White House rushing to enact dozens of new rules
WASHINGTON — The White House is working to enact an array of federal regulations, many of which would weaken rules aimed at protecting consumers and the environment, before President Bush leaves office in January.
The 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 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 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."
White House spokesman Tony Fratto responded that "this administration has taken extraordinary measures to avoid rushing regulations at the end of the term. And yes, we’d prefer our regulations stand for a very long time — they’re well-reasoned and are being considered with the best interests of the nation in mind."
As many as 90 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 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.
In some cases, the regulations reflect new interpretations of language in federal laws. In other cases, such as several counterterrorism initiatives, they reflect executive-branch decisions in areas where Congress left the president considerable discretion.
Bush’s aides are aware of the political risks of completing their regulatory work too late. On the afternoon of Bush’s inauguration, 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.