What if, in the wake of Katrina, Congress suggested the need to waive construction rules for hurricane safety in order to expedite rebuilding in the Gulf Coast region? Obviously, the outcry would doom the dangerous and life-threatening measure to defeat and shame its political sponsors into submission.

Yet some in Congress are using the Hurricane Katrina tragedy as a pretext to push for sweeping rollbacks of public health, safety and environmental protections -- not just in the Gulf region, but across the country. What's more, to the delight of corporate lobbyists, the Bush administration agrees that it's fine to further victimize the hurricane victims, as well as other Americans.

Last week Sen. James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) proposed legislation (S. 1711) that would grant the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sole and absolute authority to waive federal or state laws -- not just environmental laws -- anywhere in the country for up to one-and-a-half years.

To grant a waiver, EPA need only claim that it is in the public interest and somehow linked to Hurricane Katrina. However, the agency would not have to demonstrate that a waiver is necessary to protect public health and safety; nor would it be required to provide any such protections in granting waivers.

Inexplicably, the waiver legislation is moving forward despite the fact that on September 13, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson assured Congress that his agency does not need any new authority to respond to Hurricane Katrina. Two days later, the very day Sen. Inhofe introduced his bill, EPA suddenly reversed itself by publicly backing the controversial measure.

In addition, it was revealed today that EPA has drafted separate legislation that would allow the agency to waive any provision of the Clean Air Act -- nationwide, without any notice or public comment -- whenever the Administrator declares an emergency. The waivers would even include limits on toxic emissions and health-based air quality standards. For more information, click here.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), along with more than 50 other public health and environmental groups, sent a letter to Senators today urging them to oppose Sen. Inhofe's bill. The letter and a fact sheet on the legislation are available here.

For more information on efforts to strip away fundamental health and environmental safeguards in response to hurricane devastation, contact NRDC's John Walke at (202) 289-2406 or jwalke@nrdc.org.

Related NRDC Pages

Environmental Policy Discussions After Hurricane Katrina