By Paul DeRienzo
In These Times
December 11-17, 1991

The Quayle Council:
Industry’s Secret Weapon
By Paul DeRienzo

THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION LAST MONTH backed off from a proposal that would have shrunk by 30 percent the total acreage of federally protected wetlands, The wetlands In proposal had been the result of bitter infighting between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the White House. At the heart of the controversy is the little known and secretive White House Council on Competitiveness, chaired by Vice President Dan Quayle. The so-called Quayle Council attempted to gut the findings published in a 1989 EPA manual on wetlands.

Wetlands act as natural filters that remove pollutants and they provide habitats for wildlife and plants. Many real estate interests and farm groups, however, hope to develop protected wetlands.

The White House proposal would have eliminated from protection substantial parts of the Great Dismal Swamp of Virginia, the Florida Everglades and the wetlands on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Delaware-as well as the entire New Jersey Pine Barrens and all wetlands in the state of New York.

Industry’s little buddy:

The attempt to weaken the wetlands guidelines was only one of numerous attempts spearheaded by the Council on Competitiveness to eliminate federal regulations covering the environment and occupational safety. Quayle explained in a 1989 speech to the National Association of Manufacturers, regulations that "impose needless costs" on industry are responsible for the decline of US economic power.

A recent report-prepared by Nancy Watzman and Christine Triano of Public Citizen, a Washington-based consumer and environmental advocacy group-documents more than a dozen cases in which the council has interfered in the regulatory functions of government agencies.

Regulations have the force of law. They are implemented by federal agencies, which are supposed to fill in the details of laws sketched out by Congress, such as the Clean Air Act. Rule-making agencies-such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA)-are, in turn, governed by a legal structure that requires their deliberations to be public and their decisions to be based on scientific and technical merits. There is not one scientist on the Quayle Council.

Working outside the process set up for such agencies, the Quayle Council his severely weakened parts of Clean Air Act rules, making it easier for electric utilities to evade pollution controls and killing all EPA incinerator rule that required operators to recycle 25 percent of reusable items before burning garbage. The council has also blocked rules protecting workers from formaldehyde and halted the implementation of an EPA ban on incinerating lead batteries-despite conclusive evidence linking the practice to brain damage in children.

The right to pollute:

The Quayle group doesn’t limit itself to blocking regulations The council is also lobbying Congress to pass legislation that would greatly extend the 5th Amendment clause prohibiting the seizure of private property without compensation. The legislation would extend the 5th Amendment to cover the "taking" of property, such as a government order to clean up a toxic waste dump. This would effectively eliminate the government’s power to control the uses of private property-even if those uses were to be harmful to the environment and community.

The "takings" amendment, sponsored by Sen. Steve Symms, would put teeth in Reagan-era Executive Order 12630. According to former Solicitor General Charles Fried, the intention of former Attorney General Ed Meese in drafting the Executive Order was to "use the takings clause of the 5th Amendment as a severe brake upon federal regulation of business and private property."

Public Citizen’s Watzman told In These Times the major problem with the Quayle Council is that "they’re able to do everything in secret. They’re not subject to the same kind of accountability laws that agencies are."

The vice president’s counsel, John L. Howard, routinely denies requests for information to the Quayle Council. Howard claims that because the Council on Competitiveness is part of Quayle’s staff, it is shielded

A confrontation over the claim to executive privilege is shaping up in Congress. Earlier this year, the council ordered the withholding of FDA documents subpoenaed by Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers’ House Government Operations subcommittee on human resources. Sen. John Glenn (D-OH), the chair of the Governmental Affairs Committee, has also begun hearings into whether the Quayle Council is illegally interfering with the rule-making process. Another inquiry by Rep Henry Waxman (D-CA), who heads the committee on Health and the Environment, is investigating the council’s influence on the EPA.

At the center of, the dispute is Allan B. Hubbard the executive director of the Council on Competitiveness. Democrats have accused Hubbard of conflict of interests, He is part owner of World Wide Chemicals, an Indianapolis-based company that makes auto wax, and has extensive investments in more than a dozen other companies.

And Hubbard also holds stock in PSI Resources, Inc., an Indiana-based utility that described itself as "one of the utilities most affected by the Clear Air Act amendments of 1990," according to a report released last week by Public Citizen and OMB Watch, a group that monitors the executive branch. The report notes that it was under Hubbard’s supervision that the council mounted a behind the scenes campaign to weaken EPA rules.

Nonetheless, Quayle granted Hubbard an unusual blanket waiver on conflict-of-interest rules, authorizing him to consider regulatory issues that might affect his business. Conyers recently sent a letter to Hubbard noting that it’s a felony (or a federal official to become involved "personally and substantially" in any matter in which the official has a financial interest.

Paul DeRienzo is co-producer of Undercurrents, a nationally syndicated investigative radio program.


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