Bush Record on Environment Called Dismal

WASHINGTON, DC, January 17, 2003 (ENS) - The Bush administration undermined America's landmark environmental laws on almost a daily basis in 2002, two new reports suggest. The reports document more than 100 anti-environmental actions by the administration last year, and point to ongoing efforts to undermine existing protections and delay proposed new rules that could help the environment.

For the second year in a row, federal agencies announced dozens of regulatory changes that will weaken safeguards for the nation's air, water, wetlands, forests, wildlands, wildlife and public health, finds a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The report highlights the fact that the administration intensified its assault on environmental protections after the November mid-term congressional elections, and reveals how the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) played a central role in coordinating the onslaught.

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President George W. Bush (Photo courtesy the White House)
These conclusions are echoed by the budget watchdog group OMB Watch, which reports that the Bush administration has advanced very few health, safety and environmental protections over the last two years - much fewer than the two previous administrations - and is quietly scuttling work on a host of protective standards in the regulatory pipeline.

"Last year, the White House escalated its efforts to trample our bedrock environmental laws," said Gregory Wetstone, NRDC's director of advocacy. "And it's going to get worse. America's environmental protections have been challenged before, but never have they faced a threat as far-reaching, insidious and destructive as the one posed by the Bush administration and the new Congress."

The NRDC report, "Rewriting the Rules: The Bush Administration's Assault on the Environment - 2002," shows that the White House has enlisted every federal agency that oversees environmental programs in a coordinated effort to relax regulations for oil, coal, logging, mining, chemical, automakers and other industries.

Some of the most glaring examples documented in the report include:

Changes to the Clean Air Act by the Environmental Protection Agency that provide the nation's oldest and dirtiest power plants and refineries with loopholes exempting them from installing modern pollution controls when they upgrade or expand their facilities in ways that increase emissions.

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The Bush administration's so called Healthy Forests initiative promotes forest thinning to reduce the risk of wildfire. This thinning project in northern Arizona left scattered trees surrounded by barren ground. (Photo courtesy Martos Hoffman, Native Forest Network)
New EPA and Army Corps of Engineers policies to relax and, in some cases, end Clean Water Act protection for millions of acres of wetlands and other waterways; eliminate corporate liability for "factory farm" pollution; and exempt mining waste from regulation as a pollutant under federal law.

A series of proposals by the Forest Service and other federal agencies to eliminate requirements for environmental review and public participation when considering logging, mining, drilling, development and other projects in all 155 national forests and on millions of acres of public lands.

"It's no accident some of the Bush administration's biggest handouts to corporate interests happened after Election Day," said Wetstone. "Americans voted for many things in November, but they didn't vote for a sweeping attack on the environment."

The report also notes how the Bush administration routinely tries to minimize public scrutiny of its anti-environmental policies by withholding information from the media until late on Friday evenings or around major holidays. For example, the EPA announced its major changes to the Clean Air Act a few days after Thanksgiving and on New Year's Eve.

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After the snowmobile industry appealed to the Bush administration, the Interior Department overturned a ban on the noisy machines in Yellowstone National Park. (Photo by Jeff Henry, courtesy The Wilderness Society)
The administration also uses environmentally friendly euphemisms to mask the true intent and impact of its policy proposals, the NRDC argues. The White House dubbed its plan to allow timber companies increased access to old-growth forests - under the guise of fire prevention - the "Healthy Forests" initiative, and refers to logging as "thinning."

"America's landmark environmental laws have safeguarded our health, improved our quality of life, and preserved our natural heritage," said Wetstone. "The Bush administration's quiet, back door assault on environmental protections is no less an attack on the air we breathe, the water we drink and the last remaining special places we hold dear."

OMB Watch examined the Bush administration's regulatory output of "economically significant" rules over its first two years, focusing on a number of agencies responsible for health, safety and environmental protections. The group found that under the Bush administration, the EPA has completed just two major rules - both required by court order, and both weakened at the request of affected industry - compared to 23 completed by the Clinton administration over its first two years and 14 by the first Bush administration over its first two years.

The most meaningful and important regulations are invariably deemed "economically significant," meaning they have an estimated total impact of at least $100 million per year, including benefits. These are the regulations that have broad application, such as EPA's standard on arsenic in drinking water, or OSHA's now-repealed ergonomics standard.

Almost all of the many Clinton-era rules that the Bush administration repealed or weakened were "economically significant," OMB Watch has determined.

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Critics say that Bush's so called "Clear Skies" initiative could actually worsen air pollution. (Photo courtesy Senator Patrick Leahy)
OMB Watch also examined the regulatory agendas of three agencies - the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration - to see what has changed during the Bush administration. They found that the EPA has halted work on 48 environmental standards, the FDA has stopped work on 56 standards, and OSHA has halted 21 new standards.

OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) is now instructing federal agencies to evaluate hundreds of regulatory recommendations submitted by outside parties - most of which are industry groups and trade associations, OMB Watch found.

"Rewriting the Rules" is available on NRDC's Web site at: http://www.nrdc.org/legislation/rollbacks/rollbacksinx.asp

The OMB Watch report, "Administration Advances Few Health, Safety and Environmental Protections," is available at: http://www.ombwatch.org/execreport/