current issue web exclusives blog multimedia archive subscribe advertisers
Feature Articles
Contributors
Editor's Note
Audubon View
Letters
Field Notes
Audubon Action
Incite
Earth Almanac
Green Guru
Reviews
One Picture

Regulation
Bush’s Last-Minute Rule Changes
Wildlife and the environment stand to suffer from a slew of twilight amendments to various regulations. Here’s a detailed look at what the outgoing administration has been pushing.

Mountaintop mining in southwestern Virginia. A last-minute rule change would make it easier for coal companies to dump debris within 100 feet of streams and other bodies of water.
Courtesy of iLoveMountains.org

In the political world, midnight lasts for months. During the waning 90 days of every presidency since Jimmy Carter's, the executive office has rushed to amend rules to various regulations before it relinquishes power (a process that doesn’t require congressional approval). These alterations include everything from George H.W. Bush’s loosening of regulations concerning genetically engineered pesticides to Bill Clinton’s tightened regulations about arsenic levels in drinking water.

Today rule changes go into effect 60 days after the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) finalizes them. That’s why the Bush administration has been pushing to finalize rules—some environmentally egregious, from loosening the rules for dumping mountaintop removal waste to weakening the Endangered Species Act—by November 20 to ensure they would take effect before Bush leaves office and President-elect Obama is sworn in on January 20.

While Obama or his appointees can quickly void rules and executive orders that are not yet in effect, once rules have gone into effect, it is much harder for the incoming president to revoke them. Under those circumstances, rescinding a rule would require the Obama administration essentially to restart the rule-making process—soliciting public comment and offering an analysis for changing the old rule—something that can take years and runs the risk of bringing about legal challenges.

Democrats may also fight the rule changes by invoking a little-used law, the Congressional Review Act of 1996. The CRA allows Congress to kill, with a simple majority, any rule that was submitted within 60 days of the last session of Congress. Because the previous Congress adjourned so frequently in the last half of 2008, the new Congress could repeal rules that were finalized as far back as last summer. Once Congress spikes a rule, it is submitted to the White House for approval. “Because of the Congressional Review Act, it’s the easiest it’s ever been to address this issue,” says Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow at George Mason University's Mercatus Center. “The stars are in alignment politically.”

Click on the image below for an in-depth look at some of the last-gasp rule changes that could damage our wildlife, air, water, or land.

Back to Top

Back to Web Exclusives

Read related story: "Turning the Page"