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White House working under tight deadline

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.

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 existing 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.

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 President Clinton approved at the end of his tenure.

In some cases, the 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 left the president considerable discretion.

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 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.

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 or scrapped altogether.

Seeking to avoid falling victim to the same partisan tactics, White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten in May imposed a Nov. 1 deadline to finish major new Bush administration regulations, “except in extraordinary circumstances.”

As the deadlines near, the administration has begun to issue regulations of great interest to industry, including, in recent days, a rule that allows natural gas pipelines to operate at higher pressures.

Many of the rules that could be issued over the next few weeks would ease environmental regulations, according to sources familiar with the administration's internal deliberations.

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