What do you do when the president behaves as if he is above science and the law? When it comes to environmental regulation, George W. Bush has repeatedly ignored both, and this country’s system of checks and balances has been powerless to stop him.
The latest outrage came last week when the Environmental Protection Agency released its new standard for ozone, the primary ingredient in smog. The administration lowered the standard that regions must meet to comply with clean-air rules from 84 parts per billion to 75, which seems like progress until one considers that the EPA’s panel of independent scientists had recommended a standard no higher than 70 parts per billion. The higher limit set by the EPA won’t protect Americans from the damaging effects of ozone, which irritates the lungs, worsens asthma and kills susceptible populations.
Ignoring scientists is nothing new for Bush, but in this case he also ignored the U.S. Supreme Court. The EPA wanted to include a tougher secondary standard during growing seasons, designed to protect forests, crops and other plants from ozone, which retards plant growth and depletes soil moisture. Alarmed at the costs this would exact on polluters, the White House Office of Management and Budget sent a letter to EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson saying the EPA couldn’t impose such limits without considering their economic effect. This is flatly untrue; a unanimous decision by the Supreme Court in 2001 held that the EPA did not have to consider the costs of its clean-air regulations, only their scientific basis. When the EPA still refused to back down, the White House sent a curt letter saying the agency had been overruled by the president: The secondary standard was out.
The administration, in fact, seems to be making a habit of defying the Supreme Court. On the same day the EPA was releasing its watered-down ozone standard, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) was posting a letter to Johnson questioning why the agency’s efforts to crack down on greenhouse gases had apparently “been effectively halted.” Last April, the court ruled that the EPA had to regulate carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global warming. Waxman’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which was already investigating the EPA’s inexplicable refusal to let California regulate greenhouse emissions from vehicles, now will also examine its refusal to crack down on CO2 nationwide.
We could go on listing the casual abuses of power, but why bother? Bush is immune to criticism, shrugs off every court ruling and is unswayed by scientific evidence. There is only one check on his power that he won’t be able to dodge -- the end of his term. It’s vital that voters replace him with someone who will reverse his extraordinary attacks on public health and the environment as quickly as possible.