Factual · Powerful · Original · Iconoclastic
We all know that even as Hillary Clinton was unscrewing the light bulbs and packing away the toilet paper, Bill released a swarm of last-minute pardons. Fewer know, because that was the whole point, that he also let loose a plague of so-called "midnight regulations," some promulgated literally on his last day in office.
Like last-minute pardons to thugs and billionaire fugitives, these regulations aren’t illegal. But unlike pardons, they are reversible by executive order. Yet repeatedly the Bush administration has declared, in effect, "Let’s leave bad enough alone."
One of the new rules would essentially lock up a third of our national forests by preventing new road building in them. These aren’t spotted-owl homes, but trees grown for the purpose of harvesting and The Bush administration originally suspended the order.
It then got powerful support from an April federal court decision that the regulation was "an obvious violation" of the federal law spelling out requirements for public participation in federal rule making. Nonetheless, Bush’s people did an about-face, saying they supported Clinton’s foresting freeze but that the judicial ruling compelled them to give local officials some leeway in implementation, whatever that means.
"No go!" replied the court. It blocked the Clinton/Bush regulation on Thursday, declaring it "poses serious risks of irreparable harm." In other words, the judge refused to let Bush be Clinton.
Another midnight regulation would have lowered allowable arsenic levels in drinking water from 50 parts per billion to 10 ppb. Arsenic in water, at least at high enough levels, is considered a probable cause of bladder cancer.
According to the American Water Works Association Research Foundation, the new regulation would cost the nation $605 million annually. For this, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates, we’d prevent all of three bladder cancer deaths.
You may think your life is worth $200 million, but the Transportation Department, in assessing new safety requirements, values a life at $ 2.5 million.
EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman could have killed the rule, burying it with a stake through the heart. Instead, she says she’ll base a new standard on an upcoming report from a politically active National Research Council panel. Problem is, it’s the NRC that urged the Clinton standard!
Yet another health-related midnight rule with no real promise of preserving health is a new reporting requirement for lead under the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory, or TRI. By definition, it slams only small businesses. It drastically lowers the threshold of who must report lead emissions from those putting out 25,000 or 10,000 pounds per year (depending on the use of the metal), all the way down to those emitting a mere 100 pounds annually.
"We cannot recall in more than three decades of reviewing environmental regulations a more egregious example of a total disregard of the science," said an April 9 Small Business Administration memo to the EPA.
By the EPA’s count, more than 35,000 new facilities will creak and groan under new paperwork burdens. This is on top of TRI reporting costs, which already increased from $ 65 million in 1988 to $ 498 million last year in real dollars.
All of this was the doing of Clinton’s EPA; the Bush EPA merely gave it a wink and a nudge.
It’s not hard to understand the Bush administration’s temptation to play dead. Even the hint of a regulatory rollback has activists and the media howling that Bush is the reincarnation of Heinrich Himmler.
Consider the reaction to the Energy Department’s April announcement that instead of demanding that makers of home central air conditioners and heat pumps increase efficiency by 30%, as Clinton had ordered, it would demand just a 20% increase. "This is a stupid action that compromises the nation’s energy needs and increases the likelihood of blackouts," bellowed David Goldstein, energy program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
You’d never know that the NRDC opposes all nuclear power and all new oil drilling in Alaska, that it supports ripping down hydroelectric dams and that it demands global warming rules that would make coal about as useful as Viagra to a eunuch. You’d also never know that the more efficient units are more expensive, and that it’s rather difficult for sick and old people to cool their homes with machines they can’t afford.
"The Bush administration has hit the ground running in its efforts to preserve and protect America’s environment," an EPA press release recently claimed.
No, it didn’t. It was just dodging the Bill Clinton Midnight Express.