Bush sprints to enact last-minute regulations

Greens ought to be more careful what they wish for. In the past seven years, we’ve regularly lambasted the Bush administration for dragging its heels on a wide range of environmental issues, from climate change to the protection of endangered species. Now we’re finally seeing what it looks like when the White House moves quickly - and it’s not a pretty sight.

With the clock winding down on Bush’s presidency, officials at the Department of Labor are lurching into action, hurrying to push through regulations that will make it harder for the next administration to regulate dangerous chemicals in the workplace. The new rules, hustled through without public notification, will force a lengthy reevaluation of the government’s criteria for assessing the safety of workplace chemicals, while tacking a further round of delays and challenges onto the existing risk-assessment process.

That’s a sop for business leaders, who’ve long claimed that the government overestimates the risk posed to workers by on-the-job exposure to toxins. But it’s a slap in the face for everyone else - especially when one considers that in the past seven years, the administration has deigned to issue only one major health ruling on workplace chemicals, and even then did so only because a court had ordered it to act.

Worryingly, the Department of Labor’s newfound burst of speed likely foreshadows a wider push to rush through an array of last-minute “midnight regulations” before the Bush presidency expires. Among the most egregious regulatory changes on the White House wish-list are further efforts to dilute the Endangered Species Act; plans to allow mining companies easier access to US Forest Service land; loopholes allowing polluters to duck regulation under the Clean Air Act; and new rules allowing power plants to increase their total emissions and weakening environmental protection for America’s parklands.

The Bush administration claims to be opposed to midnight regulations, and earlier this year set a Nov. 1 deadline for government agencies to issue new rules. Instead of preventing a rush of last-gasp regulations, though, the order has simply brought the deadline forward, ensuring a frantic dash as agency chiefs try to push through new rules before the start of November.

Worse, the earlier deadline ensures that Bush’s midnight regulations will have been in place for months before the next president has the chance to begin rolling them back; in practice, that means many of the President’s regulatory parting gifts may never be fully reversed. If that turns out to be the case, greens could find themselves ruing the day they wished for speedier environmental action from the Bush administration.

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