From today’s Washington Post:

Handing environmentalists a major victory, a federal judge yesterday overturned the Bush administration’s plan to allow hundreds more snowmobiles to traverse Yellowstone and other iconic national parks each winter.

U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan threw out the National Park Service‘s 2007 plan, calling it “arbitrary and capricious, unsupported by the record, and contrary to law.”

That’s possible, we suppose, depending on the record of how courts interpret the Organic Act that created the National Park Service in 1916. The Bush Administration certainly went through the full process of issuing proposed regulations, taking public comment, etc., and there was extensive input from groups and individuals who opposed the ban on snowmobiles. 

You know what was really arbitrary and capricious? Again from the Post:

The Clinton administration published a rule in late January 2001 that would have phased out snowmobiles in Yellowstone in favor of a system of public snow coaches, but Bush cancelled that plan and pushed for expanded snowmobile access.

Late January, as in January 22, 2001, two days AFTER George W. Bush was sworn into office.  The snowmobile rule was part of a slew of Clinton administration “midnight regulations” designed to pay off constituencies, evade accountability, and set up the next administration to stumble politically. Mission accomplished.

You can bet if the Bush Administration does anything similar, environmentalists will scream and the Post’s Juliet Eilperin will write accusatory articles about the manipulation of the regulatory process.

But, to its credit, the White House has sworn off “midnight regulations.” On May 9th, Chief of Staff Josh Bolten issued a memo (a copy is here), setting the deadline for new regs on June 1, specifically trying to stop last-minute regulatory enactments. (See The New York Times in “Administration Moves to Avert a Late Rules Rush” and a Bloomberg column, “Bush Aims to Stop Midnight Surge of New Rules.”)

As we noted in a previous post, the Bush position is almost a unilateral surrender politically. The next time a pro-regulation administration takes office, midnight regulations expanding government control of the economy will return to fashion, we’re sure.

But for now, credit to the White House for bringing a little bit of good government practices to the regulatory state. Now if we could only get judges to do the same.

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