Thursday morning, House Democrats took firm control of the environment issue by ousting Energy and Commerce Committee chair Rep. John Dingell. In his place, the caucus chose Rep. Henry Waxman, Besides seating a committed environmentalist as head of the influential energy committee, the vote removes one of the auto industry’s best friends from a key leadership post — further evidence of how much influence the American auto industry has lost on Capitol Hill even as CEOs of the Big Three plead for $25-billion in loans from Washington.
Led by Dingell, the entire Michigan delegation in Washington managed to block most efforts to force auto makers from improving fuel efficiency and developing cars run on alternative energy such electric power for decades.
Meanwhile, prospects for America’s involvement in the struggle to combat global warming soared yesterday after President-elect Barack Obama told a conference in Europe by video link the US will play an aggressive role in renewing the Kyoto Protocol.
"This is an incredibly welcome statement about the need not to delay, and it will send a very positive message around the world, especially to the developing countries," a British source involved with negotiations told The Guardian.
Clearly, Obama’s message is timed to influence interim negotiating meetings in Poland next month which Obama reminded his audience he could not attend, "because the United States has only one president at a time."
But Obama’s words ended eight years of wilful climate destruction by the Bush administration, which withdrew from Kyoto six weeks after taking office in 2001. As a result Bush inflected incalculable damage to international community efforts to construct a unified response to the climate change threat.
The Bush withdrawal set the international effort back by nearly a decade – years in which it became increasingly clear that atmospheric warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions is proceeding much faster than UN scientists thought it would.
Bush The Destroyer
Not content with destroying life in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush is working at breakneck speed to dismantle at least 10 major environmental safeguards protecting America's wildlife, national parks and rivers before leaving office in January, thus actively trying to destroy life in the United States, as well.
With barely 60 days to go until Obama’s inauguration, the Bush White House is working methodically to weaken or reverse an array of regulations that protect America's wilderness from logging or mining operations, and compel factory farms to clean up dangerous waste.
In his latest move, Bush opened up two million acres of land in Rocky Mountain states for oil shale development, one of the dirtiest fuels on the planet. The law goes into effect January 17, three days before Obama takes office. The timing is crucial. Most regulations take effect 60 days after publication, and Bush wants the new rules in place before he leaves the White House on Jan. 20. This makes it more difficult for Obama to undo them.
"There are probably going to be scores of rules that are issued between now and Jan. 20," John Walke, a senior attorney at the National Resources Defence Council told The Guardian. "And there are at least a dozen very controversial rules that will weaken public health and environment protection that have no business being adopted and would not be acceptable to the incoming Obama administration, based on stances he has taken as a senator and during the campaign."
The flurry of “midnight regulations” is part of Bush and Cheney’s broad campaign to leave a lasting, nasty footprint on environmental policy. Many of the actions are provoking widespread protests, such as the Bureau of Land Management's plans to auction off 20,000 acres of oil and gas parcels in sight of Utah's Delicate Arch natural bridge.
The Bush administration is also accused of engaging in a parallel go-slow on court-ordered actions on the environment.
"There are the midnight regulations that they are trying to force out before they leave office, and then there are the other things they are trying not to do before they go. A lot of the climate stuff falls into the category of things they would rather not do," notes a career official at the EPA, asking his name not be used because he is not authorized to speak with reporters.
It’s not just environmental issues where Bush is killing decades of protections. Workplace safety and employee rights rules are also being decimated in the waning hours of his presidency.
The campaign began in May when the White House chief of staff Josh Bolten wrote to agencies asking them to forward proposals for rule changes. Bolten had initially set a November 1 deadline on rule-making. The White House denies that the flurry of rule changes is politically motivated.
"What the chief of staff wanted to avoid was this very charge that we would be trying to, in the dark of night in the last days of the administration, be rushing regulations into place ahead of the incoming, next administration," Tony Fratto, the White House spokesman, told reporters.
But OMB Watch, a non-partisan watchdog group, notes that the Office of Management and Budget website shows 83 rules reviewed between Sept. 1 and Oct. 31 – about double its workload in each of the last three years.
Meanwhile, the Bush administration cut short the timeframe for public comment. In one instance, officials claimed to have reviewed 300,000 comments about changes to wildlife protection within the space of a week.
The only way it could have done so is adapting the old parable about an infinite number of monkeys sitting before an infinite number of typewriters doing the work.
Mine Pollution To Pig Farms
Barely a corner of American life will be untouched by Bush’s proposed changes.
· New regulations would free industrial-scale pig and cattle farms from complying with the Clean Water Act so long as they declare they are not dumping animal waste in lakes and rivers; apparently, their word is good enough.
· Mountain-top mining operations will also be exempt from the Clean Water Act, allowing them to dump pollutants directly in rivers and lakes.
· The electricity industry’s coal-fired power plants will no longer be required to install pollution controls or clean up soot and smog pollution while pollution control regulations on new power plants will be downgraded.
· Another new rule allows the Pentagon and other government agencies to embark on new projects without first undertaking studies on potential dangers to wildlife.
· Next week, a new rule will weaken regulation of perchlorate in drinking water, a rocket fuel toxin that affects brain development in children.
The Bush strategy is prompting a fight by environmentalists, the Democratic-controlled Congress and members of the Obama transition team as well as the President-elect himself. And compared with the outcry of dismay at Bush's end-of-term actions, Obama's statements are being greeted with a global "huzzah!".
Finally, Fresh Air
Obama’s words to the climate change meeting were instantly applauded as "fantastic" by California's Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a leading force for environmental changes in the face of White House obstinacy.
"These were inspirational words from Obama," adds Frank O'Donnell of Clean Air Watch. "He basically said that, even though the world economy is less than healthy, global warming remains an absolutely top priority. It means the United States is now ready to take on a leadership role in combating climate change."
Behind Obama's words is the big idea that energy-hogging is at the root of US economic problems at home and security problems abroad. America's gluttonous oil consumption is unsustainable, damaging the environment and making the country dependent on unstable parts of the world for its energy which, in the end, has become a threat to its national security.
When Pres. Obama finally walks into the White House on Jan. 20 after the inaugural parade, and even before he has time to change into formal wear for the series of balls planned to celebrate his election, he will have to climb through a mountain of polluting and health-robbing garbage the former resident is leaving behind to be cleaned up.
*When I was young, oh so much younger than today, I believed that the United States would become completely unhinged at some point in my lifetime. This...