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November 24, 2008

Bush's Last Minute Suckage

President George W. Bush and the federal agencies that do his dirty work have been pushing through a series of "midnight rules" (last minute regulations that have the force of law) that may be hard to reverse. Typically the regulations that are saved until the "midnight" of an administration are ones that would be too controversial to propose early in a presidency.

We went over the list provided at ProPublica.org and we definitely aren't too happy.

Possibly the worst rule - a concept that we've taken issue with in the past - is one which would allow federally funded institutions to turn down abortion requests for "moral or religious reasons". Yep, another one of those "conscience clauses" (even though I personally find it unconscionable). Now obviously this is going to limit women's access to federally funded reproductive health services, which will hit low-income women the hardest. This is extra dangerous because it could be interpreted in a way that extends to contraception as well.

But that's not all! They plan to limit the use of funds and eligibility for funds made available for victims of sex trafficking. Any organization that seeks federal funding to help victims must certify that they do not advocate, promote or support the legalization or practice of prostitution. (Which is really shitty, because voluntary sex work is totally different than human trafficking). They also plan to subject HIV/AIDS prevention groups applying for federal grants to similar qualifying rules.

As if that wasn't craptastic enough, they're also fucking over women and families in other ways...

A new labor rule will revise the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, making it more difficult for employees to use paid vacation or personal days when they take leave for medical of family emergencies. They also plan to cut funding to disadvantaged families through a revision of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF) by eliminating a credit incentive that critics fear will mean less money available to families in need.

However, the BIGGEST hits will go to the environment. Most of these proposals have environmental groups pretty pissed off and worried, including regulations that would:
~Stop the EPA from regulating the perchlorate (a chemical component of rocket fuel that can contaminate water) in drinking water. Cleaning it up would cost billions of dollars, but leaving it alone may cause a potential health risk because it has been linked to thyroid problems in pregnant women, newborns, and young children. [OMB Watch]

~Allow OSHA to provide guidelines to assess the risk of chemicals in the workplace. There have been accusations that OSHA's rules (that are being drafted "behind closed doors") are too lenient and would leave workers unprotected for longer time periods due to regulatory delays. [Washington Post]

~Undercut a clean-air rule aimed at curbing childhood lead poisoning, that previously required lead monitors next to any factoring emitting at least a half-ton a year. The changes would raise the threshold to a ton of lead or more, resulting in a nearly 60% drop in factories being monitored and an increase in lead emissions. (According to the EPA, cement plants, smelters, steel mills and other factories emit about 1,300 tons of lead into the air each year, under the old law. This will no doubt increase as the restrictions are weakened). [Chicago Tribune]

~No longer require farms to report on air pollution from animal waste, as long as it is not above a certain threshold within a 24-hour period. The EPA says this will ease the burden of reporting in situations where an emergency response action is unlikely. But critics worry that less oversight will mean greater health risks to those living near factory farms. [CBS News]

~Allow companies that run confined animal feeding operations to voluntarily apply for permits to discharge waste into waterways. So if they don't think they pollute enough, they're under no obligation to get permits. [Environment News Service]

~Make it easier for mining companies to dump mine debris from mountaintop removal into waterways. [Reuters]

~Monitor emissions from power plants by the hour instead of the by the year, which critics say could allow power plants to pollute more than currently allowed. This may also exempt them from installing expensive new pollution control technology. [McClatchy Washington Bureau]

~Open the way for commercial development of oil shale on federal land. In July the administration proposed rules that would lead to leasing 2 million acres of public land in Colorado, Utah & Wyoming for oil shale extraction. Proponents say this new source of oil will help reduce energy prices, but opponents argue the drilling process uses vast amounts of energy and water and emits a significant amount of air pollution. [Los Angeles Times]

~Increase uranium mining permits near the Grand Canyon, increasing the potential for hazardous seepage of uranium into the water. [New York Times]

~Weaken the Endangered Species Act by allowing agencies to make their own determination of whether construction projects would harm protected species (rather than relying on extensive scientific review as they have done previously). [CNN.com]

~Potentially give more power to the fishing industry when determining their environment impact, by complicating the environmental review process and shortening the public comment period. [OMB Watch]

Thanks Bush!

The good news? The Democrats are already looking into ways to reverse some of these midnight regulations- even those that have already taken effect. A clause in the Congressional Review Act of 1996 states that any regulation filed within 60 legislative days of congressional adjournment is considered legally finalized "on the 15th legislative day of the new Congress" (likely sometime in February). Congress would then have 60 days to review and potentially reverse any law with a join resolution that can't be filibustered in the Senate. What does that mean exactly? It would take only a simple party-line vote in the (Democrat-controlled) Congress to undo any of Bush's recent regulations.

Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Patty Murray (D-WA) recently introduced legislation that would prevent the aforementioned Health and Human Services abortion "conscience" rule from going into effect. Representatives Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Louise Slaughter (D-NY), co-chairs of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus, introduced similar legislation in the House as well.

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1 comment:

Dollface said...

Thanks for breaking this down for us so well. When I was reading up on these midnight rules the other day I couldn't access the ProRepublica site, which disappointed me. However, now I know exactly how much Bush is trying to screw us over.