The nation's most unpopular president -- a head of state even more reviled than the one who resigned in disgrace -- is cunningly planning revenge.
The legacy of George W. Bush's final days in office will be degradation of the environment, endangered species and the safety of working people.
The Bush administration is rushing to finalize dozens of new regulations, many without normal hearings or comment periods. Such last minute presidential policy-mucking is so common that the rules have a name -- "midnight regulations." This set reveals Bush's values.
They show he's willing to sicken and kill working man and beast to accommodate profit, to further enrich his business buddies, the chamber of commerce, the wealthiest of wealthy to whom he gave that big tax break in the earliest days of his administration.
Killed could be those who drive on roadways with truckers -- any of us -- as well as the truckers themselves. One new rule will enable employers to schedule truck drivers for a grueling 77 hours in a seven-day period, give them just 34 hours off, then work them another 77 hours over seven days. Public Citizen, an advocacy group that twice in the past three years successfully persuaded courts to invalidate almost identical standards, says the new regulation creates sweatshops on wheels and ignores statistics showing 5,000 people killed and 110,000 seriously injured a year in crashes with large trucks.
Also killed by Bush's midnight regulations could be endangered species which would lose protection. One regulation eliminates the mandatory outside evaluation of new federally-approved development projects that might affect endangered plants or animals. The assessment was done by experts from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. The new rule will allow the government agencies involved in the projects to determine whether their roads, bridges, dams, mines or logging would further threaten the species, regardless of the agency's expertise.
Sickened could be those who work in and live around power plants. Now, when utilities build or renovate plants, they're required to install the latest pollution control devices. The new rule will allow them to circumvent that Clean Air Act requirement. The Bush administration estimates that its evasion-regulation will put an additional 70 million tons of carbon dioxide -- the greenhouse gas that's warming the planet -- into the atmosphere each year. That does not even address the particulates and acid rain that result from power generation pollution.
Also sickened could be those who work with toxic substances and hazardous chemicals. Among the most outrageous of the regulations is one that will make it more difficult for the federal government to limit workers' exposure to these substances.
The rule will add an extra step to the already lengthy process of creating standards to protect exposed workers. Advocated by business groups, it will require federal agencies to gather and analyze industry-by-industry evidence of workers' exposure to substances. The director of occupational safety and health for the AFL-CIO estimates that it will add two years to the process of writing standards that frequently takes eight years as it is. For example, the government has been developing standards for silica, a lung carcinogen, for 11 years.
What makes Bush's decision to move forward with this regulation particularly egregious is that President-elect Barack Obama clearly stated his objection to it. In September, candidate Obama urged the Labor Department to abandon this proposed regulation, and he and four other senators introduced a bill that would have prohibited the Department from issuing it. The letter says the regulation would "create serious obstacles to protecting workers from health hazards on the job."
This pile of new rules is the insult to eight years of Bush regulatory injury. For example, for seven and a half years, the Bush Labor Department did not voluntarily issue a single health directive. Only under court order did it finally implement one health regulation. Not only that, it failed to write rules when it should have, for example, on beryllium exposure. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration backed off updating half-century-old standards for exposure to dust and fumes from the metal which can cause debilitating lung disease if inhaled even in tiny amounts. The Bush administration eliminated 22 of OSHA's proposed health and safety rules. In addition, it gutted OSHA's budget and staff.
Similarly, Bush didn't enforce existing regulations to protect workers. The Government Accountability Office, which audits federal departments, has found that the Bush Labor Department failed to adequately provide basic pay and overtime protections for low-wage workers complaining that employers stiffed them for overtime and minimum wage. The GAO also found that the Labor Department reduced enforcement actions for wage violations to a low of 30,000 in 2007. It was 47,000 a decade earlier.
The Labor Department's own inspector general reported that the agency neglected to complete federally-mandated inspections at more than 14 percent of the nation's coal mines -- in a year when worker deaths more than doubled to 47.
After all of that, Bush is pressing forward on his midnight regulations, knowing that Obama opposes them. He's doing so even though he publically contended that he wanted to make the transition to the Obama administration as smooth as possible.
Bush told ABC News anchor Charlie Gibson in an exit interview that it's not his failures or accomplishments in office that are most important to him, but going home, looking in the mirror and being able to say: "I did not compromise my principles. And I didn't. I made tough calls. And some presidents have got a lot of tough decisions to make."
There are no tough decisions involved in these directives. There are only political ones. By implementing his midnight regulations, Bush clearly illustrates that his primary concern is not the health of American workers but, instead, the principal of his wealthy business friends.