The Bush administration has a little more than two months left in office, but those two months promise to be an exciting -- and probably distressing -- time for those of us interested in federal land policy. The administration hopes to change a number of administrative rules before it rides into the sunset, and none of these changes is going to make environmentalists happy. One of the first is today's issuing of final oil shale leasing regulations, which theoretically make it possible for oil shale leasing to take place on at least 2 million acres of land in the West. Obama will probably re-write these regulations after taking office. But rewriting federal rules takes time -- often several years -- so it's conceivable that the Interior Department could sell oil shale leases before Obama manages to put in place any new rules limiting or banning oil shale development. More likely, Interior will have to expend a lot of time and resources working on a replacement rule. The outgoing administration will, if nothing else, leave the incoming administration with a royal headache.
It's common for an administration to issue controversial (and likely-to-be-overturned) new rules right before leaving office -- the obvious (though not exactly overturned) example being the Clinton Roadless Rule. But the Bush administration is working on an impressively long list of of eleventh-hour rule changes. These changes would, among other things, make it easier to conduct mountaintop-removal mining, weaken emissions standards at power plants, and significantly weaken the Endangered Species Act. The administration also plans to auction a number of oil and gas leases near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in Utah -- a move that the Obama administration would not be able to undo. A relatively pro-environment president may be getting ready to take office, but it looks like things are going to get worse before they get better.