My friend Emma Schwartz has this story out today about the last minute efforts by the Bush administration in its waning days to enact new federal regulations that weaken environmental, consumer, and civil liberties protections:
The Bush administration is trying to push through a wave of new regulations despite a promise by the White House to ban last-ditch rule-making in the waning days of the presidency, say watchdog groups and experts.
Every administration tries to pass last minute rules in hopes of leaving a lasting mark. But experts say the Bush administration is expected to approve a greater number more quickly than previous administrations– something they said could lead to bad and costly policy.
“The administration wants to leave a legacy,” said Gary Bass, executive director of OMB Watch, which has been critical of these proposals. “But across the board it means less protection for the public.”
The proposed regulations are of particular concern to watchdog groups who say they could hurt public safety, the environment and consumers.
Among the newest proposed regulations, according to OMB Watch:
Permit health care professionals at federally funded institutions to opt out of providing abortion and sterilization if such processes create “a problem of conscience for the provider.” Women’s groups have attacked this proposals as a way to limit access to abortions.
Require drug testing for miners. Critics have questioned why this would be a priority given the high safety concerns associated with mining facilities.
Change how occupational safety agencies calculate job-risk for miners, despite opposition from health and safety groups, which said it would “undermine” health rules.
Allow Interior Department officials to approve development projects without full consulting federal wildlife and habitat scientists on the impact on endangered species.
Ease rules for police on allowing them to launch criminal intelligence investigation if the target is suspected of links to terrorism. Proponents say it brings policy in line with current process but critics say it infringes on first amendment rights.
The Washington Post also weighs in:
The White House is working to enact a wide array of federal regulations, many of which would weaken government rules aimed at protecting consumers and the environment, before President Bush leaves office in January.
The new rules would be among the most controversial deregulatory steps of the Bush era and could be difficult for his successor to undo. Some would ease or lift constraints on private industry, including power plants, mines and farms.
Those and other regulations would help clear obstacles to some commercial ocean-fishing activities, ease controls on emissions of pollutants that contribute to global warming, relax drinking-water standards and lift a key restriction on mountaintop coal mining.
Once such rules take effect, they typically can be undone only through a laborious new regulatory proceeding, including lengthy periods of public comment, drafting and mandated reanalysis.
“They want these rules to continue to have an impact long after they leave office,” said Matthew Madia, a regulatory expert at OMB Watch, a nonprofit group critical of what it calls the Bush administration’s penchant for deregulating in areas where industry wants more freedom. He called the coming deluge “a last-minute assault on the public . . . happening on multiple fronts.”…
As many as 90 new regulations are in the works, and at least nine of them are considered “economically significant” because they impose costs or promote societal benefits that exceed $100 million annually. They include new rules governing employees who take family- and medical-related leaves, new standards for preventing or containing oil spills, and a simplified process for settling real estate transactions.
While it remains unclear how much the administration will be able to accomplish in the coming weeks, the last-minute rush appears to involve fewer regulations than Bush’s predecessor, Bill Clinton, approved at the end of his tenure.
In some cases, Bush’s regulations reflect new interpretations of language in federal laws. In other cases, such as several new counterterrorism initiatives, they reflect new executive branch decisions in areas where Congress — now out of session and focused on the elections — left the president considerable discretion.
The burst of activity has made this a busy period for lobbyists who fear that industry views will hold less sway after the elections. The doors at the New Executive Office Building have been whirling with corporate officials and advisers pleading for relief or, in many cases, for hastened decision making.
According to the Office of Management and Budget‘s regulatory calendar, the commercial scallop-fishing industry came in two weeks ago to urge that proposed catch limits be eased, nearly bumping into National Mining Association officials making the case for easing rules meant to keep coal slurry waste out of Appalachian streams. A few days earlier, lawyers for kidney dialysis and biotechnology companies registered their complaints at the OMB about new Medicare reimbursement rules. Lobbyists for customs brokers complained about proposed counterterrorism rules that require the advance reporting of shipping data.
Bush’s aides are acutely aware of the political risks of completing their regulatory work too late. On the afternoon of Bush’s inauguration, Jan. 20, 2001, his chief of staff issued a government-wide memo that blocked the completion or implementation of regulations drafted in the waning days of the Clinton administration that had not yet taken legal effect.
“Through the end of the Clinton administration, we were working like crazy to get as many regulations out as possible,” said Donald R. Arbuckle, who retired in 2006 after 25 years as an OMB official. “Then on Sunday, the day after the inauguration, OMB Director Mitch Daniels called me in and said, ‘Let’s pull back as many of these as we can.’ “
Clinton’s appointees wound up paying a heavy price for procrastination. Bush’s team was able to withdraw 254 regulations that covered such matters as drug and airline safety, immigration and indoor air pollutants. After further review, many of the proposals were modified to reflect Republican policy ideals or scrapped altogether.
Seeking to avoid falling victim to such partisan tactics, White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten in May imposed a Nov. 1 government-wide deadline to finish major new regulations, “except in extraordinary circumstances.”
That gives officials just a few more weeks to meet an effective Nov. 20 deadline for the publication of economically significant rules, which take legal effect only after a 60-day congressional comment period. Less important rules take effect after a 30-day period, creating a second deadline of Dec. 20.
To read the complete article, click here.