The environment and the next four years

What does Bush’;s reelection mean? Expect more of the same policies, but also some new faces at EPA. The wildcards are the role of third-party activists and the identification of priorities.

By Lynn Bergeson

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Now that the election is over, it is easier to speculate about the Administration’;s environmental agenda. Do not look for change. Business is pleased with the election results and believes that President Bush’;s track record is cause for celebration, or at least not for concern.  Realignments in the House and Senate also portend a net benefit for business.

The big picture
The Bush Administration has been much maligned by environmental activists. The League of Conservation Voters blitzed Florida with $3 million worth of ads focusing on the Bush Administration’;s support for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and its ties to “big oil” and corporations, including Halliburton. Other environmental groups focused ads aimed at mercury contamination and the lapsing of corporate tax financing of the Superfund trust.
 
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and others wasted no time after the election and sent millions of e-mails vowing to take up the environmental crusade with renewed passion and resolve. Although the election results plainly favor a “pro-business” viewpoint, according to most polls, almost half the electorate favors more environmental protection. Activist groups may feel empowered to take up the cause. This activism is expected to be influential in shaping the environmental agenda, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) policies and enforcement priorities.

Congressional initiatives
In terms of the legislative agenda, President Bush’;s Clear Skies Act will be a priority in the 109th Congress. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, vowed to take it up early. Given the Republicans’; net gain of seats in the Senate, other Clean Air Act changes may be initiated, particularly in the areas of permitting and standard-setting.

Administratively, EPA is poised to implement proposed rules that would achieve many of the goals the Act seeks to accomplish. We can expect to see final regulations addressing nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide, and by mid-2005, a final rule addressing mercury emissions.

Other legislative items include surface transport legislation. H.R. 3550 would reauthorize funding for federal highway and transit programs. Congress passed a short extension before adjourning in October, but is expected to take the legislation up again. Additionally, President Bush is supportive of updating the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which has been the subject of significant debate during the past several years.

There will be little change in committee and subcommittee assignments. Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) was reelected and will continue as chair of the Clear Air, Climate Change and Nuclear Safety Committee. Sen. Lincoln Chaffee (R-R.I.) will continue as chair of the Superfund and Waste Management Subcommittee.

Leadership in the House will remain unchanged. Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) will remain chair of the House Resources Committee. Overhauling the Endangered Species Act is expected to be a top priority.

EPA
Top leadership at EPA is not expected to change. Both Administrator Leavitt and Deputy Administrator Johnson are expected to remain (although Johnson must be confirmed by the Senate because he was a recess appointee). Several assistant administrator (AA) positions are open: Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxic Substances, as well as the Office of Research and Development, are both open. Dr. Gilman announced his resignation immediately after the election, and the AA position in Toxics has been open for months. Other AAs might also step down.

EPA priorities are expected to remain largely unchanged. As noted, Clean Air Act measures will be the subject of immediate focus. EPA’;s pesticide office will be very busy implementing the Pesticide Registration and Improvement Act and meeting several statutory deadlines imposed under the Food Quality Protection Act. Work on endocrine disruptors is expected to pick up because of statutory and court-ordered deadlines. The Water Office and the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER) will likely remain focused on the same priorities initiated under the first Bush Administration.

Expect more of the same policies, but also some new faces at EPA. The wildcards are the role of third-party activists and other stakeholders in the process, and the identification of priorities.

 Lynn Bergeson is regulatory editor for Chemical Processing magazine. She is a founding shareholder of Bergeson & Campbell, P.C., a Washington, D.C.-based law firm concentrating on chemical industry issues. Contact her at lbergeson@putman.net. The views expressed herein are solely those of the author. This column is not intended to provide, nor should be construed as, legal advice.

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