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December, 2008



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Bush Cuts Medicaid, Guts Endangered Species Act, Increases Pollution

The Progress Report
Having promised to "sprint to the finish" of his second term and "to remain focused on the goals ahead," President Bush is "working to enact a wide array of federal regulations, many of which would weaken government rules" aimed at protecting workers, consumers and the environment, the Washington Post reports. "The administration wants to leave a legacy," said Gary Bass, executive director of OMB Watch, "but across the board it means less protection for the public."
Indeed, the Bush administration is implementing over 90 new regulations which "would be among the most controversial deregulatory steps of the Bush era and could be difficult for his successor to undo." The wide array of new regulations includes proposals to undercut outpatient Medicaid services, weaken the Endangered Species Act, and allow increased emissions from older power plants. In some instances, the administration has allowed federal agencies to circumvent public feedback methods by limiting the period for public comment, "not allowing e-mailed or faxed comments or scheduling public hearings." Transition advisers to President-elect Barack Obama, meanwhile, "have compiled a list of about 200 Bush administration actions and executive orders that could be swiftly undone to reverse White House policies." The kind of regulations they are looking at are those imposed by Bush for "overtly political" reasons, said Dan Mendelson, a former associate administrator for health in the Clinton administration's Office of Management and Budget.

CUTTING BACK MEDICAID: On Friday, the very same day that the Department of Labor announced that the U.S. unemployment rate is at a 14-year high of 6.5 percent, Bush "narrowed the scope of services that can be provided to poor people under Medicaid's outpatient hospital benefit."

The new regulation arrives at a time when states are considering limiting Medicaid eligibility and Americans are losing their jobs -- and by extension, employer health benefits. According to the Kaiser Foundation, a 1 percent increase in unemployment results in 1 million more people enrolling in Medicaid and the State's Children's Health Insurance Program, and another 1.1 million more people becoming uninsured. Public hospitals and state officials immediately protested Bush's proposed action, saying it would "reduce Medicaid payments to many hospitals at a time of growing need," the New York Times reports. Ann Clemency Kohler, the executive director of the National Association of State Medicaid Directors, said that "the new rule is a pretty sweeping change from longtime Medicaid policy.

Since the beginning of the program, states have been allowed to define hospital outpatient services. We have to question why the rule is being issued now, three days after the election, with a new administration coming in."

GUTTING ENDANGERED SPECIES: In what would be the biggest change to Endangered Species Act since 1998, the Bush administration wants to allow federal agencies "to decide for themselves whether highways, dams, mines and other construction projects might harm endangered animals and plants."

Currently, federal agencies are required to consult with an independent agency -- the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) or the National Marine Fisheries Service -- to determine whether a project would harm an endangered species. As Sharon Guynup of the Baltimore Sun points out, "[T]aking wildlife experts out of the equation eliminates the checks and balances that have kept the [Chesapeake] bay's bald eagles, shortnose sturgeon, Delmarva fox squirrels, piping plovers and other rare creatures from disappearing" and would only encourage agencies to "revert to pre-Endangered Species

Act tactics of cutting big projects into a series of small ones that fall under the radar."

The draft rules also would also "bar federal agencies from assessing the emissions from projects that contribute to global warming and its effect on species and habitats," the AP reports.

INCREASING POLLUTION: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is working on regulations that would allow increased emissions from older power plants while also rolling back existing air quality regulations for national parks and wilderness areas. While "the Clean Air Act requires older plants that have their lives extended with new equipment to install pollution-control technology if their emissions increase," Bush's proposed rule would "allow plants to measure emissions on an hourly basis, rather than their total yearly output. This way, plants could run for more hours and increase overall emissions without exceeding the threshold that would require additional pollution controls," McClatchy reports. The industry-friendly rule -- which the administration tried to implement in 2003, before it "was vacated by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in July"-- is now being opposed by EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson and Robert Meyers, the assistant administrator in charge of air issues. According to McClatchy, "the EPA official said that concerns in the agency were that the analysis justifying the rule change was weak and the administration didn't plan to make the analysis public for a comment period, as is customary." Three computer models, released by the EPA, have also shown that the proposed rule "would increase carbon dioxide emissions by 74 million tons annually," "roughly equivalent to the total annual CO2 emissions of about 14 average coal-fired power plants."

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