Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

Bush Officials Moving Fast to Cut Environmental Protections

Umm, don't legacy seekers usually do something in the direction of repenting? A little bit, maybe?


Published on Friday, November 7, 2008 by McClatchy Newspapers

Bush Officials Moving Fast to Cut Environmental Protections
by Renee Schoof

WASHINGTON - Not done making a mess of the world yet.

US President George W. Bush walks away after discussing the
transition with the incoming administration of U.S. President-elect
arack Obama with staff members, on the South Lawn of the White
House, November 6, 2008. In
the next few weeks, the Bush administration is expected to relax
environmental-protection rules on power plants near national parks,
uranium mining near the Grand Canyon and more mountaintop-removal
coal mining in Appalachia. (REUTERS/Larry Downing)

The administration is widely expected to try to get some of the rules
into final form by the week before Thanksgiving because, in some
cases, there's a 60-day delay before new regulations take effect. And
once the rules are in place, undoing them generally would be a more
time-consuming job for the next Congress and administration.

The regulations already have had periods of public comment, and no
further comments are being taken. The administration has proposed the
rules and final approval is considered likely.

It's common for administrations to issue a spate of regulations just
before leaving office. The Bush administration's changes are in
keeping with President Bush's overall support of deregulation.

Here's a look at some changes that are likely to go into effect
before the inauguration.


Higher prices for uranium, driven by expanded interest in nuclear
power, have resulted in thousands of mining claims being filed on
land within three miles of the Grand Canyon.

The House of Representatives and Senate natural resources committees
have the authority under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act
to order emergency withdrawals of federal land from future mining
claims for three years, while Congress decides whether a permanent
ban is needed. The House committee issued such a withdrawal order in
June for about 1 million acres near the Grand Canyon, including the
land the claims were filed on.

Now the Department of Interior has proposed scrapping its own rule
that puts such orders from the congressional committees into practice.

The Interior Department could decide to use its own power to halt new
claims, but it doesn't see any emergency that would prompt such
action, department spokesman Chris Paolino said. The department would
require environmental impact studies before it approved any mining on
the claims, he added.

One of the main hazards from uranium mining is seepage from tailings
piles that poisons water. A report for the Arizona Department of Game
and Fish said people would be at risk if they ingested radium-226,
arsenic and other hazardous substances from water and tainted fish.

Environmental groups say the government must consider the possible
danger of uranium leaching into the Colorado River, a source of
drinking water for Phoenix, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Arizona Gov.
Janet Napolitano in March urged Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to
halt new claims and order a study of uranium mining near the canyon.


Another proposed rule change from the Department of Interior would
change rules on dumping the earth removed for mining into nearby

The current rule, dating from the Reagan administration, says that no
surface mining may occur within 100 feet of a stream unless there'd
be no harm to water quality or quantity. The rule change essentially
would eliminate the buffer by allowing the government to grant
waivers so that mining companies can dump the rubble from
mountaintops into valleys, burying streams.

The new rule would let companies explain why they can't avoid dumping
into streams and how they intend to minimize harm. A September report
on the proposal by the department's Office of Surface Mining said
that environmental concerns would be taken into account "to the
extent possible, using the best technology currently available."

The government and mining companies have been ignoring the buffer
since the 1990s, said Joan Mulhern, an attorney with Earthjustice, a
nonprofit law firm for environmental protection.

Before the rule can be changed, however, the Department of Interior
must get written approval from Environmental Protection Agency
Administrator Stephen Johnson.

"In order to concur, the EPA would have to find that the activities
authorized by the rule would not violate water-quality standards, and
all the evidence is to the contrary," Mulhern said.


Two rule changes would apply to electric power plants and other
stationary sources of air pollution.

The first mainly concerns older power plants. Under the Clean Air
Act, plants that are updated must install pollution-control
technology if they'll produce more emissions. The rule change would
allow plants to measure emissions on an hourly basis, rather than
their total yearly output. This way, plants could run for more hours
and increase overall emissions without exceeding the threshold that
would require additional pollution controls.

The other change would make it easier for companies to build
polluting facilities near national parks and wilderness areas. It
also would change the way that companies must measure the impact of
their pollution.


The Endangered Species Act prohibits any federal actions that would
jeopardize the existence of a listed species or "adversely modify"
critical habitats. The 1973 law has helped save species such as the
bald eagle from extinction.

Bush administration officials have argued that the act can't be used
to protect animals and habitats from climate change by regulating
specific sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

A proposed rule change would allow federal agencies to decide for
themselves whether timber sales, new dams or other projects harm
wildlife protected under the act. In many cases, they'd no longer
have to consult the agencies that are charged with administering the
Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the
National Marine Fisheries Service.


Among the rule changes and plans that might become final are
commercial oil-shale leasing, a new rule that would allow loaded,
concealed weapons in some national parks, and oil and gas leasing on
wild public lands in West Virginia and Utah.


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