Bush urged to stop "midnight hour" rule changes

12/10/08 Mitch E. Perry
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Recently, some major changes to several of the country’s environmental laws and regulations were classified by the Office of Management and Budget as not “economically significant.” This classification gave federal agencies 30 more days to finalize far-reaching environmental rules prior to a Dec. 19 deadline;, after that, the Obama administration’s options will become significantly limited.

So today, representatives from some of the biggest environmental groups held a conference call, urging the OMB to refrain from finalizing more rules affecting major environmental protections under this tactic.

Martin Hayden is the vice president of policy and legislation with Earthjustice. He mentioned one such "midnight rule change" that has captured significant media attention: the Department of the Interior's proposal to repeal the stream buffer zone rule, so the mountains of Appalachia can continue to be blown up and bulldozed in what is known as “mountaintop removal.”

Ed Hopkins is director of the Environmental Quality Program with the Sierra Club. He discussed a rule being finalized under the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act. This law requires facilities that release more than a health-based threshold of listed hazardous substances to report that information to local state and federal agencies. Hopkins said the EPA is planning to implement a rule that would exempt the poultry and livestock industry from this law.

Mark Wenzler, director of Clean Air and Climate Programs with the National Parks Conservation Association, mentioned a rule that could allow more pollution in national parks and wilderness areas.

EPA officials say they have corrected problems, but said that’s not true, Wenzler said. "It appears that every regional EPA office in the country still has major concerns with this rule," he said.

Bob Irvin, senior vice president for conservation programs at Defenders of Wildlife, said a section of the Endangered Species Act is under fire.

Specifically, Section 7 requires federal agencies to consult with either the Fish & Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service to ensure their actions will not jeopardize threatened or endangered species. Irvin said the proposed new rule would let federal agencies decide for themselves whether to consult with the services.

"In baseball terms, this would be like letting the batters call the balls and strikes for themselves," he said.

The Bush Administration has nine days to make changes to the country’s environmental laws and regulations as long they are classified by the Office of Management and Budget as not "economically significant."

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