Grim Tally

Tucson Weekly

As the House's public-lands committee head, Grijalva lists the Bush administration's anti-environmentalism


U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva

It's hardly hot news that nature has taken a beating over the past eight years. The Bush administration has been relentless in its cynical march toward environmental calamity--from sacking honest scientists and trying to gut the Endangered Species Act to weakening clean-water and air standards--all the while pushing for mineral and oil exploration on every square inch of our public lands.

What is new, however, is that someone has finally quantified this grim epoch of abuse.

On Oct. 22, U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva released a report, compiled by his staff and subtly titled, "The Bush Administration Assaults on Our National Parks, Forests and Public Lands (A Partial List)."

"We put this report out both as an indictment and as a blueprint," Grijalva told a small group gathered in his Tucson office for the release. "And we hope it's received that way."

The tone is set by the report's introduction. Grijalva chairs the National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee, and he recently sponsored a successful resolution to temporarily close an area near Grand Canyon National Park to uranium mining. This moratorium would give Congress time to decide whether permanent protection for those lands is warranted.

The administration's response? First, it ignored the resolution and allowed uranium companies to keep mining. Then it attempted to permanently yank the longtime congressional authority to make such a stopgap closure. "It's an assault on the inherent authority of Congress," Grijalva said, "when you strip that power away."

He calls it part of a comprehensive Bush administration strategy to turn public lands into resource commodities. "There is an agenda," he says. "This report is to point out what that agenda is, and how we begin the process of undoing it."

Grijalva said he expects a slew of last-ditch efforts to gut environmental regulations in the administration's final days.

It would be a fitting end for a presidency during which people have often been plucked straight from resource industries and put in charge of public lands. Career professionals "have been replaced by political appointments that come with very strict agendas," said Grijalva, "and that's how they run the agencies and the sub-agencies.

"We've had executive orders. We've had regulatory rollbacks. We've had manipulation of science. Scientifically based decisions are sometimes difficult, politically, but they're usually based in fact. And to manipulate that is a horrible thing. That's why we wanted to get this report out. We've distributed it to our colleagues, to major media."

Part of the purpose, he said, is to prod the next administration to follow a much more progressive track. "We'd like to see them change the culture of public-lands administration, to return the use of science and professionalism. And quite frankly, (to use the report) as a guide for who to appoint to the very, very important position of secretary of interior. What will be that philosophy? And from that, what are the other consequential political appointments that will happen?"

The report cites a shameful roster of attacks on conservation, from those efforts to weaken air-quality standards and the ongoing uranium mining next to the Grand Canyon, to the wholesale slaughter of buffalo in Yellowstone National Park at the behest of area ranchers.

But other measures are even more insidious. For example, the report cites attempts by Bush appointees to outsource thousands of Park Service jobs to private contractors, and the use of a political litmus test for civil-service managers. The administration has also attempted to rewrite the agency's mission, upending the traditional priority of conservation and replacing it with an emphasis on visitor services. Meanwhile, agency managers have moved their parks toward more commercialization and played shell games with budgets.

Similar misconduct is occurring at the Bureau of Land Management. It includes streamlining gas and oil development on BLM lands; making the cleanup of contaminated sites by companies purely voluntary; allowing off-road vehicles to decimate public lands; attempting to relinquish control of much of those lands to the states; and prohibiting the designation of any new wilderness areas.

The situation is equally troubling within the Forest Service, where regulatory changes have thwarted proper forest planning. In addition, the agency has also adopted the widespread use of what are called "categorical exclusions." As their name implies, these handy administrative tools contain categories of projects that may be excluded from the full reviews otherwise required by the National Environmental Policy Act. While initially created to reduce paperwork for routine maintenance and other low-impact work on federal lands, the exclusions are now being used for a growing variety of projects.

For examples, look no further than our own Coronado National Forest. Recently, former Santa Catalina District Ranger Larry Raley sparked a controversy by invoking an exclusion to approve road reconstruction in flood-damaged Sabino Canyon. And last year, then-Sierra Vista District Ranger Doug Hardy used categorical exclusions while approving four mining-exploration permits near Patagonia.

According to Grijalva, the Bush administration has also displayed blatant disregard for conservation along the U.S.-Mexico border. This is largely driven by remarkable powers invested in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Grijalva's report takes particular aim at the REAL ID Act of 2005, which allows the department to override all environmental laws when installing fences and other security measures along the borderline. Not surprisingly, this power has been repeatedly abused, perhaps no more egregiously than in the construction of a fence across Southern Arizona's environmentally sensitive San Pedro River. Many scientists believe the barrier will have devastating long-term effects on the ecologically vital waterway.

So how does this dismal list get addressed? Grijalva said that hope for change lies in the next administration and a Congress more willing to challenge this systematic disassembling of our land-management agencies and environmental protections. He added that he and his congressional colleagues failed to capitalize on the public's unhappiness with the anti-environmental politics of President Bush. "I don't think we utilized public opinion, and organizational support as well, to move our agenda."

Still, with the exception of energy issues, the environment has received little attention from either presidential candidate. That's a sign of the chore Grijalva and others face in keeping conservation issues on the national radar.
"The next Congress is going to be facing all these economic questions," he said. "But at the same time, we don't want the issue of our environment, the issue of our public lands ... to be lost in that struggle."

Bush administration seeks last-minute regulations

Los Angeles Times
"The new rules would be among the most controversial deregulatory steps of the Bush era and could be difficult for his successor to undo. Some would ease or lift existing constraints on private industry, including power plants, mines and farms.",0,4163433.story

By R. Jeffrey Smith
October 31, 200
Reporting from Washington -- The White House is working to enact an array of federal regulations, many of which would weaken rules aimed at protecting consumers and the environment, before President Bush leaves office in January.

The new rules would be among the most controversial deregulatory steps of the Bush era and could be difficult for his successor to undo. Some would ease or lift existing constraints on private industry, including power plants, mines and farms.

Those and other regulations would help clear obstacles to some commercial ocean-fishing activities, ease controls on pollutants that contribute to global warming, relax drinking-water standards and lift a key restriction on mountaintop coal mining.

Once such rules take effect, they typically can be undone only through a laborious new regulatory proceeding, including lengthy periods of public comment, drafting and mandated reanalysis.

"They want these rules to continue to have an impact long after they leave office," said Matthew Madia, a regulatory expert at OMB Watch, a nonprofit group critical of what it calls the Bush administration's penchant for deregulating in areas where industry wants more freedom.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto responded that "this administration has taken extraordinary measures to avoid rushing regulations at the end of the term. And yes, we'd prefer our regulations stand for a very long time -- they're well-reasoned and are being considered with the best interests of the nation in mind."

As many as 90 new regulations are in the works, and at least nine are considered "economically significant" because they would impose costs or promote societal benefits that exceed $100 million annually. They include new rules governing employees who take family- and medical-related leaves, new standards for preventing or containing oil spills, and a simplified process for settling real estate transactions.

Although it remains unclear how much the administration will be able to accomplish in the coming weeks, the last-minute rush appears to involve fewer regulations than Bush's predecessor, Bill Clinton, approved at the end of his tenure.

In some cases, the regulations reflect new interpretations of language in federal laws. In other cases, such as several new counter-terrorism initiatives, they reflect new executive branch decisions in areas where Congress -- now out of session and focused on the elections -- left the president considerable discretion.

The last-minute activity has made this a busy period for lobbyists who fear that industry views will hold less sway after the November elections.

According to the Office of Management and Budget's regulatory calendar, representatives of the commercial scallop fishing industry came in two weeks ago to urge that proposed catch limits be eased, nearly bumping into National Mining Assn. officials who want to ease rules meant to keep coal slurry waste out of Appalachian streams. A few days earlier, lawyers for kidney dialysis and biotechnology companies registered their complaints at the OMB about new Medicare reimbursement rules.

Bush's aides are acutely aware of the political risks of completing their regulatory work too late. On the afternoon of Bush's inauguration, Jan. 20, 2001, his chief of staff issued a government-wide memo that blocked the completion or implementation of regulations drafted in the waning days of the Clinton administration that had not yet taken legal effect.

"Through the end of the Clinton administration, we were working like crazy to get as many regulations out as possible," said Donald Arbuckle, who retired in 2006 after 25 years as a career official at the OMB. "Then on Sunday, the day after the inauguration, OMB Director Mitch Daniels called me in and said, 'Let's pull back as many of these as we can.' "

Clinton's appointees paid a heavy price for procrastination. Bush's team was able to withdraw 254 regulations that covered matters from drug and airline safety to immigration and indoor air pollutants. After further review, many of the proposals were modified to reflect Republican policy ideals or were scrapped altogether.

Seeking to avoid falling victim to the same partisan tactics, White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten in May imposed a Nov. 1 government-wide deadline to finish major new Bush administration regulations, "except in extraordinary circumstances."

That gives officials just weeks to meet an effective Nov. 20 deadline for the publication of economically significant rules, which take effect only after a 60-day congressional comment period. Less important rules take effect after a 30-day period, creating a second deadline of Dec. 20.

As the deadlines near, the administration has begun to issue regulations of great interest to industry, including, in recent days, a rule that allows the nation's natural gas pipelines to operate at higher pressures and new Homeland Security rules that shift passenger security screening responsibilities from airlines to the federal government. The OMB also approved a new limit on airborne emissions of lead this month, acting under a court-imposed deadline.

Many of the rules would ease environmental regulations, according to sources familiar with the administration's internal deliberations.

A rule put forward by the National Marine Fisheries Service and now under final review by the OMB would lift a requirement that environmental impact statements be prepared for certain fisheries-management decisions and would give review authority to regional councils dominated by commercial and recreational fishing interests.

An Alaska commercial fishing industry source, granted anonymity so he could speak candidly about private conversations, said senior administration officials promised to "get the rule done by the end of this month" and that the outcome would be a big improvement over existing regulations.

Two other rules nearing completion would ease limits on pollution from power plants, a major energy industry goal for the last eight years that is strenuously opposed by Democratic lawmakers and environmental groups.

A third rule would allow increased emissions from oil refineries, chemical factories and other plants with complex manufacturing operations.

Smith writes for the Washington Post.