Report Says Bush Administration Rewrote the Rules on Protecting the Environment, Public Health

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:

  • The Bush administration’s decision to revisit the three rules at issue appears to have been based on a “pre-determined hostility to the regulations rather than a documented close analysis of the rules or the agencies’ basis for issuing them.”
  • The administration chose not to defend, against a court challenge, the Agriculture Department’s rule protecting roadless areas in national forests , thereby shirking public responsibility for undermining the rule. Documents show an intent to “let (the) Judge take (the) rule down.”
  • The White House was clearly involved in discussions regarding changes in the standard for arsenic in water. Documents refer to discussions “at very senior levels,” and also show that the Office of Management and Budget pressed the Environmental Protection Agency to weaken the standard.
  • The Bush administration’s decision to propose suspension of the hard rock mining rule “was not based on documented substantive analysis,” and the ultimate decision to rescind parts of the rule allows mining to continue to pose unwarranted environmental and health risks. The administration’s future intentions for each of these rules is unclear but the report makes clear that “any further actions… must be in full compliance with the spirit and the letter of the law and must not further erode environmental protections or rule-making procedures.” In response to the administration’s attempt to undermine the rules preserving roadless areas in national forests, Senator Lieberman will co-sponsor a bill by Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., to prohibit road construction in certain areas. Protecting these areas is critical to preserving important watersheds, vegetation, and wildlife.
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