Rolling Stone: Have you heard about the midnight regulations?


Rolling Stone lays into George Bush for his "final F.U.," the passage of policies at the close of an administration known as "midnight regulations." Here's a nut graf, which includes a quote from reason columnist and Mercatus Center economist Veronique de Rugy, the leading scholar of the process:

Under the last-minute rules, which can be extremely difficult to overturn, loaded firearms would be allowed in national parks, uranium mining would be permitted near the Grand Canyon and many injured consumers would no longer be able to sue negligent manufacturers in state courts. Other rules would gut the Endangered Species Act, open millions of acres of wild lands to mining, restrict access to birth control and put local cops to work spying for the federal government.

"It's what we've seen for Bush's whole tenure, only accelerated," says Gary Bass, executive director of the nonpartisan group OMB Watch. "They're using regulation to cement their deregulatory mind-set, which puts corporate interests above public interests."

While every modern president has implemented last-minute regulations, Bush is rolling them out at a record pace—nearly twice as many as Clinton, and five times more than Reagan. "The administration is handing out final favors to its friends," says Véronique de Rugy, a scholar at George Mason University who has tracked six decades of midnight regulations. "They couldn't do it earlier—there would have been too many political repercussions. But with the Republicans having lost seats in Congress and the presidency changing parties, Bush has nothing left to lose."

More here.

In case you're wondering about the intellectual integrity of OMB Watch, return now to the thrilling days of yesteryear (2001), when Bill Clinton was setting a record for the number of midnight regulations. Did OMB Watch get its knickers in twist? Not exactly:

As the Clinton presidency winds down, industry groups and their allies in Congress are angrily accusing the administration of "midnight rulemaking" for a number of major new regulatory initiatives designed to protect public health, safety, and the environment. This criticism, however, is nothing more than propaganda—which unfortunately has generated a number of misleading stories by the press.

The whole idea of "midnight regulations" should seem ridiculous to anyone who understands the rulemaking process. Agency rulemakings are guided by a legislative framework, requiring various analyses, public notice and comment, etc. These requirements are extremely time-consuming; it is not unusual for major rules to take more than 10 years to develop. If an agency ignores its legislative requirements in developing a rule, it is sure to face a court challenge, and the rule will be thrown out.

Undoubtedly, the Clinton administration is trying to wrap up work before the president's term expires. But the regulations cited by industry have been worked on for years, and are a surprise to no one….

More here.

Which isn't to say the midnight regulations aren't a pernicious use of the system. In fact, that's precisely why they should be stopped, whether you agree or disagree with the outcome in any given case. As de Rugy explains in a Mercatus paper, virtually no midnight regs are repealed or substantially altered.

We should absolutely care about midnight regulations. While some midnight regulations may provide real benefits that exceed costs, most result in more harm than good and cater to special interests rather that the public interest. That is why they are hurried into effect without the usual checks and balances.

More on that here.