Natural Resources Defense Council 

Rewriting the Rules, Year-End Report 2002
The Bush Administration's Assault on the Environment
Executive Summary
Although our landmark environmental laws are among the most popular and successful legislative efforts of the last 40 years, for the second year in a row they are under siege by the Bush administration. The timing could hardly be worse.
As scientists continue to bolster the case for prompt action to deal with pressing environmental challenges like global warming and deterioration of our oceans, America's environmental laws face a fundamental threat more sweeping and dangerous than any since the dawn of the modern environmental movement in 1970. Environmental protections have been challenged before, most notably in the James Watt era and in the Newt Gingrich Congress, but never through a campaign as far-reaching and destructive as the threat posed today by the Bush administration and the 108th Congress.
One of the most immediate results of the recent mid-term congressional elections has been an acceleration of the administration's virulent effort to weaken key environmental safeguards. In the short period since the election, federal agencies have announced seismic policy shifts in areas ranging from air and water pollution, to forest and wildlife protection, to stewardship of America's public lands. [1]
This report examines the continuing environmental retreats by the Bush administration over the past year, and especially the escalating assault in the few short months since the 2002 congressional elections. It is not a pretty picture. Over the past year environmental programs have been peppered with more than 100 weakening changes, affecting every program that protects our air, water, forests, wetlands, public health, wildlife and pristine wild areas. The following pages examine these actions. Here are a few of the most troubling examples:
In late November, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) moved to weaken a fundamental compromise that traces back to original 1970 Clean Air Act. Under that law, new factories must install tough air pollution controls, while facilities already operating at the time of the law's enactment were allowed to continue largely uncontrolled until they expanded or modernized, at which time they would have to install state-of-the-art pollution controls. After 32 years, most of the exempted facilities still operating are finally due for modernization and tougher controls. But, by changing the so-called new-source-review program, the EPA seeks to let the nation's oldest and dirtiest power plants and refineries off the hook, allowing them to expand and modernize without installing updated pollution controls.
Shortly before Thanksgiving, the Forest Service proposed to eliminate the fundamental requirement that forest management plans protect wildlife, and to reduce public involvement in forest planning. Only weeks later, in December, the Forest Service proposed major changes to rules that govern clearcutting in national forests. In the name of "healthy forests" and "fire prevention," nearly unlimited clearcutting would be allowed in pristine national forests. Long-standing mandates for public input and environmental review would be eliminated.
In early January 2003, the EPA announced plans for new policies to greatly reduce the number of wetlands and waterways protected by the Clean Water Act. Only a month earlier, the EPA had issued new rules governing factory farms that failed to address the immense water pollution problems caused by millions of tons of untreated animal waste that routinely contaminate rivers, streams, and waterways. The rules seek to protect corporate agriculture interests from financial liability for illegal spills and groundwater contamination. These were only the latest in a deluge of assaults on the Clean Water Act that include an effort to exempt mining waste from regulation as a pollutant under federal law and a series of additional measures to undercut wetlands protection.

Through a series of proposals over the past six months, the President's Council on Environmental Quality and other Bush administration agencies have moved to undercut the grandfather of environmental statutes, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA requires public participation in key environmental decisions, and mandates the preparation of environmental impact statements for federal actions with potentially important environmental repercussions. In recent proposals, the Bush administration has sought to scaleback long-standing requirements for environmental reviews and public participation applying to highway construction, offshore oil development, and logging in our national forests.
It is clear that every federal agency with authority over environmental programs has been enlisted in a coordinated effort to help oil, coal, logging, mining, chemical, and auto companies and others promote their short-term profits at the expense of America's public health and natural heritage. The agencies include the Interior Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Forest Service, the Energy Department, and the Army Corps of Engineers.
This onslaught is being quietly coordinated through the White House. The White House Office of Management and Budget -- or more precisely OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs -- has been busy identifying environmental safeguards that industry finds most objectionable, strong-arming agencies to review and weaken these programs, and promoting changes in scientific and economic assumptions that twist the regulatory process to favor industry. The OMB "hit list" of targeted environmental safeguards assembled early in 2001 proved to be an accurate indication of the year's most destructive Bush administration environmental assaults. [2]
Although Congress entrusted the heads of the federal environmental agencies with authority to carry out environmental laws, the director of OIRA, John Graham, has effectively assumed that responsibility. He has routinely rejected agency actions that are fully consistent with environmental laws but do adequately reflect his industry orientation and conservative ideology. [3]
America's environmental laws have improved our quality of life in fundamental ways. They have brought us cleaner air in our cities and parks, cleaner water in our lakes and rivers, and lower lead levels in our children's blood. They have protected the stratospheric ozone layer and, of course, preserved some of the last remaining wild places that make America special and saved threatened wildlife such as the bald eagle.
Yet the Bush administration's assault rolls on even as polls continue to show overwhelming support for environmental protection. Indeed, a November New York Times/CBS News poll found that 62 percent of the American public believes the federal government "should be doing more to protect our environment" while only 7 percent feel that it "should be doing less." [4]
The White House is fully aware of just how unpopular its "seven percent" agenda, and makes every effort to minimize the public's awareness. The administration routinely times its major environmental announcements to make it as difficult as possible for the news media to report on them, usually releasing information late on Friday afternoons. Especially important pronouncements are saved for big holidays when most reporters are unavailable.
For example, the EPA announced its most recent changes in clean air regulations on the afternoon before Thanksgiving and on New Year's Eve. In a further effort to keep the stories out of the news, EPA Administrator Christine Whitman did not make the announcements, nor did she attend the agency's press conferences. The administration's penchant for minimizing public scrutiny explains why Whitman also has declined invitations to defend her clean air actions on Sunday morning television news shows. To mask the real effect of its environmental proposals, the administration often uses misleading code words such as "steamlining" or "reforming," instead of "weakening," and "thinning" instead of "logging."

Some may argue that NRDC's characterization overstates the situation. After all, the laws under siege by the Bush administration are, for the time being at least, fully intact. But we cannot ignore the reality of what it takes for our laws to work to protect our environment. Laws themselves cannot change industry behavior without an effective infrastructure to assure that they are interpreted in good faith, monitored and fully enforced. In other words, the laws must be credible to be effective, and maintaining that credibility should be a central goal of federal agencies. But, if the agencies work to undermine, rather than bolster, the credibility of our environmental laws, these vital measures become mere words on paper, increasingly irrelevant to what polluters, developers, and mining and logging companies are required to do in the real world.
This is the threat we face today as agencies issue rulemakings and guidance that continually re-interprets laws to require less from industry, and as it becomes increasingly clear that the cop is off the beat where enforcement of our environmental laws is concerned. Penalties for violations of environmental laws have decreased precipitously since the Bush administration took office, with the amount of the average penalty dropping by more than half. The EPA's two most senior career enforcement officials resigned in 2002 after decades of service. Both cited the administration's refusal to enforce environmental protections as the reason for their departure.
Now, more than ever, our government should be addressing pressing problems such as global warming, sprawl, and the loss of wildlife and natural areas -- not retreating on the environment. But, as described in the pages that follow, another year has passed during which the Bush administration has directed its time and energy to moving America backwards on our most basic environmental safeguards.
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