Some federal rules waived after Katrina
President Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress have used emergency powers to waive some federal regulations and have proposed other changes in what they say is an effort to cut red tape and speed relief to victims of Hurricane Katrina. Democrats and watchdog groups complain that some waivers are attempts to roll back federal protections and advance the Republican political agenda. A look at some of the actions:
•Affirmative action. The Labor Department waived for three months rules requiring some companies to file hiring plans for minorities, women and disabled workers. The waiver, which can be extended, applies to first-time federal contractors hired on reconstruction projects. Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean is among those who have attacked the move at a time when the storm bared deep racial and economic disparities.
•College grants. President Bush signed a law Sept. 21 waiving requirements for college students to pay back their federal Pell Grants if they have withdrawn from school because of major disasters. It covers as many as 100,000 college students displaced by Katrina as well as those affected by Hurricane Rita. The law removes financial penalties for late payments.
•Environmental protections. The Environmental Protection Agency extended a waiver until Oct. 25 allowing the use of polluting, higher-sulfur fuel to alleviate gas shortages nationwide. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and others have proposed legislation that would lift limits on the amount of air and water pollution emitted by refineries, motor vehicles and other sources. “The hurricane is being used as a pretext to attack health and environmental standards,” says Frank O'Donnell, president of the watchdog group Clean Air Watch.