Midnight madness is in the air

In the past few years it hasn't been unusual to hear of environmental regulations being "relaxed" by the Environmental Protection Agency so that more polluting can go on. It's almost become a non-story.

But today's report by the Washington Post is notable because in the case of a new rule to allow more pollution at national parks, documents show that a majority of regional EPA administrators themselves have criticized the decision, with fully half of their number filling formally dissents.

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"[T]he Bush administration's push to weaken Clean Air Act protections for "Class 1 areas" nationwide has sparked fierce resistance from senior agency officials," says the Post.

Also: "The proposal would change the practice of measuring pollution levels near national parks, which is currently done over three-hour and 24-hour increments in order to capture emission spikes during peak energy demand. Instead, levels would be averaged over a year; increases in pollution would no longer violate the law."

The article also notes that "Many national parks struggle with poor visibility shrouding otherwise spectacular vistas, as well as acid rain and other problems caused by air pollution, which has intensified the debate over how best to regulate lead smelters, coal-fired power plants and other nearby pollution sources."

Why would such a change be going through if most of the administrators involved don't like it? It's all part of the "midnight regulations" that outgoing presidents routinely push through on their way out the door - even though according to watchdogs Bush himself promised to avoid doing so.

This is only one of a whole package of changes being proposed and/or enacted in these last couple months of a lame-duck presidency. Not all are environment-related, but a great many are, and you can guess which way they're skewed. In some cases there's still time to raise a ruckus, in others apparently not. The site Pro Publica has a great rundown of what's on the books, how far along it is, what's at stake and whether there's anything left to be done. They promise to update the list as the process marches on. Check out these rulings now before their effects show up in your backyard.

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