Clarification to This Article
The article said that the White House Office of Management and Budget ordered the Energy Department on Nov. 19 to a kill a new regulation that would have forced the federal government to purchase more-9energy-9efficient lights, appliances, and heating and cooling systems. Department spokeswoman Jen8nifer Scog8gins said this week that, although the regulation was withdrawn from White House review, it still may be issued before or during the next administration.

At the Last Minute, a Raft of Rules

A rule approved by the White House after the election would ease constraints on oil shale development in the West.
A rule approved by the White House after the election would ease constraints on oil shale development in the West. (By Ed Andrieski -- Associated Press)
By R. Jeffrey Smith and Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, November 30, 2008

In a burst of activity meant to leave a lasting stamp on the federal government, the Bush White House in the past month has approved 61 new regulations on environmental, security, social and commercial matters that by its own estimate will have an economic impact exceeding $1.9 billion annually.

Some of the rules benefit key industries that have long had the administration's ear, such as oil and gas companies, banks and farms. Others impose counterterrorism security requirements on importers and private aircraft owners.

The rules cover obscure as well as high-profile social and economic issues: spelling out what kinds of records must be kept by sexually explicit performers and publications, exempting hobbyists' rocket motors from federal explosives controls, expanding the collection of DNA samples from federal prisoners.

In most cases, the new regulations are meant to spell out precisely how federal employees and private citizens must comply with laws passed by Congress. But the language in those laws often had ambiguities -- reflecting lawmakers' uncertainties or disagreements -- that gave Bush's appointees broad discretion to follow their policy preferences. Similar "midnight regulations" were approved by previous presidents.

In the environmental area, the latest rules indicate that the Bush administration wants to lend a final assist to industries that feel burdened by looming pollution controls or wilderness-protection laws. A rule approved by the White House three days after the presidential election, for example, would ease constraints on environmentally damaging oil shale development throughout the West, despite objections from Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D) and a majority of the state's congressional delegation.

On Nov. 17, Ritter called the decision "not just premature, it's hasty and I would even argue reckless." The Interior Department published it in the Federal Register Nov. 21, and it will take legal effect in 60 days from that date, or shortly after Congress reconvenes with a larger Democratic majority.

Top officials are still finishing work on other industry-friendly measures, including a regulation inhibiting the ability of Congress to halt logging, mining, and oil and gas extraction on public lands. Another rule would allow federal agencies to proceed with development projects without undergoing independent scientific review under the Endangered Species Act.

The Bush administration's impetus for hurrying to approve and publish so many of these regulations in the Federal Register is that those deemed to have a major economic impact -- defined by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) as more than $100 million a year -- take legal effect after 60 days.

That means Nov. 21 was an important political deadline to ensure they become effective before President-elect Barack Obama's Jan. 20 inauguration. Less significant regulations, including many still in final stages of preparation, can take effect in 30 days or less.

Once the new rules take the form of law, Democrats can undo them only by three complicated means: through a new regulatory rulemaking that would probably take years; through congressional amendments to underlying laws; or through special, fast-track resolutions of disapproval approved by the House and Senate within a few months after the start of the new congressional session on Jan. 6.

Such a quick congressional rebuke has occurred only once before, in 2001, when a Republican-controlled Congress with President Bush's backing blocked a workplace safety regulation completed in the Clinton administration's final months. But recently, spokesmen for Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) said Democrats were prepared to use that regulatory reversal power in consultation with Obama.

The leadership "will review what oversight tools are at our disposal regarding last-minute attempts to inflict severe damage to the law in the waning moments of the Bush administration," said Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly.

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