Obama halts work on pending rules

President Barack Obama has frozen all pending federal regulations until his administration can review them, a move that could affect major climate change-related rules from the Bush administration.

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel signed a memorandum yesterday afternoon, shortly after Obama took office. It halts work on all draft rules until the new administration can complete a legal and policy review, according to a White House press statement.

The move is not unprecedented. Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush all issued such orders at the beginning of their White House tenures. But this one could have a sweeping impact on global warming policy.

At the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the order affects potential regulations to use the Clean Air Act to cut greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles. In its 2007 ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA, the Supreme Court ordered the agency to re-examine its decision about the science linking greenhouse gases to increased threats to public health or welfare, but EPA has yet to make a finding.

At the Transportation Department, the memo would affect pending corporate average fuel economy standards. The agency proposed raising fleetwide CAFE standards by 25 percent, to 31.6 miles per gallon, by 2015, but the Bush administration held off finalizing the standards in light of U.S. automakers' financial woes.

Precedent for overturning 'midnight regulations'

To overturn rules that have already been finalized -- many of them "midnight regulations" finalized during the waning days of the Bush administration -- the Obama team faces a lengthier administrative process.

The 1996 Congressional Review Act lets lawmakers halt administrative rulemakings. With a simple majority in both the House and Senate and the president's signature, Congress can toss a rule within 60 legislative days of its submission to Capitol Hill. Because of lengthy congressional breaks in August, October and December, the 60-day window could go back as far as May or June.

The law has been used just once before. In March 2001, Republicans overturned a Clinton administration rule on workplace ergonomics that was strongly opposed by business groups.

Spokesmen for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) have said they are also reviewing the law and would consider using it, in consultation with the new Obama administration (E&E Daily, Dec. 8, 2008).

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