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Tying The Next President's Hands

What, you thought this administration was finished with us yet?

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 in January.

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 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.

The most horrific rule, from a global-warming standpoint, is one that "would allow current emissions at a power plant to match the highest levels produced by that plant"—a rule the EPA estimates would allow millions of tons of additional CO2 into the air. (No, the EPA staff isn't thrilled.)

Now, the incoming administration could try to reverse these changes, but it's a slow and laborious process once the rules have been finalized. The only reason George W. Bush could come in and quickly scrap so many major administrative rules that the Clinton administration had put in place was that Clinton procrastinated on this stuff until the very last minute, and a lot of rules weren't yet legally binding by the time January 20, 2001, rolled through. This time, White House chief of staff Josh Bolten is being smarter about it—telling agencies they need to wrap up their deregulation frenzy by November, so that the rules can take legal effect long before, say, Barack Obama is inaugurated... which means the new administration will have to spend countless hours mopping up the entrails.

--Bradford Plumer