WITH A LAST-MINUTE Christmas rush, Bad Santa Bush and elves from various departments and agencies have gathered a bag of gag gifts - as in, they'll make you gag - to put under the nation's Christmas tree.
The quadrennial holiday tradition of "midnight regulations" continues. In 1980, President Carter wrapped up 10,000 additional pages of new government regulations for the Federal Register and left them tied with a bow for President Reagan. President Clinton gifted his successors with 26,000 pages of rules, all but 3 percent unreturnable (no matter how hard they tried.)
But George W. Bush is setting records for issuing new government rules and exemptions, apparently working from wish lists from his favorite corporate cronies. Bush has found the perfect stocking stuffers for Big Oil, Big Farms, Big Coal, and Unscrupulous Employers Everywhere.
Last week, we wrote about regulations that protect health-care workers who, claiming a right to conscience, can deny reproductive rights to patients legitimately seeking treatment.
There are other unwelcome presents beneath the tree, items that would make Dan Ackroyd's toxic toys from the old Saturday Night Live sketches look downright educational:
Eau de pig, scent of a chicken: A new rule allows factory farms to decide on their own whether it's dangerous to dump animal waste into local streams, while another rule also frees them from having to report air pollution.
Coal in your stocking, and elsewhere: A new regulation allows companies that already scar the countryside with mountaintop coal mining to dump waste dirt and rock into streams.
Leave the lead in: The federal government has exempted 100 companies from monitoring their emissions of lead.
Driven to Extinction: New regulations dispense with requirements that independent scientists review projects to determine if they would harm animals, almost gutting the Endangered Species Act. Rules against taking the effects of global warming into consideration may doom the world's polar bears.
Drill, Baby: The Bureau of Land Management has OK'd plans for environmentally harmful drilling for oil shale in 2 million acres in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.
A special "Christmas Story": Bring your Red Rider BB, Ralphie, and your concealed weapons, too: You now can carry personal firearms in national parks and wildlife refuges in many states.
X-Treme Immunity: Thanks to pre-emption language or rule changes, your right to sue corporations for injuries from bad toys, prescription drugs, mattresses, over-the-counter medications, seat belts, air bags, dietary supplements and more are severely limited.
Secret Code: Labor Secretary Elaine Chao developed a rule in secret that would make it much more difficult bureaucratically to protect workers from exposure to toxic chemicals. It would require that data on alleged dangers be compiled, not on its basic human risk, but on an industry-by-industry basis. President-elect Barack Obama asked Chao to reconsider the rule. In vain.