Slowly but surely, the Bush administration is using courts and
spending legislation to reverse Clinton-era trends in environmental
From the administration's point of view, this serves to: provide
balance to the conflict between protecting nature and advancing the
economy; give states and localities more say in such decisions; and
reduce the "analysis paralysis" that can hinder federal government
land managers from doing their job.
This is being done in several ways.
* Regulatory decisions by agencies such as the Environmental
Protection Agency and the Interior Department, now headed by Mike
Leavitt and Gale Norton instead of Carol Browner and Bruce Babbitt
(present and former heads of the EPA and Interior, respectively).
Changing regulations doesn't necessarily require new legislation.
* Siding with industries in federal lawsuits, such as the one
accepted this week by the US Supreme Court regarding off-road
vehicles in wilderness areas. Or, in the case of roadless areas in
national forests, not defending Clinton- imposed regulations when
those were challenged by the timber industry.
* And, as happened this week, attaching environmental waivers to
the Interior Department's appropriations bill.
Critics say this amounts to the piecemeal dismantling of
important environmental laws like the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts
by appointees who include former timber and mining lobbyists.
Administration officials say they're merely adjusting the excesses
of the Clinton administration, which included environmental
activists in senior posts.
Mr. Leavitt, the former Utah governor who took over Thursday as
head of the EPA, says, "I accepted this responsibility because I
believe the president is committed to substantially more progress on
the environment, and doing it in such a way that does not compromise
our place in the world competitively."
In any case, the politics of such trends are complicated and
potentially important and reflect the long-standing conflict between
eastern lawmakers and those from the West. Among recent actions:
Bush appointees at the EPA have sided with the Pentagon in
seeking exemption for military facilities from federal laws
governing hazardous waste, air quality, and endangered species.
The Interior Department now says that off-road vehicles should be
allowed in wilderness areas, even though agency experts had reported
that such vehicles cause environmental damage. What's more, the
administration argues in a legal case accepted this week by the US
Supreme Court, the public does not have the right to challenge such
The Los Angeles Times reported Thursday that "Bush administration
officials have drafted a rule that would significantly narrow the
scope of the Clean Water Act, stripping many wetlands and streams of
federal pollution controls and making them available to being filled
for commercial development. …