Midnight regulations to bind Obama

As the world community meets in Poland this week to find solutions to the climate crisis, the George W. Bush White House is chaining the United States’ tiller to prevent a change of course by President-elect Barack Obama by passing new anti-environmental rules and regulations at a furious pace. Nearly a million hectares of public wildlands in Wyoming and Utah are being opened up to oil shale extraction, the Endangered Species Act is being gutted, as are regulations regarding factory farm operations, the Clean Air Act, and removing mountaintops to dig for coal and more, said a coalition of environmental groups. “There are many last-minute changes and some are draconian,” said Josh Dorner of the Sierra Club, an environmental NGO.

The White House can make such changes arbitrarily without approval or consultation with Congress, the Senate or the public. Known as “midnight regulations”, more than 60 were passed in November with the intent of tying the hands of the Obama administration. Some of these will be difficult to reverse, but many of the worst ones will almost certainly be overturned by Obama, Dorner said. There will be an entirely new atmosphere in the White House in 2009, says a coalition of 29 leading environmental and conservation groups. They met with the Obama transition team last week and presented a 345-page “roadmap for presidential action on economic stimulus, energy, climate change, and other pressing environmental issues”. “The new administration’s priorities on energy, the economy, and the environment jibe well with our roadmap,” said Margie Alt, executive director of Environment America.

President-elect Obama has said he wants to reduce US emissions of greenhouse gases to their 1990 levels by 2020 and reduce them by an additional 80 per cent by 2050. Most environmental groups favour tougher targets, originally recommended by 2,000-plus scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which would see the US reduce its emissions by 25 to 40 per cent below 1990 by the year 2020. However, there is broad agreement that the solution to the country’s current economic crisis is to rapidly move towards a green economy, said Frances Beinecke, executive director of the Natural Resources Defence Council.

Five million new jobs can be created with investments in energy efficiency and renewable power generation. Introducing a carbon cap-and-trade system will generate the funds for investments in energy efficiency retrofits of buildings and clean energy sources like wind and solar, she said. The Obama administration is working on an economic stimulus package that is rumoured to exceed 500 billion dollars, and environmentalists expect that there will be a big green component with massive investment in mass transit, improving the country’s antiquated energy infrastructure and more, said Beinecke.

The coalition wants the leasing of oil and gas drilling permits in Arctic waters to be suspended immediately and a new precautionary approach taken for any industrial activity in the region, which is being hit first and hardest by climate change. “We’re confident that a new Obama administration will take us in the right direction,” said Dorner of the Sierra Club. “Now is the time for change, and that change is the green economy.” — IPS