The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Carol Goldberg (202) 265-7337

Congress Could Halt Bush Midnight Regulations

Lame Duck Session May Withhold Funding for Any More Promulgation of Rules


When it returns for its short, post-election session later this
month, the Democratic-controlled Congress could pull the plug on a raft
of last minute regulations being prepared by the Bush administration,
according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
By acting now to prevent enactment of the rules, Congress would save
itself and the incoming Obama administration substantial time and
effort that will later be required to repeal these "midnight
regulations" one-by-one.

Despite a directive from White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten
stating that "Except in extraordinary regulations
should be issued no later than November 1, 2008," on topics ranging
from mountain bikes to birth control, federal agencies are rewriting
rules with no such finding of extraordinary circumstances. Many of the
last-minute proposed regulations concentrate on weakening environmental
protections, including, most notably, pending regulations that would -

  • Undermine air pollution standards for cleaning up older,
    dirty power-plants (New Source Review). Another proposal would relax
    rules against smog-producing plants obscuring national park vistas;
  • Make it much harder to impose new safeguards protecting workers from harmful occupational exposures; and
  • Eliminate reviews to protect endangered species from ill-considered federal actions.

Beyond the environment, other pending changes would -

  • Broaden the ability of FBI agents to conduct domestic surveillance on citizens;
  • Allow medical providers to refuse contraceptive and other reproductive-related services on religious grounds; and
  • Limit advice that AIDS prevention organizations could give.

These rules are proceeding largely because Congress did not complete
its normal budget process, thus forfeiting the means to check lame duck
Bush initiatives. Instead of producing detailed appropriations bills,
Congress passed a continuing resolution which allows the Bush
administration to reshape programs without constraint.

"It makes no sense for Congress to sit back while vitally-needed
funds are siphoned off for creating questionable rules that will later
take even more time and money to remove from the books," stated PEER
Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that teams of civil servants have
been assembled to pore over thousands and thousands of public comments
(more than 300,000 comments were filed on the Endangered Species Act
revisions alone) opposing these rules. "Congress can simply use its
power of the purse to end the midnight madness of lame duck

Ironically, the last such regulatory freeze on the Federal Register
was imposed by President George W. Bush immediately after his
inauguration in 2001. In prior sessions, Congress has both inserted
riders into omnibus legislation needed to address emerging problems and
imposed restraints on the executive branch's regulatory discretion.
During its upcoming lame duck session (Nov. 17-20), the 110th Congress
will take up a number of measures that have widespread support which
could serve as vehicles for such a move.

"The few 'good' rules still pending, such as the creation of a new
Pacific marine sanctuary, can certainly wait until after January 20th",
Ruch added. "No one wants the Bush administration to burden the new
president with a welter of unwanted rules."


Look at some of the Bush midnight regulations

View the Bolten memo announcing the November 1 deadline

See the scramble on the Endangered Species Act rules

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.