Cinderella Legislators

In these long nights of December, lawmakers far away from the Vineyard are busy with what they call midnight regulation, changes that would affect our lives and livelihoods. President Bush calls it sprinting to the finish of his final term. He also calls it “working to enact a wide array of federal regulations, many of which would weaken government rules” — many involving the environment.

In fisheries management, endangered species protection, even clean air laws, new interpretations of the rules being rushed through would shift the balance of power from experts to vested interests.

For instance, the Bush plan would allow any federal agency to bypass the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when proposing a project that could impact endangered species if that agency determines the impact is minimal. These agencies — the Department of Transportation, the Army Corps of Engineers — exist to do these projects; protecting some piping plovers or turtle eggs is not what they know. Even if they do engage Fish and Wildlife experts, those underfunded scientists would get only sixty days to assess the situation under new regulations.

Another rule would replace the need for the National Marine Fisheries Service to do an environmental impact statement. The commercial fishing industry would have more scope to influence reports of its own environmental impact. This could seriously affect efforts to rebuild depleted fish stocks.

President Bush’s is not the first administration to rush in rules that favor its philosophy. Western parliamentary democracies determine the period between administrations to be a caretaker period where little non-urgent action can be accomplished, for the very purpose of avoiding this kind of under-the-radar rulemaking. Here, the onus is greater on all citizens to be aware, involved, and let the current and incoming lawmakers know where the balance should be. Otherwise, hard-earned rules enacted to protect the environment will be endangered themselves.