Bush Administration Rushes Last-minute Changes to Environmental Laws

Photo courtesy National Park Service
Photo courtesy National Park Service

With so much focus on the election and financial crisis, it’s easy to miss what the Bush administration has been up to in its last few months in power: namely, attempting to make a slew of last-minute changes to rules that affect the environment and wildlife.

The rush isn’t just worrying environmentalists; on Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming released a report (pdf) titled “Past is Prologue: For Energy and the Environment, the Bush Administration’s Last 100 Days Could Rival the First 100.”

The majority staff report (read: the Dems wrote it) covers nearly two dozen possible regulatory changes. If successful, the White House’s attempts to tweak regulations will weaken the Endangered Species Act, allow power plants to emit more greenhouse gases, and open up more than 2 million acres of public lands for oil shale development. The next administration or Congress could overturn the new rules, but such reversals take months.

Here’s a look at a few of the proposed changes:

•    Agricultural Air Pollution: A proposal by the EPA would exempt large poultry and livestock operations from having to report airborne pollutants from animal waste—like ammonia and hydrogen sulfide—that exceed certain levels. The agency contends that the emissions reports are a superfluous “reporting burden.” But a Government Accountability Office report released in September found that the EPA doesn’t have enough information, or a clearly defined strategy, to effectively regulate waste from mega-farms.

•    Mountaintop removal coal mining: On the bright side, the Office of Surface Mining is expected to issue a final rule that would extend the current rule—which requires a 100-foot buffer zone around streams—to include all bodies of water. Unfortunately, the new rule requires companies  to avoid dumping mining waste within the buffer zone “or show why avoidance is not possible.” If they dump waste, they must minimize hurting waterways “to the extent practicable.” Hello, wiggle room.

•    Snowmobile Use in Yellowstone: On Monday, the National Park Service released its preferred plan, which calls for up to 318 snowmobiles a day to be allowed in the park for the next three winters. Originally, the agency proposed allowing 605 snowmobiles daily, but a US District judge rejected the plan in September, saying that it would increase air pollution and bother wildlife. Environmental groups aren’t pleased with the revised plan: They want a lower daily maximum now, and ultimately to see the machines phased out while still allowing some multi-passenger snow coaches (78 of which are allowed into the park each day under the proposed plan). Park administrators expect the plan will be adopted by mid-December.

The livestock farm rule is in the last stages, and any of the others could be finalized in the coming weeks. But it’s not too late to put your two cents in. The public comment period for the Yellowstone plan is open through November 17 (click here).  And you have until November 23 to express your views on the mountaintop coal mining proposal (click here). To comment on other proposed rule changes, visit Regulations.gov.

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