Thursday, November 06, 2008

More Weakened Environmental Regulations

Even as we celebrate Obama's victory, the outgoing administration is still working its usual mischief on environmental regulations.

We've seen a number of new rules in just the last few weeks, including ones that would ease restrictions on mountaintop-removal coal mining, push forward plans to store nuclear waste at Nevada's Yucca Mountain, speed up the offshore leasing process, and advance efforts to mine uranium in the Grand Canyon. The Bureau of Land management has also proposed opening wilderness-quality areas to oil and gas drilling in Utah.

The Bush administration is likely to move forward with plans to weaken air-pollution standards for power plants by altering the "new-source review" rules. Those rules now require power plants to install new pollution-control equipment if they are making upgrades that would keep their facilities operating more hours each day and increase overall emissions. Instead, the administration's proposal would allow older power plants to upgrade without installing costly new equipment as long as their hourly emissions rates don't increase. There's also talk of easing limits on emissions from coal-fired power plants near national parks, and allowing increased emissions from oil refineries, chemical factories, and other industrial plants with complex manufacturing operations, as well as weakening the cleanup standards for radioactive releases.
And there is more:
Mountaintop removal coal mining: On the bright side, the Office of Surface Mining is expected to issue a final rule that would extend the current rule—which requires a 100-foot buffer zone around streams—to include all bodies of water. Unfortunately, the new rule requires companies to avoid dumping mining waste within the buffer zone “or show why avoidance is not possible.” If they dump waste, they must minimize hurting waterways “to the extent practicable.” Hello, wiggle room.
All that is in addition to the administration's effort to weaken the Endangered Species Act earlier this fall. Like the ESA revision, each one of these new regulations is likely to be pushed through with minimal review or opportunity for public comment so that they may take effect before Obama's administration takes power. Undoing the regulatory damage will take months or years to accomplish.