When some Clinton administration officials left their offices in 2001, they pulled the “W” keys off of the keyboards in the White House. Their way of taunting the incoming Bush administration may have been childish, but at least it didn’t have lasting repercussions. Now, as the current administration prepares to hand the reins over to Obama, its final attempt to downgrade the power of the Environmental Protection Agency poses a much more serious threat than a few missing keys.
The Bush administration’s latest insult to the EPA comes in the form of policy changes that are expected to be finalized within the next couple of weeks. The new guidelines would significantly change the Clean Air Act and curtail the EPA’s power to control emissions. The law caps the annual emissions of power plants, which forces them to operate restricted hours to prevent exceeding the cap. But the new rule measures emissions on an hourly basis rather than a yearly total. The change creates a loophole: plants will be able to work longer hours as long as each hour’s emissions fit the average hourly rate. That means that emissions can — and probably will — increase.
The regulation change is both a danger to the environment and an attack on the power of the EPA. While Americans are realizing the importance of environmentally friendly policy, the administration is moving in the opposite direction. If the regulatory changes are implemented, the EPA will lose a significant amount of its already limited power to control emissions.
What is also troubling about the move is the Bush administration’s apparent disregard for all parties affected by the policy change. The administration is forcing changes that a multitude of groups oppose, including doctors, environmentalists and governmental officials. Furthermore, changes made to the Clean Air Act will be difficult for the Obama administration to undo. In its last months in office, the Bush administration seems focused on adding a few more problems to President-elect Barack Obama’s list of things he will have to clean up.
Despite well-reasoned opposition, however, chances are that the new regulations will be implemented. Luckily, Obama’s top contenders for EPA administrator include Mary Nichols, who chairs the California Air Resources Board and Lisa Jackson, who previously headed New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection. Both candidates have the experience and social inclination to improve the system. But there will be more work for Obama than just appointing an administrator. Changing the rules again will take time and it won’t be easy, but the Obama administration must give the EPA back the power it needs to combat dangerous emissions levels.
And maybe, when it comes time for Obama’s team to leave office, they’ll just stick with vandalizing keyboards.