Two reports warn of Bush's assault on the environment

Posted: 31 January 2003

The Bush administration undermined America's landmark environmental laws on almost a daily basis in 2002, claim two new reports. The reports document more than 100 anti-environmental actions by the administration last year, and point to ongoing efforts to undermine existing protections and delay proposed new rules that could help the environment.

For the second year in a row, federal agencies announced dozens of regulatory changes that will weaken safeguards for the nation's air, water, wetlands, forests, wildlands, wildlife and public health, finds a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The report highlights the fact that the administration intensified its assault on environmental protections after the November mid-term congressional elections, and reveals how the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) played a central role in co-ordinating the onslaught.

GW BushPresident George W. Bush© The White House

These conclusions are echoed by the budget watchdog group OMB Watch, which reports that the Bush administration has advanced very few health, safety and environmental protections over the last two years - much fewer than the two previous administrations - and is quietly scuttling work on a host of protective standards in the regulatory pipeline. "Last year, the White House escalated its efforts to trample our bedrock environmental laws," said Gregory Wetstone, NRDC's director of advocacy. "And it's going to get worse. America's environmental protections have been challenged before, but never have they faced a threat as far-reaching, insidious and destructive as the one posed by the Bush administration and the new Congress."

The NRDC report, Rewriting the Rules: The Bush Administration's Assault on the Environment - 2002, shows that the White House has enlisted every federal agency that oversees environmental programmes in a co-ordinated effort to relax regulations for oil, coal, logging, mining, chemical, automakers and other industries.

Ties to industry

Some of the most glaring examples documented in the report include changes to the Clean Air Act by the Environmental Protection Agency that provide the nation's oldest and dirtiest power plants and refineries with loopholes exempting them from installing modern pollution controls when they upgrade or expand their facilities in ways that increase emissions.

New EPA and Army Corps of Engineers policies to relax and, in some cases, end Clean Water Act protection for millions of acres of wetlands and other waterways; eliminate corporate liability for "factory farm" pollution; and exempt mining waste from regulation as a pollutant under federal law.

According to Joan Mulhern of the US environmental group, EarthJustice, the adminstrations close to ties to industry is resulting in broad changes to existing environmental protection laws. Earlier in 2002 the Bush administration changed a 25-year-old Clean Water Act regulation that allows coal mining companies and others to dump solid waste into waterways. Proposed legislation for the coming year could remove some 60 per cent of waterways from federal protection under the Clean Water Act.

The environmental groups warn that the new chairman of the US Senate Environment and Public Works committee, Senator James Inhofe, is "one of the most aggressive detractors of environmental protection in the history of the Senate."

The Environment and Public Works committee has oversight of programs within the Department of Interior, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Department of Agriculture, the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency, among others. Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, has "been very open in he sees his role as a champion of the oil companies and has said that publicly in the past," Wetstone said.

Critics say that Bush's so calledClear Skies Act could actuallyworsen air pollution© Senator Patrick Leahy

Forests under threat

A series of proposals by the Forest Service and other federal agencies to eliminate requirements for environmental review and public participation when considering logging, mining, drilling, development and other projects in all 155 national forests and on millions of acres of public lands.

"It's no accident some of the Bush administration's biggest handouts to corporate interests happened after Election Day," said Wetstone. "Americans voted for many things in November, but they didn't vote for a sweeping attack on the environment."

The report also notes how the Bush administration routinely tries to minimize public scrutiny of its anti-environmental policies by withholding information from the media until late on Friday evenings or around major holidays. For example, the EPA announced its major changes to the Clean Air Act a few days after Thanksgiving and on New Year's Eve.

The administration also uses environmentally friendly euphemisms to mask the true intent and impact of its policy proposals, the NRDC argues. The White House dubbed its plan to allow timber companies increased access to old-growth forests - under the guise of fire prevention - the "Healthy Forests" initiative, and refers to logging as "thinning."

"America's landmark environmental laws have safeguarded our health, improved our quality of life, and preserved our natural heritage," said Wetstone. "The Bush administration's quiet, back door assault on environmental protections is no less an attack on the air we breathe, the water we drink and the last remaining special places we hold dear."

Safeguards weakened

OMB Watch examined the Bush administration's regulatory agendas of three of its agencies - the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Food and Drug Aministration (FDA) anad and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OHSA). The group found that found that the EPA has halted work on 48 environmental standards, the FDA has stopped work on 56 standards, and OSHA has halted 21 new standards.

OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) is now instructing federal agencies to evaluate hundreds of regulatory recommendations submitted by outside parties - most of which are industry groups and trade associations.

Many of the Bush administration's environmental policies have come through the rulemaking process and with Congress now in Republican control, environmentalists fear that Congressional oversight of these rules will also suffer.

  • The Bush administration has decreed that a controversial fishing method involving encircling pods of dolphins with mile long nets to catch tuna has "no significant adverse impact" on the dolphins, despite the fact that thousands of dolphins become entangled in the nets and die. Conservation groups say the determination will allow tuna from Mexico - a country which practises this fishing method - to be sold in the US under its "dolphin safe" label, spelling disaster for imperiled dolphin populations.

    Source: Environment News Service (January 2003)

    Related links:

    Rewriting the Rules: The Bush Administration's Assault on the Environment (NRDC report)

    Administration Advances Few Health, Safety and Environmental Protections (OMB Watch report)

    Dolphin-safe Tuna Program