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Bush Moves Forward With 'Secret' OSHA Rule

ProPublicaRemember that "secret" Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule? The one that would make it tougher to protect workers from hazardous chemicals and toxic substances?

Well, according to the New York Times, the Bush administration is rushing to finalize the rule before the Obama administration takes office, severely limiting Obama's legal options to do anything about it.

As we've notedmany times before, and as the Washington Postfirst reported in July, the rule would make it harder for OSHA to regulate toxins. The rule increases the amount of scientific analysis necessary to start regulating a worker's exposure to certain chemicals. It would also open more opportunities for industry and other interested parties to comment on the scientific evidence as the agency develops its regulation.

The rule would add two years to what is already an eight-year-long process, according to Margaret M. Seminario, the director of occupational safety and health for the A.F.L.-C.I.O.

Labor groups, health and safety experts and the medical community widely oppose the rule, which they say would make an already cumbersome process practically impossible.

In proposing the rule, the administration wrote that it would force "agencies to follow a consistent, reliable, and transparent set of procedures when conducting risk assessments," and improve public access to the regulatory process.

Health and safety advocates have long blasted the Bush administration OSHA, which has put an increased emphasis on voluntary, business-friendly programs.

In the past eight years, OSHA has issued just one significant health standard. It did so under court order.

The Bush administration is not alone in passing last-minute OSHA rules. Clinton's OSHA passed an ergonomic standard in its waning days.

Ultimately the rule was overturned by the Republican-controlled Congress after Clinton left office. Republicans in Congress used the little known and rarely used Congressional Review Act to roll back the regulation.

The next Congress may have the opportunity to vote down Bush's OSHA rule in the same fashion. Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats have said they are considering the use of the Review Act to shoot down other controversial rules that the administration wants to finalize.

The Obama administration could try to rescind the rule itself. But as we reported last month, that isn't so easy. It would require restarting the rulemaking process and could face legal challenges from industry.

Obama has written to the Department of Labor asking them to abandon the proposal.

The rule is one of 30 midnight regulations we are tracking through the rulemaking process.

Robert Lewis is a former ProPublica intern.

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