The United States’ largest environmental organizations are bracing themselves for what they say will be an unprecedented assault on environmental laws in the new Congress and throughout the next two years of the Bush administration. Across the board on issues of clean air, clean water and natural resource conservation, the Bush administration has already demonstrated its willingness to override public opinion and public health concerns to weaken environmental regulations, according to a panel of environmental experts who spoke at a briefing in Washington, D.C.

With Congress now controlled by the Republicans, the threat of further rollbacks is “more far reaching and more destructive than any that have preceded it,” said Greg Wetstone, director of advocacy for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

“In the absence of any clear, aggressive Congressional oversight we will see a more vigorous, escalated attack that includes new efforts to promote more air pollution, more water pollution, more clear cutting in the forests and more drilling, mining and logging on public lands,” Wetstone said.

“These actions are broadly out of step with the overwhelming consensus of the American public, and it is quite evident that this administration is fully aware of that,” he said. The panelists cited changes to forest management plans and to clean air regulations that have already been announced as mere harbingers of what is to come.

John Walke, director of NRDC’s Clean Air Program said that, “this Bush administration puts out rule changes in virtual secrecy and willingly lets industry groups shape its policies,’ adding that “the sweep of the Bush administration’s assault on our clean air protections is breathtaking. The Bush administration is taking us backwards, not forwards in trying to solve those serious health problems.”

In moves designed to have the lowest media attention and to catch the environmental groups off-guard, the Bush administration waited to announce the radical cuts to the environment on days when few media were attendant on the Hill. NRDC noted that the administration’s rules weakening the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review program were announced the Friday before Thanksgiving at a briefing where cameras were not allowed and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, Christie Todd Whitman, failed to attend.

Walke said, “This was the most sweeping rollback of the statute in its 30 year history.” On that same day, the administration also proposed broad changes that will weaken the regulation of 10 toxic chemicals. According to Walke, EPA insiders told him that these were announced purposely on the same day so as to “jam environmental groups in order to make it more difficult for the public to offer meaningful comment on those actions within the 30 day comment period.” “This is a cynical and calculated way to carry out one’s agenda,” Walke added. This approach was not just used to announce the changes to clean air regulations, according to the panel. “On the eve of Thanksgiving the administration proposed a sweeping rollback of basic forest protections.

From, “Conservationists Warn Bush Will Dismantle Safeguards,” by J.R. Pegg, Environmental News Service (ENS), Washington, D.C., December 19, 2002. See the full story at http://ens-news.com/ens

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