The midnight period of every presidential administration, generally defined as its last three months in office, is generally a period in which those grasping to the final sagging straws of power scramble to pass as much legislation as they possibly can before the next administration takes over. Like the fall clearance sale at Old Navy, but for presidents.
This week, George Bush has been sporting his environmental devastation pants, introducing last-minute legislation (to take effect before Barack Obama takes office) that threatens to overthrow vital environmental regulations in a host of industries all over the country.
Last minute Bush legislation includes rules which will speed the process of oil shale development across 2 million acres in the rocky West, and rules which promise to weaken endangered species protection by allowing more (yes, more!) mining waste to flow into rivers and streams. It has set the process in motion for exempting factory farms from air pollution reporting, and exempting fishery-related decisions from environmental review. It has scheduled an auction for drilling rights next to three national parks. It has introduced rules making it harder for the government to limit workers’ exposure to toxins, and has eased restrictions on companies that blow up mountains to dig for coal.
President Clinton, by contrast, used his time in midnight office to strengthen environmental rules and restrictions on federal lands with wilderness and protective designations.
For ProPublica’s guide to understanding and responding to midnight regulations, click here. Though most regulations are technically subject to public comment, the Bush Administration pushed them through so quickly that the Interior Department was given only four days to complete its review of 200,000 public comments. According to one congressional aide, this means that each staff member was forced to read the comments at a rate of seven a minute, or one every 8.57 seconds.