Bush last-minute rules cement environmental legacy

WASHINGTON - In his waning weeks in the White House, U.S. President George W. Bush is drawing more fire than ever as he presides over a steady stream of environmentally unfriendly regulations meant to last into the Obama administration.

President George W. Bush makes remarks on defense transformation during his visit to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, December 9, 2008. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

“While the first 100 days of the Bush administration initiated perhaps the worst period of environmental deregulation in American history, the last 100 days of a Bush presidency could be even worse,” the staff of the House of Representatives global warming committee wrote just before the November 4 election.

On his first day in office on January 20, 2001, Bush issued an order that blocked regulations to reduce arsenic in drinking water, sulfur in diesel fuel and raw sewage releases generally.

Throughout his presidency, Bush has rejected any mandatory, economy-wide limits on the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, which is emitted by coal-fired power plants and vehicles running on fossil fuels, as well as natural sources.

This has put the United States at odds with other major developed countries, which have joined the carbon-capping Kyoto Protocol and are working at a meeting in Poland on a successor to this international treaty to fight climate change.

The Bush administration is represented at the meeting but, with most attention focused on the future Obama administration, the prospects for solid progress are slim.

In his last months as president, Bush’s team has assembled a long list of so-called environmental “midnight regulations” covering global warming, air pollution, endangered species and coal mining, among other issues.

These last-minute rules overwhelmingly favor industry over human health and welfare, Bush’s environmental opponents say. And they are moving through the federal bureaucracy at a pace that will ensure they are in effect when President-elect Barack Obama takes office on January 20.

This means the new rules will be more difficult for the next administration and Congress to undo.

Related Coverage


“They (Bush administration officials) have been relentlessly opposed to clean energy solutions, climate change responsibility and basic safeguards for air and water and land across all of their agencies over eight long years,” said John Walke of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

For Patti Goldman, of the environmental advocacy group Earthjustice, the Bush administration’s failings fall into three categories:

-- exploitation of public resources, especially oil and gas development on public land;

-- a refusal to address climate change domestically or internationally;

-- the reversal or delay of public health protections from environmental dangers.

“It’s the worst we’ve ever seen,” Goldman said by phone, noting that she has watched environmental policy since the Reagan administration in the early 1980s.

The Bush administration has long been accused of letting politics trump science at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding carbon emissions and at the Interior Department on protecting polar bears.

Despite a 2007 Supreme Court ruling telling the EPA it had the ability to regulate carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act, the agency has delayed doing anything, ensuring that the problem lands on Obama’s agenda. The president-elect supports mandatory limits on carbon emissions.

The Interior Department listed polar bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, pointing to climate change as the reason the animal’s icy habitat was melting away.

But this new status offered no plans to address global warming or drilling in the Arctic for the fossil fuels that spur the climate-warming greenhouse effect.