White House Says "No Surprises" in Last-Minute Rules

Today, the USA Today editorial board and White House spokesman Tony Fratto duke it out over the issue of midnight regulations. USA Today takes aim at many pending and recently finalized Bush administration regulations stating, "Some of the rules look like favors to Bush allies in energy, mining or other industries; others track his ideology on guns or abortion." USA Today surmises the White House's motivation for the Bolten memo, issued in May 2008: The White House says it deliberately reformed the process by setting a Nov. 1 deadline for most regulations to avoid last-minute rules. The deadline might be a sign of good faith or merely a way to make sure Obama will have a harder time undoing Bush's rules than Bush had undoing Clinton's. There's a 30-day or 60-day lag from the date a regulation is finalized to the date it goes into effect. When Bush took office, he delayed Clinton rules that hadn't gone into effect and managed to kill some. Tony Fratto counters by claiming that the Bush administration is acting more responsibly, not more surreptitiously, than any of its predecessors: "The aim [of the Bolten memo] was to ensure that late-term regulations move forward in an orderly, open process, allowing for adequate public comment and thorough interagency review." As a result, in the area of regulations, it will be a humdrum last couple of months in the administration: "These are not 'midnight regulations' or 'rushed regulations.' There will be no surprises." True, many of the regulations the administration is finalizing have been in development for months, sometimes years. But to say "There will be no surprises" is pretty disingenuous. Some of the rules the administration has already finalized belie Fratto's claim. Take the Interior Department, which has been the worst offender to date. In July, Interior proposed a rule to open up almost 2 million acres of land in Western states to oil shale development — an environmentally intrusive type of energy development. After a public comment period, Interior sent a draft of a final rule to the White House Office of Management and Budget for the customary review period. OMB approved the rule just four days later. The average review time is about two months. The final version was published Nov. 18, and the rule goes into effect Jan. 17. Interior developed the rule in five months (July-Nov.), a brisk pace in the usual slothful world of regulations where development usually takes more than a year and sometimes spans multiple administrations. But a rule announced last week moved even faster. On Dec. 4, Interior finalized a rule stripping Congress of its power to prohibit mining on federal lands in emergency situations. (Congress used that power in June to prohibit uranium mine leasing near the Grand Canyon.) Interior published a proposal Oct. 10, 2008 and allowed only 15 days for public comment. According to USA Today, "An Interior spokesperson said public comment was cut from the usual 30-90 days because the public had already weighed in when the rule was originally proposed — in 1991." Then on Friday, Interior unveiled its final rule that lifts a ban on carrying loaded weapons in national parks. The rule was originally proposed in April thereby allowing for an adequate gestation period. But in a surprise move, Interior altered its proposal to make carrying a weapon even easier. "The final regulation is even more extreme than the Administration's original proposal, and permits concealed and loaded guns to be carried in national parks located in any states with concealed carry laws, not just those that allow guns in their state parks as originally proposed," according to a statement from a group of park safety advocates. With rules still in the pipeline, the administration's midnight regulation campaign isn't finished. More surprises to come.
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