Bush administration’s last-minute assault on federal regulations caps a record of rewarding buddies
Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
Nov. 9, 2008, 9:29PM
Not content to rest on their laurels as members of one of the most anti-environmental and pro-industry administrations in recent U.S. history, Bush-appointed administrators in key agencies are busily rewriting regulations to compound the damage.
On issues ranging from water and air quality to family planning and civil liberties — and before Barack Obama takes office — they are seeking to achieve with the stroke of a bureaucratic pen what they could not get from Congress or the voters. A memo from the White House chief of staff to agency directors set a Nov. 1 deadline for completing major regulation changes that must undergo a 60-day window for comment by members of Congress before taking effect. In order to avoid reversal by the incoming administration, these must be published by Nov. 20. Because of lengthy time requirements for undoing the changes, the American people could be stuck with them for several years to come.
More than 90 such changes are in the works as a holiday season stocking stuffer for favored interest groups. Interior Department officials are pushing for changes that would let federal agencies approve projects that have an impact on threatened species and their habitats without consulting Fish and Wildlife Service scientists as currently required. According to National Wildlife Federation spokesman John Kostyack, “These changes take unbiased, professional wildlife biologists out of the equation and put decisions in the hands of political appointees.”
A proposed Justice Department regulation would allow local and state law enforcement to collect and share sensitive information on citizens even when they are not suspected of involvement in criminal activity. The Americans with Disabilities Act would be weakened by permitting state and local governments to make only a fraction of their facilities accessible to the handicapped.
A Department of Health and Human Services rule change would deny federal funds to family planning organizations and clinics that refuse to hire staffers who will not provide birth control to patients upon request. The regulation would also define forms of birth control as abortion, allowing physicians and others a legal basis for declining to provide family planning counseling that includes birth control techniques.
Likewise, the White House is preparing rules changes to eliminate environmental reviews for fishing regulations and allow regional councils dominated by both commercial and sports fishing interests to make those judgments.
The Environmental Protection Agency is seeking to permit increased emissions from older power plants near national parks and wilderness areas, while watering down prohibitions against discharges of industrial effluent into waterways and curbs on mountain-top coal mining. The Bureau of Land Management is rushing to open millions of acres of wilderness areas in Utah to development, including tracts close to national parks.
That’s only a sampling of what amounts to an administration-wide effort to set regulations that will last long after George W. Bush leaves the White House. It’s unfortunate that the outgoing president has chosen to continue to the end misguided policies that reward his allies at a steep price to the public.
In order to reverse this government by bureaucratic fiat, the Cabinet members appointed by President-elect Obama must set as a top priority identifying and containing the latest regulatory damage while charting a return to a national commitment to protect the environment, public health and civil liberties.