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[GreenYes] Bush Administration Environmental Rule Delays

Mr. Card's Dangerous Memo
February 12, 2001

On Jan. 20, the day George W. Bush was sworn in, the White House
chief of staff, Andrew Card, ordered all executive departments to
postpone for 60 days the effective date of a wide range of
regulations announced by President Bill Clinton in his final days.
The purpose of this "review" is to give the administration more
time to devise strategies for killing or weakening rules it does
not like.

 The memo covered dozens of regulations. Those that had not yet
become law by virtue of being published in the Federal Register
will simply lapse, to be revived only if the new administration
wants to revive them. Still in the balance, however, are rules that
made it into the Federal Register in time but had not yet taken
effect. The Department of Health and Human Services, for example,
is reviewing a controversial rule requiring states to pay for
certain uncovered Medicaid expenses. But the memo's main targets
were rules dealing with the environment.

 Three of these are especially vulnerable. One would protect nearly
60 million acres of wild national forest from new road-building and
nearly all new logging and oil, gas and mineral development. A
second closes a loophole in the Clean Water Act that has allowed
the destruction of thousands of acres of valuable wetlands. A third
would sharply lower the sulfur content in diesel fuel, reducing air

 The administration can attack along several lines. One is to
rescind these rules administratively. But because all three rules,
and others of lesser visibility, have already appeared in the
Federal Register, the White House would have to follow the same
laborious procedures dictated by the Administrative Procedures Act
to undo them that Mr. Clinton was obliged to follow to create them.
That could take a long time. Contrary to White House assertions
that these rules appeared at the 11th hour, all required a year or
more of public comment and revision. 

 A second line of attack might originate in Congress, where members
hostile to the rules will be tempted to attach legislative riders
to appropriations bills that would overturn the Clinton rules. This
would give the administration legislative cover but could also
inspire partisan fights at a time when President Bush wants smooth
sailing for big-ticket items like tax reduction.

 A third approach would be for the administration to encourage
industry lawsuits challenging the rules in court. The Justice
Department - whose new boss, John Ashcroft, has a long record of
hostility to environmental causes - could then negotiate
settlements favoring industry and severely weakening the rules. An
industry suit is almost certain to be the strategy of choice in the
case of a rule banning snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park.

 President Bush should think hard before going down any of these
roads. Recent history will tell him that politically there is much
to lose by trifling with environmental laws. His father suffered
from Vice President Dan Quayle's efforts to undermine regulations,
and the Republican Party suffered when Newt Gingrich tried to do
the same thing in 1995. A memo on these and other strategic
blunders would serve the president far better than Mr. Card's. 

Peter Anderson
4513 Vernon Blvd. Suite 15
Madison, WI 53705
(608) 231-1100/Fax (608) 233-0011

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