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Update on the National Environmental Education Act of 1990 (7-27-00)

President Richard Nixon signed the first environmental education act into law in 1970.  The law established the Office of Environmental Education (OEE), which later became an office of the Department of Education after the latter's formation in 1979.  OEE awarded grants to develop environmental education curricula and provide professional development for teachers.  During the 1980s, Congress eliminated OEE as part of general efforts to decrease federal involvement in education and increase the role of the states.  The 101st Congress passed the National Environmental Education Act (NEEA) of 1990 that reestablished an Office of Environmental Education but this time placing it in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Athough the NEES's authorization expired in 1996, the progrma has continued to receive funding thorugh annual appropriations bills.  The current Congress is working to reauthorize the act but remains concerned that housing OEE in EPA has skewed the science and goals of the program -- originally, the act's goal was to increase public understanding of environmental issues.

Most Recent Action
On June 27th, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Youth and Families held a hearing on "Examing the National Environmental Education Act."  The hearing included testimony from Mr. John Kasper, Acting Deputy Associate Administrator, Office of Communications, Education and Media Relations at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Dr. Bora Simmons, Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at Northern Illinois University; Mr. Walt Higgins, Chairman of the Board, National Environmental Education and Training Foundation (NEETF); and Mr. Richard Anderson, Executive Director, Maryland Environmental Business Alliance.  Rep. Michael Castle (R-DE), Chairman of the subcommittee, and Rep. William Goodling (R-PA), Chairman of the full committee, and Rep. Dale Kildee (D-MI), Ranking Member of the subcommittee, made opening remarks regarding the bipartisan work to reauthorize the National Environmental Education Act of 1990, which has been renamed the John H. Chafee Environmental Education Act.   Complete text of the panel's written testimony is available at the subcommittee hearing website, and more information on the hearing is available below.

Current Congress
Two bills have been offered during this Congress to reauthorize the National Environmental Education Act of 1990:  S. 1946 and H.R. 4745, both entitled the John H. Chafee Environmental Education Act of 2000.  Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) introduced S. 1946 in November 1999, when it was referred to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, on which Inhofe sits.  The committee did not hold any hearings on the bill before reporting favorably on it in April 2000.  The report (S. Rept. 106-272) outlines the proposed changes to the bill and a report from the Congressional Budget Office on the coast of these changes to the federal government.  The act is being named in memory of Senator John Chafee (R-RI) who was active in environmental causes. A provision of the bill reaffirms that the bill is not meant to fund lobbying activities, and another provision would repeal the internships and fellowships offered at EPA's Office of Environmental Education.  The bill would establish a new John H. Chafee Fellowship program that would provide five individual one-year $25,000 fellowships in environmental sciences -- two of which will be offered by the University of Rhode Island.  Also, S. 1946 would authorize the program's activities through 2005.  After the committee reported on the bill, the Senate passed it by unanimous consent on April 27, 2000.  The bill was then sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Representative Michael Castle (R-DE) introduced H.R. 4745, the House version of the Chafee Environmental Education Act (CEEA), on June 26, 2000.  Castle's bill is very similar to the Senate version with a few minor differences.  H.R. 4745 emphasizes the need for "balanced and scientifically based" environmental education.

On June 27th, the House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Youth and Families held a hearing on CEEA.  In his opening remarks, Rep. Castle said, "Learning about the environment is central to the protection of our natural resources and our own human health. In addition, there is a growing body of evidence that environmental education can be a vehicle for connecting other academic disciplines, such as science, math, social studies and language arts. This type of integration can provide students with the skills and knowledge they need to compete in an increasingly challenging and complex world."

Education Committee Chairman Bill Goodling (R-PA) summarized a key concern of members of Congress in his opening statement by saying that "there are concerns that certain environmental curricula favor a specific perspective or agenda and any authorization legislation should ensure that the program has a sound science foundation."

The first witness was Mr. John Kasper, Acting Deputy Associate Administrator, Office of Communications, Education, and Media Relations, Environmental Protection Agency.  His testimony listed the goals of the Office of Environmental Education (OEE) as: 1) to support state level activities, 2) to improve environmental education by linking with education reform, 3) to encourage research, 4) to improve the quality, access and coordination of environmental education information, resources, and programs; and 5) to raise awareness of the importance of environmental education to the public.

Mr. Walter Higgins, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, the National Environmental Education and Training Foundation (NEETF), testified on activities supported by NEETF, which was created by the National Environmental Education Act of 1990 to be an independent, nonprofit organization to help develop public-private partnerships.  According to his testimony, NEETF works to bring together "the business community, nonprofit organizations and government agencies to focus on innovative, effective, voluntary programs to improve our nation's performance in critical areas of national concern."

Dr. Deborah Simmons, Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Northern Illinois University and member of the Board of the American Association for Environmental Education, provided information on environmental education cirrculum guidelines that were developed in 1996.  In her testimony, Dr. Simmons stated: "The Guidelines for Excellence reflect a widely shared consensus that professionally conceived environmental education programs must fully describe environmental problems, reflect the diversity of perspectives on them and foster awareness of the natural and built environment. In building lifelong skills, educators are expected to promote civic responsibility and encourage individual thinking with respect to problem-solving. Environmental education materials need to be well-designed, easy to use and rely upon techniques proven to create effective learning environments."

The last witness was Dr. Richard Anderson, Executive Director, Maryland Environmental Business Alliance.  His testimony focused primarily on the role of small businesses in environmental education -- especially community colleges.  He talked about NEETF's Corporate Environmental Mentoring program that "is working on an environmental education program that will be delivered to small business owners and their employees through a national network of 1,200 community colleges."  He continued by discussing the need to incorporate the community colleges in the nation to a national plan to develop "an environmentally conscience and responsible public."

During the question and answer section, members of the committee and the panelists discussed the need for sound, unbiased science in education.  They also talked about how environmental education programs should be age appropriate and not contain lobbying lessons.  Several members of the committee voiced their concern that funding form the program has been used by some groups to teach lobbying activities with specific desired outcomes.  Mr. Kasper tried to reassure the members that OEE works to support balanced and unbiased activities.  Rep. Goodling concluded the hearing by saying that he expects the committee to hold more hearings in the future.

The very first National Environmental Education Act was signed into law on October 30, 1970, by President Nixon. However, the Act was funded only through 1975 and then it was repealed in 1981 as part of a budget reconciliation bill. The 101st Congress brought up the issue again in 1990 with S. 3176. The bill ultimately became the National Environmental Education Act (PL 101-619) that President Bush signed into law on November 16, 1990. It mandates that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) make environmental education a priority through various activities administered by its Environmental Education Division. The overarching goals of the Act are for EPA to arrange environmental education initiatives at the federal level and to provide national leadership for the public and private sectors. The act includes the following:

For more background on EPA's environmental education activities, visit AGI's Update on the National Environmental Education Act of 1990 from the 105th Congress.

Sources:  Congressional Research Service Report "National Environmental Education Act of 1990: Overview, Implementation, and Reauthorization Issues," hearing testimony, Library of Congress, Senate Committee Report, and EPA Environmental Education website.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Contributed by Margaret Baker, AGI Government Affairs

Posted July 27, 2000

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