Wait ‘Til the Midnight Hour? Sure, When Midnight is 2001

By November 3, 2008Global Warming

The anti-jobs activist group, OMB Watch, has recorded great success in pitching the claim that the Bush Administration is rushing through a batch of “midnight regulations”  meant to circumvent the normal regulatory process. As we’ve posted, the Washington Post led its paper with the story last week and ABC-TV News accepted the thesis, as well.

Now comes a CBS Evening News story, in which reporter Jim Axelrod actually presents both sides of the issue, that of OMB Watch and the White House, effectively refuting the charges of regulatory expedience.

Of course, in doing so, CBS defaults to the activists’ issue-defining terminology, the claim that the White House wants to “roll back regulations controlling air pollution, weakening the requirement to upgrade costly emission controls.”


CBS’s co-marketing of the OMB pitch is a reference to “New Source Review,” an issue the Wall Street Journal addresses in its lead editorial today, “New Source Rescue“:

When environmentalists oppose regulations that yield environmental benefits, something is afoot. So it is with the gathering furor over a possible Bush Administration upgrade of U.S. clean-air regulations.

Senate Democrats Barbara Boxer and Tom Carper wrote to the Environmental Protection Agency last month expressing their “grave concern” about “this dangerous proposal.” House Oversight Chairman Henry Waxman is “gravely concerned” too, about the EPA’s “reckless disregard of legal constraints on its rulemaking authority.” The trio and the green lobby are already shouting about “midnight regulations,” the last-minute ritual at the end of every Presidency.

But this rule was first proposed in 2005, and the Administration may — or may not — get around to issuing a final verdict this week. The proposal would usefully reform a permitting test called New Source Review, or NSR, which requires power plants to install state-of-the-art pollution controls when they expand their generation capacity, thus increasing smog- or soot-forming emissions.


Mr. Waxman gives the game away when he claims that the new rule would increase carbon dioxide emission by 74 million tons annually, even though CO2 is not (yet) regulated under clear-air laws. What he really means is that without this rule change the EPA will soon force the decommissioning of a large portion of the U.S. coal-fired power portfolio under New Source Review. Some 71% of the national’s coal capacity is between 27- and 57-years-old, and environmentalists want to measure any emissions change as an “increase” so that these plants are shut down.

The latest regulatory proposal for NSR is from 2005, but the Administration — and the NAM — has been working on the issue since 2001. Hard to see how seven years of labor is a rushed-through midnight regulation.

In the CBS news story, OMB Watch’s Matt Madia is honest to admit the real objection is to the substance of the regulations: “It’s environmental issues, it’s workplace safety, it’s traffic safety.” OMB Watch also objects to the “common theme for a lot of these rules, is that they’re going to be for the benefit of industry.” And since industry is by definition bad, all the rules are bad.

In the case of New Source Review, the specific goal is to prevent the continued operation of coal-fired power plants, whether they’re cleaner or not. So the protests and shouting and crying about “midnight regulations” is nothing more a sexy angle to get the media to write a story. As a media strategy, it’s a clear success. As an honest contribution to the public debate, it’s a shameful failure.

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