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Third Report on Developments Regarding Environmental Programs During the Second Bush Administration

in the period between February 1, 2003 and July 1, 2003

Michael McCloskey
February 5, 2003

Positive developments preceded by [ + ]; negative ones by [ - ].

Four fifths of the decisions made by the Bush Administration in the last five months drew objections from environmentalists.   Only 14 per cent of their decisions were thought to be positive, mainly stemming from decisions by EPA and the Fish and Wildlife Service.   Most of the decisions made by the Forest Service were objectionable.

Air Pollution

-    The Bush administration continues to push forward with plans to weaken the New Source Review provisions of the Clean Air Act.   They would allow industrial polluters to upgrade their plants without installing the latest equipment to limit emissions.   Democrats in the Senate have tried to subject this proposal to further analysis.   EPA has been trying to enforce the existing law by requiring various utilities to install better equipment to reduce emissions.

+    EPA promulgates new regulations to reduce the harmful emissions from diesel engines used in industrial applications, construction and agriculture. Under the new rules, they would have to cut their emissions by 95 per cent.

+    EPA decides not to exempt lower risk facilities from regulations applying to the clay and brick industry.

-    The Bush administration seems to be moving away from its earlier commitment to substantially reduce emissions of mercury from coal-fired power plants.  As part of its "Clean Skies" initiative, it had pledged to reduce the emissions of mercury by 46 per cent in the next decade.   Now it seems to be acquiescing in efforts by legislators to lift that requirement.  However, alternate plans, which would rely less on coal, would save even more lives.

-    In place of requiring industry to reduce their release of greenhouse gasses, the Bush Administration is trying to sell them on pledging to make voluntary cuts.  Critics doubt this will produce much.   In a speech devoid of many specifics, the Secretary of Agriculture has also called upon farmers to do more to sequester carbon dioxide on their lands.   She said they plan to offer incentives to farmers and ranchers.    

[?]   While President Bush has endorsed the promise of fuel cells and hydrogen power for car engines, critics think he is trying to avoid endorsing efforts to improve the fuel efficiency of engines in cars now being sold.   Moreover, the key question is whether the hydrogen will come from dirty coal or solar power.

-    The Bush administration is trying to weaken the Montreal Protocol (which protects the atmospheric ozone layer that shields the earth) by asking for exemptions for the pesticide, methyl bromide.

[?]   The Bush Administration's order to slightly improve the fuel economy of SUV's, vans and pickups (to 22.2 mpg by 2007) falls far short of what is needed and amounts to only 1.5 mpg over the current standard.

-    The Bush administration has encountered an obstacle in its efforts to admit 30,000 Mexican trucks across U.S. borders.   The administration argues that NAFTA requires it to do that, but a federal judge has disagreed and barred doing that for now.   Critics argue that many of these vehicles are highly polluting and don't meet U.S. standards.

-    The EPA is proposing to offer feedlots and other CAFOs amnesty for past violations in exchange for allowing it to monitor their operations--to determine how much they are releasing into the environment.  Critics think this is allowing them to continue to pollute.

Water Pollution

-    The Bush administration has decided to let polluters to continue to pollute if they buy credits from others polluters in that watershed who have made reductions.  This policy reduces the incentive for these operators to find ways to improve their operations and to upgrade those industries which pollute a lot.

-    EPA proposes to extend the deadline by which the oil and gas industry have to comply with storm water discharge requirements for their construction projects.

-    The Bush administration continues to push for development of coalbed methane in places such as Wyoming, despite the danger of polluting the aquifer and opposition from ranchers.  As many as 51,000 wells could be drilled to extract methane from beds of coal.   They have lifted a moratorium on developing these wells.


-    The EPA has decided to weaken regulations which protect wetlands.  It no longer will apply its regulations to wetlands which are non-navigatable or isolated.   As many as 20 million acres of wetlands may be denied federal protection.

EPA Reports

-    The Bush White House has intervened to edit out passages in a EPA report which dealt with the danger of climate change from greenhouse gasses.

Enforcement of Pollution Laws

-    Under President Bush, the civil penalties levied (and obtained by the Justice Department) for violations of environmental laws have declined by half (compared to the preceding two years).   The amounts levied in the case of criminal violations dropped by a third.   There are 7 per cent fewer people on their enforcement staff.  The EPA is not complying with legal requirements that the amounts of fines keep up with inflation.   The EPA claims, though, that they are now forcing noncompliant companies to spend more.   However, critics also point out that while 25 per cent of major operators are out of compliance, EPA takes disciplinary action in only 15 percent of the cases.

Legal Strategies

-    The Bush administration is encouraging various industries, which chafe under environmental laws, to sue.   They will then settle on terms beneficial to these industries out of public view.

EPA Advisory Committees

-    The Bush Administration has been screening those who have been suggested for appointment to EPA Advisory Committees to determine their political views, rather than basing their appointments on their scientific qualifications.

Regulatory Approaches

-    Responding to objections, EPA claims to have abandoned the practice of imputing less value to the benefits which would be enjoyed by senior citizens who might be affected by pollution.   However, its new methodology still will reflect some of that thinking.   In determining the benefits from possible regulations, it will look at how many years will be added to people's lives, which will be less for older people.  

Defense Department

-    The Bush Administration has asked Congress to exempt the Defense Department from a host of environmental laws.  Included would be the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Superfund law, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and RCRA.   States would also be granted more leeway with regard to national guard activity too.

ANWR Developments

-    While the Bush administration continues to call for oil drilling on the coastal plain in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, six Republican senators have now sided with the opponents.   Passage of legislation to permit this drilling appears to be blocked.

Endangered Species

-    An Assistant Secretary of the Interior, who oversees wildlife, has called for amending the Endangered Species Act so that the government will be less vulnerable to lawsuits which require it to list new species as endangered.   He has also asked Congress for an extension of time to respond to court orders that he designate critical habitat for various endangered species.

-    The Fish and Wildlife Service is "downlisting" the gray wolf from endangered to threatened.   This change will permit ranchers to kill wolves which have been reintroduced in the northern Rocky Mountains.   This position has been embraced by the administration.

-    Interior Secretary Gail Norton has turned over the National Bison Range in Montana to nearby Indian tribes to manage.   Two other national wildlife refuges may also be turned over to them--the Ninepipe and Pablo.  The tribes are the Confederated Salish and the Kootenai.   These actions are being taken under a policy of the Bush administration to turn federal holdings over to tribes which claim the lands have historical or cultural meaning for them.   Almost all federal lands have significance for some tribe.

-    The Fish and Wildlife Service has decided to reduce the size of its designations of critical habitat on Maui, Hawaii by 25 per cent.   It is being sued by environmentalists.

+    The Fish and Wildlife Service has decided to end the practice of relocating sea otters off the California coast.   The otters had been relocated when fishermen complained about competition from them.   The Service has also drawn up new plans to protect the sea otters from sewage, disease, oil spills and toxic chemicals. Now the Congress must provide the funds to put it into effect.

+    The administration has proposed to breach the Milltown Dam on the upper Clark Fork in Montana because it blocks migration of the endangered bull trout.

Dolphin Protection

-    The Bush administration has relaxed federal protection for dolphins by permitting those who are fishing for tuna to encircle and chase dolphins.  Research has shown that this practice exposes the dolphins to dangerous levels of stress.   A federal judge has questioned their interpretation of "dolphin-safe" requirements in the law, and the issue is currently tie up in a law suit brought by environmental groups.

National Forests

-    The Bush administration plans to eliminate the requirement that federal agencies consult before acting whenever species which are endangered or threatened might be affected.   This requirement has been thought to impede work to reduce fire dangers.

-    The Department of Agriculture has moved ahead with their policies to allow logging of commercially valuable tree species under the guise of reducing fire hazards.   Up to 1000 acres in a project can be logged with no public oversight or opportunity to appeal the decision.   If an emergency is deemed to exist, logging can go forward even where an appeal is pending.   Trees of any size can be logged if they claim a hazardous condition exists.  

+    The Bush Administration has decided to let a temporary rule expire which had permitted some road building in roadless areas.   However, the administration is also allowing governors to request exceptions for various reasons.

-    The Forest Service has issued revised regulations which allow it to deny standing for those who would like to file appeals if the Service feels that "substantive comments" would not be filed.   For those appealing fire treatment projects, they must have objected to the specifics when first proposed.

-    The Forest Service is planning to disregard any input from the public which is not an original composition.   It plans to disregard form letters, pre-printed post cards, signatures on petitions, etc.   It is not clear how they will treat email.

-    As part of President Bush's so-called "Healthy Forests Initiative," the Forest Service will no longer require environmental impact statements on activities designed to prevent forest fires.   Small timber sales, which involve trees with insect infestations or which involve efforts to reduce fire risk, would be exempt from NEPA requirements.

-    Appointees of the Bush Administration have caused the Sierra Nevada Framework, applying to national forests in the Sierra Nevada range, to be weakened.  By relaxing the limit on the size of the trees that can be cut (from 12 inches to 30 inches), logging would be more than doubled.   More cattle also could be grazed.  Habitat for the California Spotted Owl could be affected.   The Forest Service justifies the changes in terms of fuel reduction.

-    In the Giant Sequoia National Monument, which is part of the Sequoia National Forest, administrators plan to log as many as ten million board feet a year.  Trees up to 30 inches in diameter could be cut.   This would take place in an area which is supposed to be exempt from commercial activity.   It is being proposed ostensibly to reduce the fuel load.

-    The Bush administration has agreed to undertake a five-year review to determine whether the designation of 22 million acres as critical habitat for the northern spotted owl in northwest national forests has helped the owl or not.  This decision arises out of settlement of a law suit by a timber industry group.  It is regarded as a beginning step toward backing away from this decision.  The step is being contested in court by environmental groups.

-    In the Pacific Northwest, the Forest Service and the BLM plan to drop the guideline which has required them to survey and manage all the species on their lands.   Under this provision of the Northwest Forest Plan, dating to the Clinton Administration, they had done field inventories of the species inhabiting tracts of their land on which they planned activities.   Then they had to show how they would perpetuate those species.  Timber sales had to await such inventories.  Now they promise to look after these species under other authorities.  But they may proceed in the absence of knowledge about which species will be impacted.  Some 24 million acres of federal land will be affected and over 300 sensitive species are affected.   The decision may permit a 60 per cent increase in logging.  This decision arises out of a settlement of a suit by industry.

-    In the Pacific Northwest, the Forest Service is proposing to change rules which have been in effect to protect salmon habitat.   Instead of keeping the rule which prevents activities unless officials can demonstrate that fish would not be harmed, now they would only have to show there would be no long-term impacts of a negative sort on the watershed in an overall sense.   The goals of restoring and maintaining the health of aquatic ecosystems would not be applied on a project basis anymore.   They would only be applied on the basis of large systems.  This decision also arises out of the settlement of a suit by industry.

-    The Bush administration has decided to exempt the 17 million acre Tongass National Forest in Alaska from the roadless area rule.   The nearby Chugach National Forest is also exempt from some restrictions on logging.

-    The Bitterroot National Forest has authorized use of motorized vehicles in the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness to do routine maintenance work on small dams grandfathered into that wilderness.  Critics say this is not permitted by the Wilderness Act, which governs the area.

BLM Policies

-    The BLM is proposing to modify its regulations to extend greater rights to grazing interests. These changes essentially repeal the Clinton Administration's  grazing rules.   It proposes to let them share title to various "improvements" made to BLM ranges for grazing purposes, such as fences and wells.  It also proposes to allow private grazing interests to maintain locked gates that would close off public lands.   It would also open various areas reserved for wildlife to cattle, and make it harder for anyone other than cattlemen to file appeals.  There would be less monitoring of the activities of permittees.

-    The Bush administration plans to cap the amount of wilderness which it will allow on BLM land at 22.8 million acres.   The rest could be thrown open to development.   Some 200 million acres of BLM land would never be looked at for wilderness potential under this policy.

-    The BLM has announced its specific intention to suspend new wilderness reviews in Utah and to remove protection for nearly 3 million acres in that state has been under consideration for wilderness designation.

-    Contested roads across BLM land in Utah would be given to counties there if they can prove the roads were used before 1976, are maintained, are passable by rugged vehicles, and are part of the state's transportation system.   Notwithstanding a Congress bar on such action, the administration is proceeding under the theory of "recordable disclaimers."   A twelve year statute of limitations on making claims has been waived by the administration.  Interior Secretary Norton also explained that she is thinking of applying the same procedure in Colorado.   She is also thinking of applying it to other lands administered by the Interior Department, including national monuments and wildlife refuges.

[?]   The BLM has issued a regulation which requires that, in cases where
ownership is divided (e.g., where "split estates" exist), the surface owner must agree to plans to drill for minerals before the drilling can begin.   However, where the parties disagree, the administration might still allow drilling to occur if a bond is posted to cover possible damages.

-    The BLM has granted a camp for runners the right to stage events in the Steens Mountain (OR) Wilderness.  This is a commercial event.

National Park Service

-    The Bush administration has been judged to be a poor custodian of the National Park System.  The National Parks and Conservation Association has given them a D- grade for their neglect of the nation's parks.  They see the parks threatened in all sorts of ways--by too much encroaching air pollution, by private threats outside of the parks which may impinge on them, and by plans to build unneeded roads.   They also are unhappy with plans to privatize various operations in the parks.

-    The Interior Department is pushing a proposal to privatize about 70 per cent of the work force of the National Park Service.   The jobs of some scientists could be affected, as well as maintenance workers.   It will cost money to get ready to convert these jobs so that they can be given to outsiders.  One report is that the Interior Department is shaving money from other budgets, such as for removing asbestos from buildings in Yosemite National Park.

-    Secretary of the Interior Gail Norton has ceded control over the waters flowing through Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument to the state of Colorado.  These water rights were reserved to the federal government when the monument was established.  The state plans to sell the water rights.

-    The administration has asked that Yellowstone National Park be removed from the international list of endangered World Heritage sites.  However, the professional staff of the park disagrees and thinks the park still belongs on the list because of threats around its edges.

Nuclear Regulation

+    The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board has rejected plans to store spent nuclear fuel in Skull Valley, Utah.   The repository would have been built on the Goshute Indian Reservation.  This decision is subject to review by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

-    The Bush administration is encouraging construction of the first nuclear power plant in three decades.  It refuses to look at the problems arising from the entire nuclear fuel cycle.


-    The Bush administration has asked the Senate to ratify a treaty with Russia to protect polar bears.

-    The Bush administration has filed a law suit at the World Trade Organization against the European Union over its restrictions against agricultural products which have been genetically modified.

-    The Bush administration has signed on to an international effort to explore technologies to store (or sequester) carbon.  This would be part of a global strategy designed to decrease the concentration of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.  However, this effort would be consistent with the administration's opposition to avoid mandating reductions in emissions of those gasses.

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