Bush Administration’s Final Deregulatory Push

Celeste and other bloggers have noted that the Bush administration seems to be ignoring the Bolten memo, which told agency heads not to engage in the traditional end-of-administration rush to regulate. Now, a front-page story in today’s Washington Post confirms that this administration is racing to enact several new regulations before Bush’s term ends – and, as you might expect, the list includes multiple changes that will weaken consumer and environmental protections. The Washington Post’s R. Jeffrey Smith explains:

The new rules would be among the most controversial deregulatory steps of the Bush era and could be difficult for his successor to undo. Some would ease or lift constraints on private industry, including power plants, mines and farms.

Those and other regulations would help clear obstacles to some commercial ocean-fishing activities, ease controls on emissions of pollutants that contribute to global warming, relax drinking-water standards and lift a key restriction on mountaintop coal mining.

Once such rules take effect, they typically can be undone only through a laborious new regulatory proceeding, including lengthy periods of public comment, drafting and mandated reanalysis.

“They want these rules to continue to have an impact long after they leave office,” said Matthew Madia, a regulatory expert at OMB Watch, a nonprofit group critical of what it calls the Bush administration’s penchant for deregulating in areas where industry wants more freedom. He called the coming deluge “a last-minute assault on the public . . . happening on multiple fronts.”

Smith notes that this push seems to involve fewer regulations than the Clinton administration rushed through in their final days. Bush’s team withdrew 254 of Clinton’s regulations, though, because they weren’t finalized before January 20th; current officials are trying to avoid such an outcome by publishing economically significant rules by November 20th and less-important ones by December 20th.

The article describes a parade of lobbyists cycling through the Office of Management and Budget, including representatives from the scallop-fishing industry, the National Mining Association, and kidney dialysis companies. Several industries are seeking relaxation of environmental rules, and the Bush administration seems happy to comply:

A rule put forward by the National Marine Fisheries Service and now under final review by the OMB would lift a requirement that environmental impact statements be prepared for certain fisheries-management decisions and would give review authority to regional councils dominated by commercial and recreational fishing interests.

[…]

Two other rules nearing completion would ease limits on pollution from power plants, a major energy industry goal for the past eight years that is strenuously opposed by Democratic lawmakers and environmental groups.

One rule, being pursued over some opposition within the Environmental Protection Agency, would allow current emissions at a power plant to match the highest levels produced by that plant, overturning a rule that more strictly limits such emission increases. According to the EPA’s estimate, it would allow millions of tons of additional carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually, worsening global warming.

A related regulation would ease limits on emissions from coal-fired power plants near national parks.

A third rule would allow increased emissions from oil refineries, chemical factories and other industrial plants with complex manufacturing operations.

So, here are several more items to the very long list of things that will have to be fixed once someone who prioritizes public health is in charge.

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