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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama Puts Breaks on Bush's Midnight "Loot and Run" Environmental Tactics

[Correction appended, 1/22/09]

In one of his first actions upon taking office, President Barack Obama signed an executive order to put the breaks on all pending "midnight" regulations pushed by former President Bush in his waning days in office (God it feels good to write that!). That includes the slough of "loot and run" environmental regulations advanced by Mr. Bush, including efforts to relax air emissions standards for coal plants, make it easier for coal companies to expand the dastardly practice of mountain top removal mining, and more.

According to the Associate Press, "The order went out shortly after Obama was inaugurated president, in a memorandum signed by new White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel."

All's fair in love and politics apparently: according to AP, Bush did the same thing when entering office in 2001, putting a halt to dozens of regulations and executive orders advanced by outgoing President Clinton, "who in his final 20 days in office issued 12 executive orders," AP reports, "including directives on migratory birds and the importation of diamonds from Sierra Leone."

Unfortunately, it was too late for some regulations, which Mr. Bush and his administration cronies were able to finalize before Obama's inauguration day, including rules regarding the Endangered Species Act.

AP reports:

In some cases, however, the Bush administration moved too fast for the incoming administration.

For example, just six weeks ago, the Bush administration issued revised endangered species regulations to reduce the input of federal scientists and to block the law from being used to fight global warming.

The Bush administration worked diligently to get the change in place before Obama took over, corralling 15 experts in Washington in October to sort through 250,000 written comments from the public on the revisions in 32 hours.

Obama has said he would work to reverse the changes. But because the rule takes effect before he is sworn in, he would have to restart the lengthy rulemaking process.

The changes would eliminate some of the mandatory, independent reviews that government scientists have performed for 35 years on dams, power plants, timber sales and other projects, a requirement that developers and other federal agencies have blamed for delays and cost increases.

The rules also prohibit federal agencies from evaluating the effect on endangered species and the places they live from a project's contribution to increased global warming.

There's some options available to President Obama however, as well as the Democratic Congress. According to AP, "For rules that have already gone into effect, the Democratic-controlled Congress might be able to help the Obama administration by using the Congressional Review Act, a legislative tool to bring new federal regulations under scrutiny."

There's plenty of work to be done to start digging out from the hole Mr. Bush seemed intent on placing America in. It's encouraging to see President Obama getting to work immediately to stop the damage and roll back Mr. Bush's efforts to gut dozens of environmental protections. Hail to the new Commander in Chief!

Correction (1/22/09): Several additional reports indicate that some of the worst environmental regulations propogated by the Bush Administration were too far along for a simple executive order from President Obama to stop. The LA Times reports today:

The list of Bush-era environmental rules that survived includes a major tweak to the Endangered Species Act, a first step in opening Western lands to oil shale development, leases for oil and gas drilling near some national parks, and the start of a process to allow new oil rigs off the Atlantic, Gulf, Alaska and California coasts.

Obama still holds several options for changing or reversing those decisions. All carry at least some degree of difficulty -- an apparent victory for an outgoing administration that explicitly tried to finish its rule-making early enough to tie Obama's hands.

The UK Guardian confirms that new rules easing restrictions on Mountain Top Removal are among those already finalized:

However, the majority of the so-called "midnight regulations" - such as diluting the powers of the endangered species act and relaxing the rules for mountain-top coal mining - have already come into effect and cannot easily be undone.

Noah Greenwald of the Centre for Biological Diversity welcomed the move but warned: "The majority of regulations threatening our environment, health and economy, however, will need to be undone by Congress, the courts or new rule-making."

Let's hope this is just a first step from President Obama then, and that he is committed to fully undoing the damage wrought by former President Bush. And don't forget that Power Shift 2009's lobby day is an excellent opportunity to take that message straight to your elected officials. Don't miss it!

1 comment:

Jesse Jenkins said...

FYI, it looks like these folks at OMB Watch have been keeping a close eye on Bush's "midnight" campaign of "loot and run" rulemakings, as well as Bush's broader legacy of rolling back environmental and public health protections during his reign (of terror?).