Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Bush regulators serve industry, ignore public interest

When the George W. Bush presidential library is finally opened, will there be grand exhibits documenting how his regulatory agencies watered down, even abandoned, their enforcement of industry in his fixation for rewarding corporate cronies and shrugging off the public good?

How about the Consumer Products Safety Commission and millions of dangerous toys allowed into the United States from China?

Or the Pentagon and State Department procurement officials who allowed billions of dollars in cash and more billions of dollars in arms to vanish in Iraq and who hired politically connected, under-performing contractors at a cost of more billions of dollars?

Then there's the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service, which an investigator reports is so cozy with the oil industry it's found ways to not collect at least $1.5 billion in back interest on tardy royalty payments for drilling on public lands. One official said asking oil firms to calculate back interest would work a "hardship" on the companies and that Interior's computers can't handle the task.

But the grand prize for abuse of the public trust goes to the Environmental Protection Agency, whose relaxed enforcement will have the most damaging long-term effects on clean air and water.

Numbers tell the story. Lawsuits against defendants that refused to settle environmental cases were down 70 percent between 2002 and 2006, compared to four years in the late 1990s. Prosecutions, investigations and convictions dropped 30 percent.

The disgusted former director of EPA's civil enforcement division, Eric Schaeffer, who resigned in protest, describes what's happening at EPA: "You don't get cleanup and you don't get deterrence" of pollution.

Some EPA investigators have been diverted to other duties such as EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson's security detail.

Whatever excuses and explanations EPA offers, they simply aren't believable. President Bush has made sure of that.

The president made it clear from the start he doesn't believe in mandatory laws to force industry to clean up emissions that poison water and air.

Hence, why should the principal enforcer of clean air and clean water laws be aggressive when the White House signals its disdain for any form of regulation?

This mindset will bequeath Americans years and years of risky pollution, with fearsome consequences to human health and lingering damage to the already battered environment.

Second only to the war in Iraq, George W. Bush's legacy for generations to come will be his calculated abuse of the environment that has reduced health standards so as to help enrich corporations.

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