Last minute Bush push threatens workers, consumers and environment

The Bush administration is in a midnight frenzy, churning out a stream of regulations designed to cement its right-wing legacy of damage to the environment and attacks on workers and consumers. If successful, a virtual dream list of ultra-conservative wishes could go into effect, saddling both the incoming Obama administration and the American people for a long time to come.

The new Bush rules roll back or weaken regulations on job safety, family leave, airline safety and many other areas.

Commenting on the administration’s “midnight move,” Matthew Madia, president of the nonprofit watchdog group OMB Watch said, “It’s environmental regulations, it’s worker safety, it’s reproductive health, it’s traffic safety, but the common theme is that the Bush administration is trying to remove restrictions on business and allow them to operate without any kind of government oversight. It’s intended to make sure that the kind of ideology and priorities that the Bush administration believes in are affecting the country for many years.”

A recent article in the Washington Post noted that at least 90 new regulations are being rammed through in the last minute. Worse yet, the paper noted, if they become final before Bush leaves office, “they typically can be undone only through a laborious new regulatory proceeding, including lengthy periods of public comment, drafting and mandated reanalysis.”

New regulations of the type Bush is issuing become final after they are published in the Federal register but usually don’t go into effect until a 60-day Congressional comment period expires. In order to sidestep even this review, however, the administration has dropped the comment period from 60 to 30 days.

The shortening of that period ensures that most of the last-minute Bush regulations will actually be in effect when president-elect Barack Obama takes office Jan. 20.

The Washington post said, in an editorial, “That’s why the business community is pressing hard for the Bush administration to move quickly. Lobbyists fear that industry views will hold less sway after the elections. The doors at the Executive Office Building have been whirling with corporate officials and advisers pleading for relief or, in many cases, for hastened decision making.”

Labor, community and environmental groups say, however, that the incoming Obama administration has a tool it might be able to use to unravel the last minute Bush rules – the Congressional Review Act (CRA). Bush himself actually used that act to overturn the Clinton administration’s workplace ergonomics rule that was written near the end of Clinton’s second term.

Under the otherwise never-used CRA, a regulation that is enacted within 60 days of congressional adjournment – Oct. 3 this year – can be reviewed and overturned by a simple majority vote in both houses. Senate filibusters are not allowed.

Congressional Democrats are saying they are considering a CRA strategy for some of the last-minute Bush rules.

OMB Watch warns, however, that numerous right-wing Bush rules have already been issued and that the comment time clock is already ticking. One of the rules already issued makes it more difficult for workers to use family and medical leave and another one lifts many air pollution standards on oil refineries.

Another of these new rules is one that changes the ways exposure of workers to a wide range of dangerous chemicals and toxins is measured. The rule allows many workers to be exposed to levels of the toxins that have not, until now, been permissible.

The rule is now being referred to as the “secret rule.” The regulation is one that Bush operatives have long wanted to put into effect, over the objections of many government health and safety officials. It was actually kept secret until last July when it was exposed in numerous media reports that the plan was to ram it through in the last days of the administration.

While the Bush rules make life a lot easier for big business, his administration continues to block numerous proposals for rules that would make life better for workers.

They continue to block a crane safety standard, rules to protect workers from exposure to silica, which causes serious respiratory disease, rules to protect workers from diacetyl, the flavoring additive linked to “popcorn ling,” and rules to protect metal and dental workers from beryllium, a light metal that causes lung damage.

The administration has also refused to develop combustible dust rules meant to prevent explosions like the one in February in Georgia at an Imperial Sugar plant that killed 13 workers.