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New Report Documents Sweeping Rollback of Environmental Protections by Federal Agencies

Sen. Lieberman says NRDC report "raises serious questions" about Bush administration's environmental management

WASHINGTON (January 23, 2002) - A handful of Bush administration agencies have been quietly carrying out a coordinated attack on key environmental safeguards, according to a new report released today by NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). The nearly 80 agency actions span the spectrum of the nation's most important environmental programs, including those protecting our air, water, forests, wildlife and public lands. The report also finds that the administration intensified its efforts after September 11, when public attention was diverted by the war on terrorism.

"Our landmark environmental laws face the gravest challenge since the assaults of the Newt Gingrich Congress of 1995, and perhaps ever," said Gregory Wetstone, NRDC's director of advocacy. "The threat this time is more insidious, and potentially more dangerous. The Bush administration is quietly subverting federal agency rules that translate environmental laws into specific requirements for industry."

The report, Rewriting the Rules: The Bush Administration's Unseen Assault on the Environment, provides a review of federal agency actions since September 11 and an appendix of all actions since last January. The report also details the White House Office of Management and Budget's efforts to weaken environmental safeguards by twisting the regulatory process to benefit industry at the expense of public health and the environment.

"NRDC's report raises a number of serious questions about the administration of our environmental laws," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.). "There is broad, bipartisan support for strong enforcement of these essential statutes, and I am concerned that too often the Bush administration has frustrated, not furthered, the government's ability to protect our environment. This pattern has been a source of ongoing concern to me, and I will continue to examine the management of our environmental laws in both my capacity as a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee and as the chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee."

Some of the most glaring examples documented in the report include:

  • A pending Environmental Protection Agency proposal that would undermine a fundamental Clean Air Act requirement directing older power plants, refineries and other major air pollution sources to install state-of-the-art cleanup equipment when they expand or modernize their facilities.

  • A recent Army Corps of Engineers proposal that would reverse the "no net loss" of wetlands policy issued under the first Bush Administration, which has been the cornerstone of America's approach to wetlands preservation for more than a decade.

  • An Interior Department rulemaking that undermines the minimal environmental safeguards for private mining company operations on public lands, and renounces the agency's own authority to deny an operating permit to a mine causing "irreparable harm" to the environment.

  • A White House effort to block a key program to stem the discharge of raw sewage into America's waters.

The report also documents efforts to promote clear-cutting in pristine national forests, roll back safeguards for storing nuclear waste, weaken controls on untreated livestock waste from factory farms, and undermine protections for national parks and national monuments.

"It's not news that the Bush administration has an anti-environmental bias," Wetstone said. "The early months of the administration were largely defined by public disapproval of its environment and energy policies, including in particular, furors over arsenic in drinking water, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and the president's broken promise to curb global warming pollution from power plants.

"Since September 11, however, with public attention on the war on terrorism, the administration's assaults have quietly grown in scope and virulence. Instead of directly challenging popular environmental laws, the Bush administration has instructed federal agencies to render them mere words on paper, irrelevant to what polluters and developers do in the real world."

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Related NRDC Pages
Rewriting the Rules: The Bush Administration's Unseen Assault on the Environment
Bush's environmental record

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