Sunday, December 14, 2008

Adminstration's Parting Gifts: rolling back environmental protections

In the U.S., outgoing administrations participate in a time-honored tradition of last minute skulduggery that has ranged from taking the White House linen and gluing the computer keys to issuing executive pardons and orders or rulings of dubious merit - Democrats and Republicans alike have been guilty.

Questionable orders can be overturned under the Congressional Review Act. However, the effectiveness of the act is hampered by the requirement that the order or regulation being overturned must be done in its entirety - and many bad rulings are attached to a good one, thereby providing a protective shield.

Whether you are an advocate or critic of the past administration, it can be a fair statement that its record on the environment has not been stellar. A concerted effort was made to avoid recognizing scientific advice and reports as required for determining species status under the Endangered Species Act if doing so would mean recognizing the existence of global warming (I have noted this in previous postings). In its closing days, the current administration has been generating a series of executive orders and/or rulings that roll back many environmental safeguards. Here are a few:
  • Federal agencies would no longer be required to have government scientists assess the impact on imperiled species before giving the go-ahead to logging, mining, drilling, or other development.
  • The rule would also prohibit federal agencies from taking climate change into account when weighing the impact of projects that increase greenhouse emissions.
  • Finalized a rule that allows the coal industry to dump waste from mountaintop mining into neighboring streams and valleys
  • A rule relaxes air pollution standards near national parks, allowing coal plants to be built next to many of our most spectacular vistas - a rule established over the objections of 9 out of 10 EPA regional administrators.
  • Opening up 2 million acres of mountainous lands in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming for mining oil shale, even though the technique consumes considerable water resources (and the administration has admitted it doesn't know if the technology is viable).
  • A new regulation will allow animal waste from factory farms to seep, unmonitored, into our waterways. The regulation leaves it up to the farms themselves to decide whether their pollution is dangerous enough to require them to apply for a permit.
  • A similar rule will exempt factory farms from reporting air pollution from animal waste.
  • In the chemical industries, more than 100 major polluters have been exempted from monitoring their lead emissions and a rule is proposed to allow industry to treat 3 billion pounds of hazardous waste as "recycling" each year.
Now it's true that environmental safeguards have always been costly to big business and impose hardships on their established revenue models. But in light of an overwhelming and growing body of evidence, to ignore them or worse, circumvent them, is the epitome of shortsighted thinking, oriented towards only short-term goals - something that we as humans have been notorious at doing.

For the incoming administration, it will be difficult enough dealing with the challenges of climate change/global warming and developing an effective long-term energy policy. But it will also have to deal with the many environmental land mines the current administration has left in its path.

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