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January 29, 2007

Politics Trumps Science — Again Politics  Rights, Law

The NYT reports that the White House has issued a directive giving its political commissars more direct control of regulatory policy at the various agencies of the executive branch, taking control away from civil servants and scientists. Excerpts:

President Bush has signed a directive that gives the White House much greater control over the rules and policy statements that the government develops to protect public health, safety, the environment, civil rights and privacy.

In an executive order published last week in the Federal Register, Mr. Bush said that each agency must have a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee, to supervise the development of rules and documents providing guidance to regulated industries. The White House will thus have a gatekeeper in each agency to analyze the costs and the benefits of new rules and to make sure the agencies carry out the president’s priorities.

This strengthens the hand of the White House in shaping rules that have, in the past, often been generated by civil servants and scientific experts. It suggests that the administration still has ways to exert its power after the takeover of Congress by the Democrats.

The White House said the executive order was not meant to rein in any one agency. But business executives and consumer advocates said the administration was particularly concerned about rules and guidance issued by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

In an interview on Monday, Jeffrey A. Rosen, general counsel at the White House Office of Management and Budget, said, "This is a classic good-government measure that will make federal agencies more open and accountable." [Satire?] [...]

The directive issued by Mr. Bush says that, in deciding whether to issue regulations, federal agencies must identify "the specific market failure" or problem that justifies government intervention.

Besides placing political appointees in charge of rule making, Mr. Bush said agencies must give the White House an opportunity to review "any significant guidance documents" before they are issued. [...]

Peter L. Strauss, a professor at Columbia Law School, said the executive order "achieves a major increase in White House control over domestic government." [...]

Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California and chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said: "The executive order allows the political staff at the White House to dictate decisions on health and safety issues, even if the government's own impartial experts disagree. This is a terrible way to govern, but great news for special interests." [...]

Wesley P. Warren, program director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, who worked at the White House for seven years under President Bill Clinton, said, "The executive order is a backdoor attempt to prevent E.P.A. from being able to enforce environmental safeguards that keep cancer-causing chemicals and other pollutants out of the air and water." [Emphasis added]

Many, if not most, regulatory matters are highly technical applications of specialized expertise. The White House couldn't care less about such technical matters. It wants control of the regulatory carrot and stick. Instead of scientists and civil servants, people like Karl Rove will get the final say on regulatory policy. Which means it will be about politics, period. And which gives the White House enormous leverage to reward corporations friendly to it and punish those that aren't. A gigantic protection racket. Everything's for sale. Science is for liberal suckers. The thing is, though, if you ignore what science tells you about reality long enough, reality has a way of getting the last word.

Posted by Jonathan at January 29, 2007 10:24 PM  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

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