Bush Delays Road Ban; Key Appointees Okayed

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Bush Delays Road Ban Regulations

President Bush put a temporary halt to new regulations that would ban road building in the national forest system. The White House delayed the effective date of the new road ban regulations from mid-March to mid-May.

The move followed an order President Bush first issued when he came into office that halted or slowed a spate of new rules and regulations enacted in the final days of the Clinton administration.

The road ban regulations were already published in the Federal Register before President Bush came into office, so the new administration cannot change them without going through a new rule-making process.

The road ban regulations were finalized before former President Clinton left office. They would prohibit road construction in nearly 60 million acres of national forests. The regulations also would limit logging in those areas.

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Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles filed a lawsuit to block the new regulations from banning road construction in large areas of the Tongass and Chugach national forests. The new rules violate public process provisions in a number of federal laws, according to Knowles. The lawsuit seeks to permanently prohibit the federal government from implementing the road ban in Alaska.

Clinton unleashed a flurry of environmental initiatives his last days in office. He declared seven new national monuments just three days before the inauguration of President Bush. The new monuments cover more than 1 million acres of federal land in Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The new monuments were expected to include bans or restrictions on activities such as off-road vehicles, mining and oil drilling.

However, Bush promised a quick review and possible reversal of some of Clinton’s last-minute initiatives. In fact, within two hours of taking the oath of office, Bush issued his first executive order: he put a freeze on the publication of new regulations as well as new ones that already have been published but not yet implemented.

The Landmark Legal Foundation moved to scrutinize last-minute Clinton administration regulations unveiled by the Environmental Protection Agency. The foundation obtained a court injunction to prevent the agency from getting rid of crucial information in the final days of the Clinton administration. The foundation wants to know whether in its last-minute regulatory flurry the EPA made backroom deals with environmentalists and activist groups.

Bush won a pair of victories to implement his environmental policies with confirmation of two key appointees. His designee for Secretary of Interior, Gale Norton, was confirmed in the Senate by a vote of 75-24. Earlier, Norton had breezed through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which endorsed her by a 18-2 vote.

Environmental groups, like the Sierra Club, had unleashed blistering attacks on Norton. They mounted an advertising blitz that labeled her an “anti-environmental extremist.”

Norton is the former attorney general of Colorado. She has worked in the interior secretariat before — during the Reagan administration.

In the past Norton has challenged landmark environmental legislation, such as the Endangered Species Act. And she has been a strong supporter of private property rights.

New Jersey Gov. Todd Whitman, Bush’s choice to head the EPA, also was confirmed. She was not as bitterly opposed by environmentalists and sailed through the Senate by a vote of 99-0.

Whitman said earlier she plans to transform the agency. She plans to balance concern for the environment with economic growth. Her strategy: pursue negotiation and compromise instead of aggressive enforcement of laws and regulations.

A former Forest Service director is predicting the agency will be overhauled under the Bush administration. Max Peterson, who headed the Forest Service during the Carter administration, said it likely will undergo a series of “major, major” changes.

“I would not assume that anything put in place over the last few years will remain in place,” he told several hundred foresters and scientists at a conference recently.

(Editor’s Note: To contact the White House in order to express your support of President Bush’s decision to delay implementation of the ban on road construction in national forests, here are three ways: phone, (202) 456-1414, fax (202) 456-2461, and e-mail president@whitehouse.gov.)