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BUSH ADMINISTRATION FULLFILLS WISH LIST FOR CORPORATE AMERICA
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Mission Accomplished
Bush Administration Fulfills Wish List for Corporate America
Published on Saturday, September 6, 2003 by Knight-Ridder

by Seth Borenstein

 

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration eased a series of important environmental regulations in a quiet flurry of late-summer activity, delivering almost every rule change on corporate America's wish list.

They're trying to dismantle some of the original clean air and water legislation that (President) Nixon put through. They're going full bore.


Lester Brown, the president of the Earth Policy Institute

In the past few weeks, the administration diluted federal rules governing air pollution from old coal-fired power plants; emissions that cause global warming; ballast water on ships contaminated with foreign species of plants and animals; sales of land tainted with PCBs; drilling for oil and gas on federal land; and scientific studies that underpin federal regulations.

In every case the business community got what it wanted, and environmentalists got mad.

Administration supporters say the rule changes are in part attempts to eliminate unnecessary government edicts that curtail energy production, discourage investment, hinder the economy or cost jobs. Moreover, they say, not all rule changes have favored industry, although they acknowledge that most have.

Frank Maisano, an energy lobbyist at the Bracewell & Patterson law firm in Washington, pointed to new rules restricting diesel engines, issued last April. Those strong rules, praised by environmentalists, were enacted over the objections of the diesel-engine industry, Maisano said.

Nevertheless, Bill Kovacs, the vice president for environmental issues of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the business community won more environmental battles during the final week of August than it had during the entire eight years of the Clinton administration.

"We certainly had a number of victories this week; I don't think anyone can deny that," Kovacs said on the Friday before Labor Day.

He and two big-industry lobbyists said the Bush administration had delivered nearly every environmental regulatory change business put on its to-do list in January 2001. Their industries got every change they wanted, the lobbyists said.

"This administration is dismantling anything that's impairing industry or the private sector's ability to develop, use land or produce energy," said Carl Reidel, professor emeritus of environmental policy and law at the University of Vermont.

Experts say the timing of the changes wasn't accidental.

"They need to get this stuff out of the way before they get into an election year; they need to get enough below the radar," said political science professor Stephen Meyer, the director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Project on Environmental Politics and Policy.

"The Bush administration always likes to announce unpopular environmental policies in the dead of political and press night. And you can't find a week when people are less likely to pay attention than the end of August," said Phil Clapp, the president of the National Environmental Trust.

Lisa Harrison, the Environmental Protection Agency's chief spokeswoman, denied that the timing was politically motivated.

"It is interesting sport for people to offer their conjecture, but it's nothing more than that," she said. "A lot always comes out of the agency. I never had a week that was not like last week."

John Byrne, the director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Delaware, said the record spoke for itself: "If you just looked at what were rule-making efforts by the administration, you'd see this is a crowded four-month period, particularly in difficult decisions."

Harrison agreed that the administration has put most of its regulatory agenda in place. "That's certainly a testament . . . to the president keeping his commitment," she said.

Environmentalists don't see it that way. While all the changes involved rewrites of arcane regulatory language, they constituted major U-turns in policy.

"They're trying to dismantle some of the original clean air and water legislation that (President) Nixon put through," charged environmental economist Lester Brown, the president of the Earth Policy Institute. "They're going full bore."

The decisions included:

  • Two controversial changes in a rule governing expansion of old coal-fired power plants, dramatically easing the rules requiring companies to install new pollution controls when they make big upgrades.
  • Two legal opinions ruling that carbon dioxide, which most scientists say is the chief cause of global warming, isn't a pollutant that the EPA can cite to regulate emissions from cars and power plants. The rulings reverse a Clinton administration legal opinion that carbon dioxide is a pollutant.
  • An EPA legal opinion declaring that it won't regulate ships' ballast water under the Clean Water Act, turning the issue over to the Coast Guard. The ballast water contains billions of tiny fish, plants and other foreign invasive species that scientists say are major threats to native species in American waters.
  • An edict changing a 25-year-old rule to allow the sale of land tainted with toxic PCBs.
  • An order to Bureau of Land Management field offices in the West telling them to speed up the process permitting drilling for oil and gas on federal lands.
  • A new Office of Management and Budget policy governing scientific studies used to justify costly federal regulations. The policy orders more stringent peer review; environmentalists fear it will slow the enactment of environmental regulations.

"There's a lot of dramatic change going on. And a good bit of which would be thought of by many as not very environmentally sound," said Dan Esty, who was the EPA's deputy chief of staff in the first Bush administration and now heads Yale University's Center for Environmental Law and Policy.

The rule changes that affect air pollution from power plants "are really breath-taking in terms of the scope of regulatory change," said Chuck Davis, a Colorado State University political scientist who specializes in environmental policy. "And there's not a whole lot environmentalists can do about it, except challenge it in courts."

Unable to get bills that would weaken environmental laws through Congress, the administration made all these changes as administrative rulings.

"They leave the laws in place, but undermine the regulations below them, undermine the rules and undermine the agencies," said MIT's Meyer. "The details get lost because the average person doesn't have the details or the time to follow it."

Kovacs of the Chamber of Commerce said Bush was simply borrowing a tactic that the Clinton administration routinely used.

"They figured out what the Clinton administration figured out," Kovacs said. "If you control the agencies, you use them. I wish they had done it sooner."

2003 Knight-Ridder Newspapers

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