Thursday, January 11, 2007

They're back: the Bush "surge" strategy for federal agencies

Still Hiring Tree-Haters
Frank O'Donnell
January 11, 2007

Frank O'Donnell is president of Clean Air Watch, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization aimed at educating the public about clean air and the need for an effective Clean Air Act.

The headlines focused on the Bush administration’s decision Tuesday to drop four controversial judicial nominees, but equally significant news was buried: President Bush re-nominated a veritable rogues' gallery of anti-environmental figures to key posts in federal agencies. These nominees have records so bad that they couldn’t pass muster with the last Congress.

Maybe this is a domestic version of the president’s “surge” strategy: send in more troops to try to tame federal agencies that might be hostile to the administration’s pro-polluter policies. At the very least, it’s—again shades of policy on Iraq—a thumb in the eye of the new Congress. These personnel moves also ought to dampen speculation that the Bush team might play nice on the environment during the next two years.

Given the paucity of coverage on this in the mainstream media, perhaps it’s worth a moment to remind us just who these nominees are, and why they couldn’t get clearance even from last year’s Republican-controlled Senate.

Perhaps most notorious is Susan Dudley, nominated as head of the regulatory office of the White House Office of Management and Budget. This is one of the most obscure yet powerful jobs in Washington. The person in this position can, largely without public scrutiny, interfere with actions of agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, and become a conduit for industries seeking to avoid federal health, environmental and safety standards.

These industries couldn’t have picked a better champion than Dudley, a true anti-regulatory zealot. As director of regulatory studies at the industry-funded Mercatus Center, Dudley was like a wrecking ball out to smash key safeguards. She opposed, for example, EPA attempts to reduce smog, clean up gasoline and keep arsenic out of drinking water. (For more, see the Public Citizen and OMB Watch's report.)

Putting Dudley in this key federal post would be like naming comedian Michael Richards to head the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. At her nomination hearing last fall, Dudley reiterated she was “proud of” her positions, which prompted more than 100 groups to oppose her nomination.

Dudley’s nomination goes before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, chaired by Senator Joe Lieberman, I-Conn. The panel’s former chair, Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, supported Dudley, but that wasn’t enough to overcome Democratic opposition in the last Congress.

Aware that Dudley probably can’t be confirmed, the White House reportedly plans to put her on the payroll as a “senior adviser” so she can get down to the dirty work. A recess appointment (putting her in the job without need of a vote—another thumb in the eye of the Democrats) is expected later this year.

Also on track for a recess appointment is William Wehrum, nominated to head the air pollution program at the EPA. A former industry attorney, Wehrum has been running the show on an acting basis since mid-2005. Before that, he was top counsel and Rasputin to his predecessor, Jeffrey Holmstead, who then passed through the revolving door to work for industry clients at Rudy Giuliani’s law firm.

In other words, Wehrum has been a principal architect of the Bush administration’s industry-friendly air pollution policies, including weak standards for smog, soot and mercury. Wehrum has confided he expects a recess appointment later this year.

He’ll probably need that to keep doing the bidding of polluting industry on the taxpayer’s nickel. His nomination will go before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who will oppose him. (Boxer and Lieberman put holds on Wehrum’s nomination—preventing full Senate action—after the Republican-controlled committee recommended approval on a straight party-line vote.)

In the last Congress, Boxer also put a hold on yet another bad apple, Alex Beehler, who was re-nominated as the EPA inspector general. As assistant deputy secretary of defense since 2004, Beehler has sought to exempt military activities from environmental requirements. Boxer faulted Beehler and the Pentagon for withholding documents on his record. Previously Beehler worked for Koch Industries, a notorious polluter and underwriter of anti-environmental think tanks such as Dudley’s Mercatus Center.

Other nominees making a return engagement include Roger Martella, advanced as EPA’s general counsel (Martella wasn’t especially controversial but Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., blocked his confirmation in an effort to force EPA to rework a rule limiting benzene emissions from gasoline) and John Correll, named director of the Interior Department’s Office of Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. The Sierra Club and the United Mine Workers oppose Correll, charging he is hostile to environmental and safety standards.

He’ll fit right in with the rest of this odious crowd.

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