Posted by: greeningwashington | March 4, 2009

A Regulatory Mess

If I were an outgoing lame-duck president whose reputation and prestige had been nullified, and whose legacy was synonymous with “most unpopular president in history” and maybe even “worst modern president,” what would I do in my parting months?

Would I try to mend old wounds or reach out to the incoming president in a show of support and bipartisanship? Maybe. Would I do everything in my power to ensure the safe transfer of democratic power? Sure.

I can tell you what I absolutely would not do. I would not tell federal officials that they need not consult with wildlife experts prior to undergoing projects that may interfere with or disrupt plants and animals protected under the Endangered Species Act. But then again, I am not President Bush.

Before Bush left office, much news was made about his last minute push for environmental deregulation (search on Google). He certainly wasn’t trying to ease the burden for President Obama who was, and still is, already faced with the clean up of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the economic crisis due to years of unregulated bad practices, nuclear proliferation, etc.

The following comes from an October Washington Post article:

The new rules would be among the most controversial deregulatory steps of the Bush era and could be difficult for his successor to undo. Some would ease or lift constraints on private industry, including power plants, mines and farms.

Those and other regulations would help clear obstacles to some commercial ocean-fishing activities, ease controls on emissions of pollutants that contribute to global warming, relax drinking-water standards and lift a key restriction on mountaintop coal mining.

Once such rules take effect, they typically can be undone only through a laborious new regulatory proceeding, including lengthy periods of public comment, drafting and mandated reanalysis.


According to the Office of Management and Budget’s regulatory calendar, the commercial scallop-fishing industry came in two weeks ago to urge that proposed catch limits be eased, nearly bumping into National Mining Association officials making the case for easing rules meant to keep coal slurry waste out of Appalachian streams. A few days earlier, lawyers for kidney dialysis and biotechnology companies registered their complaints at the OMB about new Medicare reimbursement rules. Lobbyists for customs brokers complained about proposed counterterrorism rules that require the advance reporting of shipping data.


A related regulation would ease limits on emissions from coal-fired power plants near national parks.

A third rule would allow increased emissions from oil refineries, chemical factories and other industrial plants with complex manufacturing operations.


In response, President Obama issued a memorandum to the Interior and Commerce departments directing them to follow procedure prior to President Bush’s deregulation.

This change in policy is not limited to President Obama. After President Clinton left office, the Bush administration was able to retract 254 federal regulations. Let me say that again: 254 regulations. My point in all of this is to emphasize the impact a president can have on the regulatory aspect of government (often referred to as the fourth branch of government). The change in policy and regulations between the Carter and Reagan administrations was enormous. Sure, statutes are in place such as the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, that provide for certain protections; however, the implementation and regulation of laws are key. What is the point of passing a law aimed at curbing emissions if the government and the private sector remain inactive or worse, go against the intent of the original legislation?

Too much political bickering and not enough real solutions.

Until next time.


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