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Conscience clause and relaxed environmental regs among Bush's lame-duck rulings

Reproductive health and enviro activists are fuming over two more last-minute rule changes by the outgoing Bush administration: a new reg that allows heathcare workers to nix treatments to which they have moral objections, and another one that bars regulators from taking into consideration a power company's climate change–causing greenhouse gas emissions when applying for a license to build new coal-fired plants.

Both rules are set take effect a month from now—just hours before Pres. Bush vacates the White House and President-elect Barack Obama is sworn in to office on Jan. 20.

The so-called “right of conscience” rule allows workers at more than 584,000 U.S. medical facilities that receive federal funding to refuse to provide patient care that involves procedures with which they disagree. Critics say the decision will mostly affect the provision of reproductive-health services to women, including abortion, birth control and emergency contraception. They also say it could complicate states’ ability to enforce laws requiring hospitals to offer those treatments, especially the morning-after pill for rape victims.
 
"In just a matter of months, the Bush administration has undone three decades of federal protections for both medical professionals and their patients," Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. "It replaced them with a policy that seriously risks the health of millions of women, then tried to pass it off as benevolent."

Obama could ask the Department of Health and Human Services to review and possibly reverse the controversial new reg. In addition, Congress could overturn it: Sens. Patty Murray (D–Wash.) and Hillary Clinton (D–N.Y.) have introduced a bill calling for it to be scuttled on grounds that it jeopardizes women's health.

Obama "will review all eleventh-hour regulations and will address them once he is president," spokesperson Nick Shapiro told the Washington Post.

The other ruling, issued late yesterday by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Stephen Johnson, says that federal regulators do not have to consider the potential carbon dioxide output of new plants when deciding whether they can be built.

“The current concerns over global climate change should not drive EPA into adopting an unworkable policy of requiring emission controls,” Johnson wrote in the memo to regional EPA administrators.

As a result, new coal plants that pump out an estimated 8,000 megawatts of power could be approved as a result, Vickie Patton, the Environmental Defense Fund's general counsel, told The New York Times.

“It’s a marvel to behold an EPA action that so utterly disdains global warming responsibility and disdains the law at the same time,” John Walke, a lawyer at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement

Image of President Bush/White House, Chris Greenberg

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