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ERASING THE RULES

Third of a series

WASHINGTON

To some activists and career agency employees, Lisa Jaeger had the ideal

resume to win a top appointment at the Bush administration's Environmental

Protection Agency: She had spent much of her professional life helping clients

fight environmental regulations.

Starting out as a junior aide in the White House of President George H.W.

Bush, the current president's father, Jaeger then put in three years as a

lawyer for the archconservative group Defenders of Property Rights. Then she

spent two years as chief environmental aide to Texas Republican Senator Kay

Bailey Hutchison.

Finally, she worked for three years in the Washington office of

Houston-based Bracewell & Patterson, a powerhouse law and lobbying firm with

close ties to the Bush family and a client list that includes some of the

nation's biggest electric, oil and chemical companies.

Soon after George W. Bush took office, Jaeger got the presidential

appointment she sought. He named her EPA deputy general counsel, the agency's

second-ranking lawyer.

That put Jaeger in position to dispense legal advice to top EPA

policymakers at a time when the Bush administration was reshaping a broad array

of federal environmental policies in ways that made them less onerous to

industry.

At the EPA, Jaeger stayed away from specific cases she had argued as a

private attorney. But she was still able to play an important role in providing

the legal underpinnings for controversial Bush initiatives - on power plants,

global warming and other issues - that benefitted her former clients.

Then last March, after rising to the position of acting general counsel at

EPA, Jaeger resigned and found a new job: her old job.

She rejoined Bracewell & Patterson, where she's now a registered lobbyist

for the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association and the Council of

Industrial Boiler Owners, among other clients.

Jaeger is hardly the first industry lawyer to be given a senior job as an

environmental regulator, but experts, critics and personnel records all suggest

that the Bush administration has raised the technique to high art.

Compared to his predecessor Bill Clinton's choices, Bush's appointees to

senior environment-related jobs are much more likely to have been working as

corporate lawyers, lobbyists, and executives at the time of their appointment,

according to a Newsday analysis of government records.

Rewriting the rules

Charged by the White House to make environmental regulations more flexible

and less costly, these high-level Bush appointees at EPA, the Interior

Department and elsewhere have launched a broad effort to rewrite pollution

rules, ease curbs on development of natural areas, and allow more drilling,

logging and mining on federal lands.

The architects of Bush's campaign to realign the nation's environmental

policies say they're trying to balance a regulatory system that is a drag on

economic growth because it doesn't pay enough attention to costs. The best way

to continue to make progress on protecting the environment, they argue, is to

work closely with businesses to improve the efficiency of regulations.

"We believe you can accomplish more by giving people incentives to do more

and exceed standards. Of course you need to understand the industries you're

regulating - otherwise we'll never achieve environmental progress or find ways

to exceed existing standards," said EPA Press Secretary Cynthia Bergman.

But environmental activists, joined by some longtime EPA employees, say

Bush's appointees are far too deferential to industry - and that the

environment will suffer as a result.

"In my view, there's been an unprecedented level of coordination between

industry and some administration officials to develop policies that favor

industry," said Bruce Buckheit, who spent 19 years enforcing clean air laws as

an attorney at the Justice Department and the EPA before resigning last

December and publicly criticizing what he described as lax enforcement efforts

by Bush appointees.

"Every administration has the revolving door, the difference is the

attitude that a lot of the Bush people brought with them when they came in the

door. You just never would hear discussion about balancing interests. It was

always about what industry wanted," Buckheit said.

Jury still out on initiatives

For all the impassioned rhetoric, it's too early to measure the effect of

many of the Bush administration's environmental initiatives. Some are still

under internal consideration at EPA or other agencies, while others have been

finalized but are being gradually phased in over several years. Others are

being delayed by legal challenges, often filed by environmental groups.

Still, even its critics agree the administration has been remarkably

effective in at least beginning the process of reshaping the nation's

environmental rules.

While the president has not convinced a closely divided Congress to amend

the Clean Air Act or to allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife

Refuge, his administration has made dozens of far-reaching changes through

presidential executive orders and especially through regulations issued by the

EPA, the Interior Department and other agencies. Bush's EPA, for example, has

rejected mandatory curbs on emissions linked to global warming while easing

anti-pollution requirements on old power plants and factories, all in the name

of boosting the economy and saving jobs.

As part of its push to make environmental rules more flexible, the EPA has

also proposed but not yet finalized plans to require reductions of three major

pollutants: mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. The EPA would set an

overall cap on emissions, while allowing plant operators to essentially decide

among themselves how much each should cut as long as they comply with the

overall cap.

Meanwhile, Bush's Justice Department, saying it wants to avoid long

lawsuits that delay environmental cleanups, has adopted a more conciliatory

style in enforcing the Clean Air Act and other bedrock environmental laws.

Over at the Department of the Interior, a series of administrative changes

has lowered barriers to drilling for oil, mining minerals and raising livestock

on federal lands, moves administration officials say are needed to boost the

struggling economies of Western states and reduce dependence on foreign oil.

And the Department of Agriculture is pushing for more commercial logging in

national forests, citing the need to protect towns from wildfires that start

in forests that have become unnaturally dense because of decades of

fire-suppression efforts.

There have been some exceptions to the pattern, such as the EPA's adoption

earlier this year of tough new emissions standards for diesel engines. But

critics and many analysts say the common thread that ties together almost all

of the administration's other environmental initiatives is to cushion the

impact of regulations on business.

"Across the board in the environment and resource agencies, you have an

array of individuals who represented big business in private practice and are

now representing big business in public service," said John Walke, a former

career EPA lawyer who is now director of clean air issues at the Natural

Resources Defense Council, an activist group.

Bush appointees say they resent being stereotyped as corporate clones, and

invariably describe themselves as independent thinkers. Besides, they say, if

environmental activists can be appointed by Clinton to senior positions, then

Bush has every right to appoint people who truly understand how environmental

regulations impact businesses.

"It's important to have people in government who can reflect the

perspective of the private sector EPA regulates," said John Spinello, a Bush

appointee who served as the agency's associate deputy general counsel until he

resigned last year to take a job as a corporate lawyer in New Jersey.

"The people who are served by government agencies deserve a well-rounded

workforce that includes a diversity of perspectives outside the government,"

Spinello said.

Industry appointments

The Newsday analysis, however, shows that Bush's appointees to senior

environment-related jobs actually have less diverse backgrounds than the people

Clinton picked during his first three years in office. Bush's choices were

more likely to be lobbyists or executives in their previous job, while

Clinton's were distributed more evenly among the worlds of business, academia

and advocacy.

Specifically, Bush appointed 22 lobbyists, lawyers, consultants or business

executives to top environmental policymaking jobs in federal agencies and the

White House, while Clinton named 14. And while Bush named six academics and

just one employee of a nonprofit group, Clinton named 10 from academia and

seven from nonprofits.

The remaining top appointees - 26 by Bush and 27 by Clinton - came from

other government jobs, generally staff positions in Congress or in state

governments.

"It's very significant where these people come from because it tells you

something about their fundamental values, about how they feel about regulation

and private property rights and the use of natural resources," said Stephen

Meyer, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Project on

Environmental Politics and Policy.

"Where they worked is usually a surrogate for what they believe," agreed

Neil Kerwin, a political science professor and director of the Center for the

Study of Rulemaking at American University in Washington. "You're learning

something about their political preferences and their attitudes about

regulation."

While the Newsday analysis included only the highest-level positions, those

requiring confirmation by the Senate, several career EPA officials said in

interviews that they believe the contrast between the Clinton and Bush

administrations is even sharper in mid-level political jobs like the one Jaeger

held at EPA.

"The Clinton people were less predictable. With this administration, it

seems like everybody at the political [appointee] level here has either a close

attachment with industry or with an ultraconservative think tank or legal

organization," said one longtime EPA attorney, who asked not to be identified

out of fear of retribution from supervisors.

Deep ties

The close ties to industry start at the very top of the Bush

administration, with a president who is a former oilman and a vice president,

Dick Cheney, who was the chief executive of Halliburton, one of the world's

largest energy-service companies.

Bush's chief environmental adviser, James Connaughton, was an industry

lawyer whose lobbying clients included General Electric before Bush named him

director of the White House Office of Environmental Policy.

General Electric, which is liable for cleanups at dozens of contaminated

sites near its plants around the country including the Upper Hudson River, has

been a leading critic of the federal Superfund program. The company has sued

EPA, arguing that companies shouldn't be forced to begin cleaning up waste

sites until they've exhausted all of their legal appeals. The case is still

pending.

According to federal lobbying disclosure documents, when Connaughton

represented General Electric he lobbied Congress for legislation that would

allow companies to do less extensive cleanups and reduce their liability for

contamination they weren't directly responsible for.

That bill was killed as a result of opposition from the Clinton EPA, which

said the proposal didn't adequately protect the health of people who live near

waste sites. But some of the bill's key liability and cleanup provisions were

revived in 2002 and became law - this time with the active support of

Connaughton and the Bush administration.

Meanwhile, under Bush, fewer new contaminated sites are being added to the

Superfund list and fewer cleanups are being completed than during the final

years of the Clinton administration.

Bush aides say that's because the easiest, cheapest, and fastest cleanups

have already been completed, but environmental groups say the administration

isn't adequately funding the program. Superfund spending averaged $1.28 billion

in the first three Bush budgets, compared to an average of $1.4 billion in

Clinton's eight budgets.

More land for mining

The drive to open more federal lands to drilling, mining, grazing and

logging is another area where key Bush appointees have worked to execute policy

goals they formerly pursued on behalf of corporate clients.

Interior Secretary Gale Norton, who represented mining companies as a

private attorney in Colorado, chose former mining and oil industry lobbyist J.

Steven Griles as her chief deputy, and former mining and timber industry lawyer

Rebecca Watson as her assistant secretary for land and materials.

Until he resigned last year to return to his Idaho law practice, the

Interior Department's chief lawyer was former mining and beef industry lobbyist

William Myers III. Bush has since nominated Myers to serve as a federal

appeals court judge but congressional Democrats are trying to block his

appointment, arguing that he is hostile to environmental protection.

All four lawyers have been deeply involved in the department's efforts to

speed up permit approvals for mining and oil companies that want to lease

public lands, including national monuments, controlled by the Interior

Department. Among other things, the rules changes give critics less time to

object to department approvals, and make it harder for them to file legal

appeals.

Norton and other Interior officials say the changes are aimed at creating

jobs and finding more domestic sources of energy, and point out that mining,

grazing and drilling have occurred on public lands for many decades. But

environmental groups say the administration is abandoning Clinton-era

safeguards aimed at making sure those activities have minimal environmental

impact.

A similar streamlining is also underway for timber sales in national

forests, and on that issue the point man for the administration has been Mark

Rey, a former vice president of American Forest and Paper Association, the

chief lobbying group for the timber industry. Rey was working as a

Congressional staffer when Bush appointed him undersecretary for natural

resources at the Agriculture Department, which manages the national forest

system.

Again, the Bush administration argues that its policies are aimed at

providing jobs in improverished communities, and says that thinning forests

will reduce the risk that wildfires will spread to towns at the edge of

forests. Activists insist that the changes will lead to clear-cutting and

road-building in virgin forests hundreds of miles from the nearest communities.

A former coal company executive, Jeffrey Jarrett, is in charge of enforcing

one of the administration's most controversial rules, designed to stimulate

more "mountaintop removal" coal mining in job-starved Appalachia. The rules

change, made in 2002, has already prompted an uptick in strip-mining activity.

but critics predict it will also increase pollution in mountain streams because

companies are now allowed to dump mining debris into stream beds.

Jarrett worked for Cravat Coal Company, which operates mines in Ohio and

Kentucky, before taking a series of state and federal regulatory jobs. He's now

director of the Interior Department's office of surface mining reclamation and

enforcement.

The pattern is similar in lower-level positions.

Expanded drilling

When he was head of the lobbying group Arctic Power, Camden Toohey's duties

included pushing the government to expand oil drilling on public lands in

Alaska. Now he does it as Norton's special assistant for Alaskan affairs.

Jason Peltier used to lobby the Interior Department to allocate more water

to the farmers he represented in California's Central Valley. Now, as deputy

secretary for water and science at Interior, he's involved in an Interior

initiative to send more scarce federally-controlled water to valley farmers,

potentially leaving less available for endangered salmon.

His wife, Jean-Mari Peltier, a former lobbyist for citrus growers, served

as special adviser on pesticide issues at the EPA until last year, when Peltier

went back to being a lobbyist for an agricultural group.

"This administration just doesn't have a diversity of viewpoints among the

individuals in leadership positions. It's very different from when I was at

EPA," said Thomas Kiernan, a Republican who held a series of politically

appointed environmental jobs during the presidency of George H.W. Bush.

A former consultant, Kiernan now heads the National Parks Conservation

Association, a nonprofit group that has sparred with the Bush administration

over its plans to allow more snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park.

Lisa Jaeger sees the situation very differently.

In an interview at Bracewell & Patterson's K Street offices, she described

Bush's EPA as a place where there are many points of view.

"I don't think everybody in the agency believes the same thing," she said.

"This general theme of belief systems pervading every decision just isn't true."

She described her role at EPA as providing legal advice, not making policy,

and said she has been careful to consult lawyers at EPA to make sure she

doesn't violate conflict-of-interest rules.

"I've been very conservative about making those judgments," Jaeger said. "I

don't have any interest in working on any issues that could conceivably create

a conflict for me."

Still, Jaeger's long list of past industry clients didn't prevent her from

working on numerous air-pollution issues while she was at EPA.

Voluntary participation

For example, she participated in the Bush EPA's controversial finding that

it cannot legally restrict industrial emissions of carbon dioxide that

contribute to global warming. Instead, the administration has relied on

voluntary measures to slow but not reverse yearly increases in carbon dioxide

emissions.

And when New York and other states sued the EPA to try to block plans to

ease anti-pollution rules on aging power plants, refineries and factories,

Jaeger worked to defend the rule changes, which are mostly on hold while the

court case continues.

Now that she's back at Bracewell, Jaeger is only partially constrained in

taking on EPA-related cases.

Her job at the agency was senior enough that she must wait one year before

she can meet with agency officials and otherwise lobby EPA. As an attorney,

Jaeger also cannot work on cases in which she previously represented someone

else.

But that hasn't prevented her from taking on the National Petrochemical and

Refiners Association and the Council of Industrial Boiler Owners as clients. A

senior Bracewell partner, Scott Segal, said Jaeger may lobby EPA on their

behalf once the mandatory one-year waiting period has expired.

The "cross-fertilization" that occurs when people like Jaeger move back and

forth between the government and industry benefits both institutions, said

Segal. His office at Bracewell is next door to that of former Montana Gov. Marc

Racicot, who is on a leave of absence from the firm while serving as national

chairman of Bush's re-election campaign.

"If you tell people they're foreclosed from vast areas of economic

opportunity once you leave the government, the EPA's ability to attract the

best and the brightest is going to be hampered, and that's not in the public

interest," Segal said.

Its close ties to the Bush administration - besides Racicot, Bracewell

partners also include another Bush family intimate, Patrick Oxford, who raised

more than $100,000 for Bush's 2000 campaign - have coincided with a boom time

for Bracewell.

The firm's federal lobbying business, which specializes in EPA-related

issues, has roughly tripled in size since 2001 to about $5 million annually,

according to public records.

"We're a Texas firm and this is a Texas administration. We certainly don't

try to obscure those facts," said Segal. But he said the firm would have picked

up clients no matter how the 2000 election had turned out.

"To tell you truth, and I probably shouldn't say this, a Democratic White

House and a Democratic Congress would have been especially frightening to these

people, so there would have been plenty of work for us either way," he said.

TOMORROW: A private contractor's influence on a government military program.

The Regulators

Linda Fisher

Was vice president for government affairs at Monsanto Co., a chemical and

biotechnology company, before being named in 2001 to fill the second-ranking

position, deputy administrator, at the Environmental Protection Agency. She

resigned in 2003 and opened a consultancy, later taking a job as vice president

and chief sustainability officer at DuPont Corp.

Jeffrey Holmstead,

William Wehrum

Until their appointments to senior jobs at the U.S. Environmental

Protection Agency in 2001, Holmstead and Wehrum were attorneys in the

Washington office of Latham & Watkins who specialized in representing

corporations on air pollution issues. Holmstead is now assistant administrator

for air and radiation at EPA, while Wehrum is his senior adviser.

Rebecca Watson

Was the managing partner of Idaho's oldest law firm - Gough, Shanahan,

Johnson and Waterman - before being appointed assistant secretary of interior

for land and materials management in 2001. At the law firm, she represented

natural gas producers, timber companies and associations of farmers and

ranchers in negotiations and litigation with the Interior Department.

Thomas Sansonetti

Was a partner with the Wyoming law firm Holland & Hart before being

appointed assistant attorney general for environment and natural resources in

2001. At Holland & Hart, he was a registered lobbyist for the two largest coal

producers in the U.S.: Peabody Energy Corp. and Arch Coal Inc.

Staffing the environment

Government was the chief source for Bush and Clinton administration appointees

to federal environmental positions. But while Bush also preferred the legal

sector Clinton tended to hire more out of the academic and nonprofit sectors.

BUSH ADMINISTRATION

Total appointees

55

Government 47.3%

Lawyers, lobbyists, consultants 31.0

Business 10.9

Academics 9.0

Nonprofit 1.9

CLINTON ADMINISTRATION

Total appointees

58

Government 46.5%

Lawyers, lobbyists, consultants 20.7

Business 17.2

Academics 3.5

Nonprofit 12.2

NOTE: Figures reflect the previous jobs of those appointed to environmental

policy-making posts that require Senate confirmation during first three years

of both administrations.

CORRECTION: Staffing the environment

Government was the chief source for Bush and Clinton administration appointees

to federal environmental positions. But while Bush also preferred the legal

sector Clinton tended to hire more out of the academic and nonprofit sectors.

BUSH ADMINISTRATION

Total appointees

55

Government 47.3%

Lawyers, lobbyists, consultants 31.0

Business 9.0

Academics 10.9

Nonprofit 1.9

CLINTON ADMINISTRATION

Total appointees

58

Government 46.5%

Lawyers, lobbyists, consultants 20.7

Business 3.5

Academics 17.2

Nonprofit 12.2

NOTE: Figures reflect the previous jobs of those appointed to environmental

policy-making posts that require Senate confirmation during first three years

of both administrations.

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