Burning Down the House

12/20/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Arches National Park, Utah -- When the Bush administration moved into the White House, they alleged, falsely, that outgoing Clinton staffers had destroyed the switchboard, painted the walls with obscene graffiti, and otherwise engaged in wholesale vandalism. In fact, all that really happened was that some staffers removed the "w" keycaps from computer keyboards.

As a psychologist might say, the Bush people were actually projecting. On their way out, the Bush administration's political appointees will definitely vandalize property, beginning with our national parks. First there was the announcement that the Bureau of Land Management, without notifying the National Park Service, has done massive leasing of lands right next to Utah's National Parks,  including sites only 1.3 miles from the state's most famous icon, Delicate Arch.

Now, over the formal and informal objections of virtually every regional office, the Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to weaken rules that protect our national parks from air pollution from new power plants, refineries and other emitters. According to the Washington Post, the Bush administration's

...push to weaken Clean Air Act protections for "Class 1 areas"
nationwide has sparked fierce resistance from senior agency officials.
All but two of the regional administrators objecting to the proposed
rule are political appointees.

The proposal would change the practice of measuring pollution levels
near national parks, which is currently done over three-hour and
24-hour increments to capture emission spikes during periods of peak
energy demand; instead, the levels would be averaged over a year. Under
this system, spikes in pollution would no longer violate the law.

The rules protecting the parks were the first project I worked on when I came to the Club in 1973. A key problem we were trying to solve was that, for 25 percent of the year,  you couldn't see across the Grand Canyon. Under this new Bush proposal, that would be completely acceptable -- though probably not to tourists, who largely visit during the high-smog season.

Congress will have a chance to undo the clean air regulations -- but the land leases will be irrevocable. More vandalism on the way out the door is, I fear, utterly predictable.