The Wrecking Crew Heads for the Door
Editorial, Bennington Banner, Nov. 7, 2008
On its way out the door, the Bush administration is rushing to gut
some important laws and regulations protecting the environment.
Regarding the Endangered Species Act, for instance, the
administration wants to impose major exceptions to rules requiring
scientific review of federal projects that might harm or threaten
The administration wants federal agencies to decide for themselves
whether highways, dams, mines and other projects will harm endangered
animals or plants. The changes would apply to any project the federal
government funds, builds or authorizes.
This giveaway to commercial interests would greatly reduce the
mandatory, independent reviews government scientists have been
conducting in the 35 years since the act was adopted. The new
regulations also would bar federal agencies from assessing whether
emissions from proposed projects would further endanger species or
habitats by contributing to global warming.
In response to these proposed changes, individuals, groups and
officials submitted more than 300,000 comments. The Interior
Department quickly assigned 15 employees to "review" all of them in
32 hours, a cynical speed-reading exercise with a predictable
Not surprisingly, the Interior Department "brightly concluded that no
significant environmental harm would result from simply allowing
federal agencies to voluntarily decide whether their projects might
be a threat to wildlife," writes Carl Pope, executive director of
the Sierra Club.
The rush job is a result of the administration's desire to finalize
all regulatory changes before it leaves office, making it difficult
and time-consuming for the incoming Obama administration to reverse
In another area, a rule put forward by the National Marine Fisheries
Service, now under final review, would lift the requirement that
environmental impact statements be prepared for certain fisheries
management decisions. In addition, it would give review authority to
regional councils dominated by commercial and recreational fishing
interests, according to The Washington Post.
The administration has received almost 200,000 public comments on the
rule, as well as protests from 80 members of Congress and 160
conservation groups, according to the Post.
In yet another outrage, the administration signed a rule on Oct. 31
exempting thousands of factory farms from needing permits that limit
water pollution. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency did
not adopt improved controls for bacteria and other pathogens that can
pose risks to human health and wildlife, according to the Natural
Resources Defense Council.
Factory farms, also known as concentrated animal feeding operations,
confine animals on an industrial scale and produce massive amounts of
manure and other waste that can pollute waterways with dangerous
contaminants. These farms lack waste treatment facilities comparable
to those that treat human sewage, according to the Natural Resources
There are many more such damaging rule changes in the pipeline than
can be detailed here. Others include, according to The New York
Times, a rule that would weaken a Clean Air Act program requiring
utilities to install modern pollution controls when they upgrade
their plants to produce more power. The EPA also will issue a rule to
make it easier for coal-fired plants to locate near national parks.
And the Interior Department is awaiting EPA approval of a proposal
that would make it easier for mining companies to dump toxic wastes
in valleys and streams.
The new administration will undo all this craziness - but with an
unfortunate expense of time, energy and money. A decent future for
the U.S. and the world will require thinking through and working out
responsible and integrated economic, energy, food and environmental
policies which don't destroy one sector to boost another. The Bush
administration's ill-considered rule changes are the last gasp of an
exhausted and discredited ideology.