Dropping EPA lawsuits might be political liability

At least the Bush administration’s environmental policy is increasingly transparent. Scarcely hiding behind the opaque political rhetoric of the “Clear Skies” initiative, it is clear the administration has little concern whether voters discover George W. Bush’s pro-polluter policies. After purging the Environmental Protection Agency of its pro-environment leadership, the 2-year-old suggestions of Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy task force are finally taking effect. Namely, the EPA will drop more than 50 lawsuits directed at power plants accused of longtime violations of air quality standards – calling them a waste of time and counter-productive to energy efficiency.

Democrats have fought back against the drastic retreat. After assisting in investigations into the legality of the retreat, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., stated his concern that the “EPA has basically announced to the power industry that it can now pollute with impunity.” Lawyers inside the EPA have also questioned the policies. For instance, an anonymous insider said, “If you say, ‘I’m not going to enforce the law at all,’ that is doing rule-making without a rule-making process.”

Some of the lawsuits can stay open through state channels – many northeastern attorney generals are filing suit independent of the EPA. “There’s no question some of these cases are so egregious that court action is inevitable,” said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat.

Industry advocates have reacted to the maintenance of the lawsuits in various ways. Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, said the government “should not pursue new enforcement actions for projects that the law now recognizes as lawful.” Indeed, after Bush scrapped the Clean Air Act for the weaker “Clear Skies” initiative, activities once deemed illegal no longer are. Others uphold the standards, calling them more cost-effective in fighting pollution.

Nevertheless, anyone following the Bush administration’s environmental rollbacks ought to keep them in mind come election time. As Blumenthal points out, the administration is “creating a political liability.” We hope so.