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 endangered species.
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 outcome.
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 executive director Carl Pope, 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 them.
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.
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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 Defense Council.
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.