Elves at work

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is spin­ning miles of red tape be­fore it leaves town

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

The bow­els of the fed­eral bu­reau­cracy aren’t ex­actly Santa’s work­shop, but le­gions of Barack Obama’s elves are work­ing 24/7 to leave be­hind large lumps of coal in the Christ­mas stock­ing of Don­ald Trump. Which is odd, be­cause the pres­i­dent’s loathing of all things an­thracite and bi­tu­mi­nous is well known.

These metaphor­i­cal lumps are the rules and reg­u­la­tions, some barely co­her­ent, be­ing shov­eled out the doors of the In­te­rior, En­ergy and Ed­u­ca­tion de­part­ments and the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency in the last gasps of a pres­i­dency that has never seen a spool of reg­u­la­tory red tape it didn’t like.

In the fort­night fol­low­ing the Nov. 8 elec­tion, the ad­min­is­tra­tion fin­ished re­views of nine “eco­nom­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant” rules, com­pared to eight dur­ing all of Septem­ber, ac­cord­ing to Bloomberg Busi­nessWeek. “Eco­nom­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant” is how the ad­min­is­tra­tion refers to the cost to the econ­omy – more than $100 mil­lion a year. Of­ten, a lot more.

In the reg­u­la­tory pipe­line is an In­te­rior Depart­ment rule crack­ing down on meth­ane emis­sions from oil wells, as well as EPA lim­its on the use of hy­droflu­o­ro­car­bons, quo­tas for rais­ing the use of bio­fu­els in gaso­line and cut­ting car­bon pol­lu­tion from the na­tion’s coal util­i­ties. “We’re run­ning — not walk­ing — to the fin­ish line of Pres­i­dent Obama’s pres­i­dency,” EPA chief Gina McCarthy wrote in a post-elec­tion email to staffers. “I’m look­ing for­ward to all the progress that still lies ahead.”

Still lying ahead are a dozen or so en­ergy-ef­fi­ciency de­crees from the En­ergy Depart­ment that would af­fect fur­naces, com­mer­cial boil­ers and por­ta­ble air con­di­tion­ers. Other loom­ing mid­night reg­u­la­tions and ex­ec­u­tive ac­tions in­clude schemes to seize for fed­eral con­trol more land in the West, the strength­en­ing of stan­dards to curb falls in the work­place, for eval­u­at­ing schools un­der the fed­eral ed­u­ca­tion law that re­placed No Child Left Be­hind, help­ing high-skilled im­mi­grants get green cards more eas­ily, and can­celling bonuses to cer­tain Wall Street ex­ec­u­tives.

The slurry of mid­night reg­u­la­tions will add bil­lions of dol­lars of com­pli­ance costs, which will be passed onto con­sumers in higher prices for en­ergy and every­thing else af­fected by the higher cost of en­ergy. This raises the in­evitable ques­tion, why has the ad­min­is­tra­tion waited un­til now? Why weren’t the new reg­u­la­tions pro­mul­gated months or even years ago? The sud­den burst of bu­reau­cratic en­ergy is meant to make it more dif­fi­cult for Don­ald Trump to drain the Wash­ing­ton swamp, the nat­u­ral habi­tat of fun­gus and bu­reau­crats. Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials cal­cu­late that more rules and reg­u­la­tions will force the Trump White House to de­cide which prom­ises are worth keep­ing and which are not.

Mr. Trump and the 115th Congress, con­trolled by Repub­li­cans, could start by mak­ing max­i­mum use of the Con­gres­sional Re­view Act. The 1996 law, de­signed ex­pressly to de­ter this very 11th-hour rule-mak­ing, en­ables Congress to can­cel by res­o­lu­tion reg­u­la­tions en­tered into the Fed­eral Regis­ter in the fi­nal 60 days of a leg­isla­tive ses­sion.

The Reg­u­la­tions in Need of Scru­tiny Act, in­tro­duced in the House in Jan­uary 2015 by Rep. Todd Young, In­di­ana Repub­li­can, with 171 co-spon­sors, would fur­ther re­quire that every “eco­nom­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant” rule or reg­u­la­tion get an up-or-down vote from Congress be­fore it can take ef­fect.

The act passed the House, but the com­pan­ion Se­nate bill, in­tro­duced by Sen. Rand Paul, Ken­tucky Repub­li­can, and 36 co-spon­sors, has lan­guished. En­act­ment of such scru­tiny would be a good pro­ject for Todd Young, now a sen­a­tor-elect. Elim­i­nat­ing an ex­cess of bu­reau­cracy, like elim­i­nat­ing fun­gus, is a job never fin­ished.

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