfortunately, experience has also taught us that most Federal agencies are limited from participating because of inadequate funds to pay for mediation services. This legislation will authorize a participation fund to be used to support meaningful participation of parties to Federal environmental disputes. The participation fund will provide matching funds to stakeholders who cannot otherwise afford mediation fees or costs of providing technical assistance.
In addition to creating this new participation fund, this legislation simply extends the authorization for the Institute for an additional five years with a modest increase in its operation budget. The proposed increase is in response to the overwhelming demand on the Institute's services, an investment that will ultimately benefit taxpayers by preventing costly litigation.
I hope that we can consider this legislation expeditiously to ensure continuing support for the valuable services of the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution to our Nation.