July 12, 2008

Undermining the Country, One Regulation at a Time


With the worst approval numbers of any president in history, George W. Bush's administration is rightfully viewed by all but the hardest of hardcore neoconservatives as a failure gigantic in scope and total in nature. Even as the nation labors toward the end of the eight-year disaster that is the Bush White House, however, the sheer scale of the unmitigated treachery leveled at the people of the United States continues to be revealed. Just as the public wraps its collective mind around yet another tale of arrogant self-interest and profiteering at the expense of the citizenry, one more tentacle of the political movement that spawned Mr. Bush is revealed to have coiled itself around the heart of the country.

Long after the major issues of institutionalized torture, betrayal of the Constitution, unprovoked war, politicization of the Justice Department and other major policies have been digested (although likely never punished), we will continue to discover the thoroughness and pervasiveness of the Bush movement's efforts in all manner of less obvious - but in their way, just as significant - bureaucratic programs. Unscrupulous in fulfilling his oath of office, the president and his minions have been fastidious in setting the hooks of their radical ideology in literally ever limb of American government.

In 2007, for instance, the Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) needed to determine whether greenhouse gases represented a danger to public health and/or the environment. If it was determined that greenhouse gases were, in fact, dangerous pollutants, the EPA would be tasked with regulating them, much to the consternation of industry and the political right wing. Never mind that there are a number of creative solutions to the regulation and reduction of such pollutants - a cap and trade system being a prime example - the possibility that they could be explicitly termed harmful was anathema to the Bush Administration.

The EPA did determine that, in fact, greenhouse gases are harmful pollutants that must be controlled, but also included in its report projections that stringent regulation of motor vehicle emissions could produce between $500 billion and $2 trillion in economic benefits by 2040. When the report was eMailed to the White House, however, the Administration simply refused to open it, leaving it in a legal limbo because no one had ever thought to create rules for a scenario in which a sitting president responded to unfavorable policy inputs by effectively covering his ears and shouting "I can't hear you! I can't hear you!"

Over the following months, the Environmental Protection Agency was pressured to change its report, and did so, eventually releasing a heavily diluted version that eliminated, for instance, any mention of economic benefit associated with the regulation of greenhouse gases. According to one EPA official, the report “showed that the Clean Air Act can work for certain sectors of the economy, to reduce greenhouse gases. That’s not what the Administration wants to show. They want to show that the Clean Air Act can’t work.”

Last week, the White House went even further, issuing not only the weakened EPA report, but including with it what amounts to a pre-packaged official rejection of its findings. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal:
In a letter accompanying the EPA document, Susan Dudley, administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, bluntly disavowed the EPA's analysis, saying it relied on "untested legal theories" and "cannot be considered Administration policy or representative of the views of the Administration." In the letter, dated Thursday ... she added, "There is strong disagreement with many of the legal, analytical, economic, science and policy interpretations in the draft."

The Administration also attached a letter from the Secretaries of Transportation, Agriculture, Commerce and Energy, asserting that the EPA's work "does not recognize the enormous - and, we believe, insurmountable - burdens, difficulties and costs, and likely limited benefits" of using the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases.
Although the level of childishness associated with refusing to open the EPA's eMail broke new ground, it is only the most public face of the White House's latest assault on science that conflicts with its ideology. Of nearly equal importance was a simple bureaucratic maneuver that occurred behind the scenes of the enfeebled greenhouse gas report's release, one emblematic of the subversion employed so frequently and to such great effect by the Bush Administration.

Among government agencies, there is a something termed the "value of a statistical life," which is used in determining the costs and benefits associated with policies and regulations. This month, the Environmental Protection Agency revised its value of a statistical life downward by more than 11% - almost a million dollars - from what it was 5 years ago. What does this arcane figure have to do with you? As the Associated Press explains:
When drawing up regulations, government agencies put a value on human life and then weigh the costs versus the lifesaving benefits of a proposed rule. The less a life is worth to the government, the less the need for a regulation, such as tighter restrictions on pollution.

Consider, for example, a hypothetical regulation that costs $18 billion to enforce but will prevent 2,500 deaths. At $7.8 million per person (the old figure), the lifesaving benefits outweigh the costs. But at $6.9 million per person, the rule costs more than the lives it saves, so it may not be adopted.
Although EPA leadership denies that there is any ideological reason behind reducing the price tag applied to human life - laughably terming the magnitude of the reduction "insignificant" - people like Dan Esty, a senior EPA official under President George H.W. Bush and current director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy, believe otherwise. From Mr. Esty's point of view, "It's hard to imagine that it has other than a political motivation." Likewise, S. William Becker, Executive Director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, which represents state and local air pollution regulators, noted "It appears that they're cooking the books in regards to the value of life. Those decisions are literally a matter of life and death."

The one and only area in which the Bush Administration has excelled has been the bad faith use of its offices for the accrual of power and the benefit of the ideologically like-minded. It is certainly no surprise then, to see a tactic like this snaking its way into the machinery of the federal government, but it is perhaps the single most naked example of the manner in which this White House regards the populace it is supposed to serve: as items on a balance sheet whose value can be manipulated to achieve the goals of its political shareholders. It is a mark of the commitment of George W. Bush and his supporters to their own ends that they put all of the energy and ingenuity they should be employing to better this country into undermining it for their own gain, not just through major policy decisions, but one bureaucratic regulation at a time.

6 comments:

JWSwift said...

Interesting.

Even though inflation isn't quite as rampant as it has been in decades past, it still exists and still raises the cost/price of almost everything.

Yet the price of a human life has gone down?

PBI said...

JW,

Thanks for stopping by.

Maybe the White House regards human life as pegged to the dollar rather than a hard good. As we know, the dollar's now on par with the Swiss Franc...

Richard said...

By now you may have seen Steven Colbert's bit on the Bush Administration's devaluing of human life. It satirizes this issue.

I am happy to read someone who feels as strongly as I do about how bad this current bunch is for the common man.

Rich

PBI said...

Richard,

I did, and it was excellent! (Colbert rarely fails to deliver.)

Glad you enjoyed the post. Although the rank and file are bearing the brunt, I think the Bush Gang is bad for the whole country; it's just that those who still back the president have been too short-sightedly focused on their wallets to fully realize it.

lokywoky bitter & sad said...

This was a great piece. Congrats on the C&L Link!

This same philosophy applies in the world of the judiciary as well. People keep saying that SCOTUS might overturn Roe. They won't have to because it is dying the death of a thousand cuts. And each little new regulation or law passed by a state gets approved by the Judiciary (right-wing hacks appointed by Bush II) and choice is being eroded out of existence as each one of these items is "reasonable" and not an 'undue barrier' to access. Except that they are.

The same thing is happening in the business world with SCOTUS and the other federal courts upholding discriminatory practices, siding with corporations against injured plaintiffs by a huge percentage, and on the whole, throwing the whole concept of stare decisis out the window.

I fear for our country.

PBI said...

lb&s,

Thanks for the kind words. It's been a couple of months see I was last on C&L, and it was definitely nice to be back!

I fear for the country, too. If only the Bushies had applied the same thoroughness and dedication to their sworn responsiblities as they have to enriching themselves and pursuing their fringe ideology.