WASHINGTON – The Bush administration, in reviewing previously approved environmental regulations shortly after it came to power in 2001, exhibited “a pre-determined hostility” toward the regulations, according to a Majority Staff report issued Wednesday by Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, D-Conn. By discounting regulatory procedure and the value of public participation, the report said, the administration set an antagonistic tone for its approach to environmental and health regulations.
“It was wrong for the administration to second guess these final rules,” Lieberman said. “It was wrong to discount a well-established scientific record. And it was wrong for the administration to use stealth tactics to achieve its ideologically-driven ends.”
On Inauguration Day 2001, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card ordered a freeze of the regulatory process, halting agency rules that in some cases had traversed a years-long – in one case decades-long – review process and were waiting only for implementation dates.
Without giving the public an opportunity to comment, the administration held in abeyance a number of regulations until they could be reviewed by political appointees, the report said. The circumstances surrounding the review of three rules in particular which did not survive inspection were examined by Governmental Affairs Committee majority staff. Those rules were the Department of Agriculture’s rule prohibiting most road construction and logging in roadless areas of national forests, the Department of the Interior’s rule regulating hard rock mining on public lands, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s rule capping the permissible level of arsenic in drinking water. Each rule was “subjected to the new administration’s second guessing,” the report said.
In the first two cases, the administration ultimately weakened or undermined the rules. In the third, the rule initially adopted after years of scientific study was challenged, but ultimately was retained after months of additional – and unnecessary – study. The report tells a story of administration actions characterized by a dismissive attitude toward long-established regulatory procedures, the value of public input, and the science or record supporting the rules under review. Specific findings include: