The House has passed a sweeping anti-regulation package which would radically change the way the federal government could enact - and enforce - future measures to reduce air and water pollution.

If the legislation became law, it could affect the Bay cleanup effort in several ways: It would immediately hinder full implementation of the Bay Program's new toxics reduction strategy, it would jeopardize efforts to stem the loss of wetlands in the watershed, and it would slow - and perhaps halt - development of new regulations that could reduce pollution to the Chesapeake.

"Some of the stuff could be pretty damaging," said Chesapeake Bay Foundation Vice President Ann Powers. "Things like takings and risk assessment are certainly very troublesome."

The three-pronged bill includes a moratorium on new regulations until comprehensive reform measures are approved; requirements that agencies perform lengthy new risk assessment and cost-benefit studies before enacting regulations; and requirements that regulating agencies pay landowners for "taking" property when their actions reduce land values.

"The pendulum has swung too far in favor of bureaucrats and now we're bringing it back to the middle," said Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, one of the champions for regulatory reform in the House, who reminded people that as a businessman in Houston he, too, had been burdened by federal regulators.

The legislation was sent to the Senate. Before doing so, the House packaged all the measures into a single bill - a move calculated to give its negotiators more leverage in bargaining in a conference committee that tries to resolve differences with any bill that ultimately comes out of the Senate. Any item that is in the House bill can be brought up in the conference committee.

But the fate in the Senate is less certain. "It's apparent these bills go way too far, in my judgment," said Sen. John H. Chafee, R- R.I., at a recent briefing for environmental journalists. Chafee, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the House legislation would "likely lead to gridlock in the regulatory process."

Yet, Chafee acknowledged, many senators, including Majority Leader Robert Dole, R-Kan., were supporting various pieces of legislation that contain many of the key elements of the House package.

President Clinton has indicated he may veto the bill unless it is dramatically changed.

The three main elements of the House bill are:

Regulatory Moratorium:

The House on Feb. 24 approved a temporary freeze on new regulations by a vote of 276-146, only 14 votes short of a veto-proof majority. The bill would halt implementation of any rules proposed after Nov. 20, 1994, until more comprehensive regulatory reform legislation can pass Congress.

Among measures jeopardized by such a move would be plans by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expand its Wetlands Reserve Program into Maryland and Pennsylvania, rules for which are to be published soon. The voluntary program reimburses farmers who want to restore wetlands on their property. It is seen as a way to help the nation, and the Bay Program, meet their "no net loss" wetland goal because it helps offset small losses that result from routine permitting processes. The Wetland Reserve Program is the largest wetland restoration program in the country.

Also, the House-passed bill would affect the EPA's Toxics Release Inventory, which is a key element of the Bay Program's new toxics reduction strategy. Last Nov. 28 - a week after the effective date of the moratorium - the EPA announced rules adding 286 substances to the list, bringing the total number to 654.

Certain manufacturers that employ 10 or more people and use more than 10,000 pounds of chemicals are required to report their estimated discharges of substances on the list to the EPA under the 1986 Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act.

Most of the toxics reductions in the Bay Program's new "Basinwide Toxics Reduction and Prevention Strategy" are tied to the TRI list. For example, the strategy calls for cutting the amount of TRI toxics released at federal facilities by 75 percent by the turn of the century and for cutting discharges from major industries by 50 percent. When those goals were approved last October, it was understood that the TRI list would soon be expanded, meaning greater toxics reductions.

Also, the new TRI list included five of the 14 chemicals which are considered Bay "Toxics of Concern" - those that pose the greatest threat to Bay organisms. The old TRI list contained only seven. The Bay Program has targeted the Toxics of Concern for special reduction efforts, but has no way to measure success unless they are included in TRI reports.

"The new list captures a lot more of the chemicals we're concerned about," said Rich Batiuk, toxics cng greater toxics reductions.

Also, the new TRI list included five of the 14 chemicals which are considered Bay "Toxics of Concern" - those that pose the greatest threat to Bay organisms. The old TRI list contained only seven. The Bay Program has targeted the Toxics of Concern for special reduction efforts, but has no way to measure success unless they are included in TRI reports.

"The new list captures a lot more of the chemicals we're concerned about," said Rich Batiuk, toxics cng greater toxics reductions.

Also, the new TRI list included five of the 14 chemicals which are considered Bay "Toxics of Concern" - those that pose the greatest threat to Bay organisms. The old TRI list contained only seven. The Bay Program has targeted the Toxics of Concern for special reduction efforts, but has no way to measure success unless they are included in TRI reports.

"The new list captures a lot more of the chemicals we're concerned about," said Rich Batiuk, toxics cng greater toxics reductions.

Also, the new TRI list included five of the 14 chemicals which are considered Bay "Toxics of Concern" - those that pose the greatest threat to Bay organisms. The old TRI list contained only seven. The Bay Program has targeted the Toxics of Concern for special reduction efforts, but has no way to measure success unless they are included in TRI reports.

"The new list captures a lot more of the chemicals we're concerned about," said Rich Batiuk, toxics cng greater toxics reductions.

Also, the new TRI list included five of the 14 chemicals which are considered Bay "Toxics of Concern" - those that pose the greatest threat to Bay organisms. The old TRI list contained only seven. The Bay Program has targeted the Toxics of Concern for special reduction efforts, but has no way to measure success unless they are included in TRI reports.

"The new list captures a lot more of the chemicals we're concerned about," said Rich Batiuk, toxics coordinator with the EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program Office. "Particularly, it really goes into the PAHs Polynuclear Aromatic Hydrocarbons, which are toxic byproducts of fossil fuel combustion] which are a real concern for us in the sediment. Atmospheric deposition is one of the key sources."

Risk and Cost Analysis: The House on Feb. 28 approved a bill that would require federal agencies to make elaborate risk assessments and consider the costs of environmental protection against benefits. Health-based rules such as those requiring certain standards for air quality could no longer be issued if they are considered too costly. The bill passed 286-141, four short of what is needed to override a veto.

Historically, pollution reductions have been achieved through the establishment of either technology or health standards. With technology standards, the EPA sets reductions that can be achieved through the best pollution control technology that is considered to be generally affordable. With health standards, the EPA sets a limit - such as ozone standards in urban areas - that protect human health.

Under the House bill, all environmental regulations would have to undergo risk assessments and cost-benefit analysis before they could take effect. The idea is to make sure that new regulations achieve more in benefits than they cost the economy. Also, agencies would have to direct their programs toward addressing issues that pose the most risk to human health.

Proponents of the legislation say regulations are an indirect tax that cost $5,900 per family. Federal regulations are "crushing our economy and invading the lives of every American," complained Rep. Michael Crapo, R-Idaho, during debate on government risk assessment.

"We want to shrink the size of the government," explained Rep. Thomas Bliley, R-Va., complaining about "an explosion" of federal rules over the past decade. Anti-regulatory proponents estimate federal agencies issue more than 4,000 preliminary and final rules, regulations and standards a year.

Environmental groups strongly oppose the requirement, arguing that risk assessments and cost benefit analysis are too inexact to be meaningful.

"There are a lot of environmental variables that are really hard to either assess or cost," said Jackie Savitz, a scientist with the Bay foundation. "For example, what's the value of the Bay? You can't do a cost-benefit analysis on anything that you can't cost."

The legislation also prescribes specific ways for the risk assessments to be done. It requires that the risk for an "average" person be assessed; environmentalists and others say the risk to the most sensitive segment of the population should be assessed. For example, they contend air pollution regulations should weigh the risk to people with asthma or other respiratory problems who could be most harmed.

The EPA has estimated that it would take 980 additional employees to meet the bill's assessment requirements, and that it would take two years longer to carry out actions that protect the environment.

Critics say that would delay regulations needed to protect human health and the environment and that it would open the door to numerous court challenges to the risk and cost analyses. In addition, they complain that the bill allows industry representatives or others with a vested interest to participate on the peer review panels for risk assessments.

The bill does not affect regulations already on the books to implement major environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, but critics say it could hinder or delay future regulations related to those laws.

An analysis completed by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, found that the bill could delay or derail several upcoming regulations which have implications for the Bay.

For example, the legislation could further delay regulations designed to control stormwater runoff from cities with fewer than 100,000 people while risk assessments and cost analyses are completed. Those regulations were supposed to be out by 1994 but have not yet been published.

In addition, the EPA is considering strengthening its standards for ground level ozone in light of recent studies which have indicated the existing standards may not be strong enough to protect public health. The EPA is expected to revise standards by June 1997, but the new requirements could delay implementation for years, NRDC said.

A stronger ozone standard is particularly significant for the Bay cleanup because it could result in further reductions of nitrogen oxide emissions - a major contributor to ground-level ozone pollution - which is a significant, and difficult to control, source of nutrients to the Bay.

Private property: The House on March 3 passed a "takings" bill would require the government to reimburse landowners when wetlands protection, endangered species or water allocation laws reduce the value of their property . The vote was 277-141, 13 less than needed to override a veto.

Under the legislation, landowners would be entitled to reimbursement when the market value of any portion of their property - not the property as a whole - was reduced by 20 percent or more by a regulatory action. If the value were reduced by more than 50 percent, the landowner could demand that the government purchase the property.

The money would have to be paid out of the budgets of the regulatory agencies, rather than out of the general fund. Also, the agencies would have to notify landowners of any action that could reduce their property values and tell them how to file a claim.

Compensation would not have to be paid if an action provides an "imminent and identifiable" threat to pubic health and safety, or if it would constitute a nuisance or violate state law.

Environmentalists contended the bill amounted to little more than "paying polluters" not to degrade public resources, and that it would effectively end objectives such as the national "no net loss" of wetlands policy, or the Bay Program's goal of a "net resource gain" for wetlands.

In two days of debate, supporters of the bill produced a litany of "horror stories" - many of which environmentalists said were untrue - in which small landowners were deprived of maximum use of their land by federal agencies because the land was declared a wetland or habitat for an endangered species. Compensating landowners, they contended, is a matter of "simple fairness."

"People believe government no longer is their servant -- it's their master," said Rep. Billy Tauzin, D-La., one of the strongest supporters of the measure.

Environmentalists predicted that if the House bill survives in the Senate, where similar measures have been introduced, it could amount to destroying wetlands and endangered species protection programs because agencies could not afford the billions of dollars it could take to compensate landowners.

"It'll either bankrupt them or they just won't do anything," said Powers of the Bay foundation, who called the potential impact on the Bay "devastating."

"Here on the Bay we've lost hundreds of thousands of acres of wetlands," she said. "We've lost 60 percent of our wetlands. And we're expecting 3 million more people in the next 10 or 15 or 20 years, so we're going to have massive increases in construction. Unless we stop any future wetland losses from that influx of people, plus restore some of the wetlands that we've already lost, we're going to be losing ground."

- The Associated Press contributed to this report