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Burning the Midnight Oil

Last-minute regulations cement Bush's dirty legacy Despite a backdrop of two wars and a crumbling economy that desperately needs attention, the Bush administration is spending much of its last few months in office undermining established environmental, health, and safety protections. The executive branch..


Last-minute regulations cement Bush's dirty legacy

Despite a backdrop of two wars and a crumbling economy that desperately needs attention, the Bush administration is spending much of its last few months in office undermining established environmental, health, and safety protections. The executive branch is scrambling to file a bumper crop of last-minute rules regarding everything from worker rights to traffic safety to industrial pollution that threatens to have long-term and devastating impact.Midnight regulations, to be sure, aren't a Bush or Republican concoction. They're something of a lame duck tradition in Washington-tracing back to Jimmy Carter's final days when he beefed up all sorts of public and environmental protections. The shady mandates pushed through the governmental pipes by W. and Co., however, are proving to be the most controversial acts of an administration that's never turned its cheek to controversy."[It's] a last-minute assault on the public," said Matthew Madia of the non-profit White House watchdog group OMB Watch, "happening on multiple fronts." The Washington Post reports that there are at least 90 such rules being revised. OMB Watch and ProPublica are both tracking the regulations through the rulemaking process.Some of the most controversial deregulations (unsurprisingly) involve the fossil fuel industry, including two of the most egregious 11th hour handouts to the Big Dirties, with love from G.W.B.The first involves mountaintop removal coal mining-the ecologically ruinous practice of blowing off the hilltops to get at the coal inside. The practice is minimally regulated: One of the few rules, however, is that coal companies cannot dump mine waste within 100 feet of a stream or waterway. It's not well-enforced-over 2,000 miles of Appalachian streams are already buried. Now, any future enforcement under, say, an Environmental Protection Agency that actually protects the environment, is at risk.Under the Bush administration's rule change, which was approved on Tuesday, companies must observe the 100-ft buffer-that is, unless it doesn't really suit their fancy. If they are able to prove "why avoidance is not possible," they may dump away. The first few seconds of the trailer for the documentary Burning the Future (see below) clearly illustrate how this practice sullies residents' drinking water, which is often contaminated with dangerous levels of arsenic, iron, lead, selenium, barium, and many other heavy metals. The impact on local communities is already tragic (and, with this rule in place, will only worsen).[vimeo][/vimeo]On November 4th, while most of the American public's attention focused elsewhere, the current administration was working on another gift to Big Oil. Bush's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced a plan to lease huge swaths of public land-over 6.4 million acres-to oil and gas drilling companies. Much of the area is in pristine Eastern Utah wilderness adjacent to or near national monuments and parks, like Arches and Canyonlands, as well as vibrant towns like Moab.The auction on the tracts starts on December 19. "Once you get rid of wilderness, you can't get it back," notes Bobby McEnaney of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). It's not just the lands that are at risk; many fear that drilling will damage air quality. The BLM has since, in response to massive criticism, removed some controversial areas from the plan, but the vast majority remains on the block."The BLM didn't just try to slip the audacious Utah lease maneuver past the American people on an historic election day," railed actor and activist Robert Redford. "It actually hid the ball from its sister agency, the National Park Service (NPS), and then rejected the Service's request for more time to review the scheme." Michael Snyder, a regional director at the NPS, which is normally given three months to respond to such leases, said, "This is the first time where we have not had sufficient opportunity to comment." The NRDC's McEnaney bluntly sized up the maneuver: "They're destroying the whole process that is designed to protect these lands."There are plenty more deregulations where these two came from. Coal plants will see eased limits on emissions, as will oil refineries and chemical factories. Rules, such as those, according to NRDC lawyer John Walke, "will force Americans to choke on dirtier air for years to come."As it goes, most of the rules will take effect 60 days after being published in the Federal Register-- thus there was a flurry of activity as the respective agencies hurried new rules or amendments to current ones to the White House for approval before November 20th. There is some precedent for a new administration overturning midnight regulations once in office, but it's neither common nor easy. Considering the scope and severity of national and global crises that the President-elect and the incoming Congress are going to be dealing with from get go-don't forget those two wars and that recession-it looks as if most of these public protections will be ushered out with the current administration.
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