Gerald Herbert/AP

Obama Reinstates Environmental Checks, Reversing "Midnight Regulations"

March 04, 2009 01:17 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
President Obama has reversed last-minute Bush administration rule changes allowing federal agencies to bypass consultation with wildlife experts before beginning construction projects.

Environmentalists Praise Obama's Decision

The reversal requires federal agencies to consult with federal wildlife experts before constructing dams or highways that could "harm endangered or threatened species," according to the Detroit Free Press.

President Obama said that reinstating the consultation requirement would "help restore the scientific process to its rightful place at the heart of the Endangered Species Act," and he emphasized respect for federal scientists and wildlife experts, as well as for the Endangered Species Act, which has been largely successful for more than 30 years.

The process of rewriting the rule includes a 60-day window for the public to comment. In the meantime, until the rule is fully complete, Obama has requested that federal agencies seek advice from government wildlife organizations, such as the Fish and Wildlife Service, before going ahead with construction projects, the Detroit Free Press reported.

Environmental groups were pleased by Obama's move, but some business groups have been more critical, predicting that consultation with wildlife experts will set back stimulus-funded projects, reported the Wall Street Journal.

Keith McCoy, vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers, told The Wall Street Journal, "Reinstating bureaucratic hurdles will only delay energy development and other construction projects which help create jobs."

President Obama made moves to restore the consultation requirement in late January, as part of his "first official act in office" to freeze every proposed rule change made by the Bush administration, according to Integrity in Science Watch. At the time, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel issued a memorandum allowing the Obama administration "to review any rules that raise 'substantial questions of law or policy.'"

In another example of the Obama administration's dedication to maintaining and raising standards of environmental protection, the president has given "California and other states the green light to impose their own, stricter fuel emissions standards," McClatchy Newspapers reported in January.

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Background: Wave of midnight regulations

Among the several "midnight regulations" the Bush administration issued before Obama took office, two relaxed some of the environmental requirements federal agencies would have to follow before pursuing projects, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Bush's rules said that agencies would not have to consult federal scientists about potential impacts on endangered species or global warming before pursuing projects such as dams, power plants and timber sales, the Associated Press reported; developers and agencies have previously objected to such requirements, claiming that they raise costs and cause delays.

The House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., had said he would attempt to overturn the regulations and bypass the lengthy reversal process by invoking the uncommonly used Congressional Review Act.

The Bush administration also passed regulation changes pertaining to oil shale development, the working hours of truckers and employee time off, which were expected to be difficult for Obama to quickly overturn.

Many of the regulations passed by the Bush administration are pro-industry, giving companies greater freedom on environmental and labor issues. “Most of them relax existing requirements,” says Matt Madia of OMB Watch, a nonprofit organization dedicated to government transparency. “They make it easier for industries to pollute or deny a worker medical leaves.”

ProPublica, a nonprofit devoted to investigative journalism, has tracked the regulations being pushed through, with status updates on each.

Reference: Midnight regulations and how regulations are passed

The term “midnight regulation” was coined in 1980, when outgoing President Jimmy Carter spent the last ten weeks of his presidency passing nearly 25,000 pages of regulations. “Since Jimmy Carter, every President has complained about midnight regulations,” writes Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker,” and, four or eight years later, every President has issued them.” President Bill Clinton passed the most regulations—more than 26,000 pages in total.

Related Topic: Obama moving to change other Bush administration rules

President Obama has also announced plans to revise other rules the Bush administration recently implemented, including the controversial "conscience" rule, as it is known. This rule, which took effect the day before Obama's inauguration, "allows medical workers to refuse treatment based on moral or religious grounds," according to findingDulcinea. 

Bush's Secretary of Health and Human Services, Mike Leavitt, said the rule was designed so that health care providers are not "forced to choose between good professional standing and violating their conscience." 

Its focus on allowing employees of medical facilities that receive federal funding to refuse birth control treatments and abortion services has led some to say women's care could be jeopardized.

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