Muckraker: Grist on Politics

Within a few hours of inauguration on Tuesday, President Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel issued a memo [PDF] telling agency and department heads to freeze movement on 11th-hour regulations from the Bush administration. He wrote:

… no proposed or final regulation should be sent to the Office of Federal Register for publication unless and until it has been reviewed and approved by a department or agency head appointed or designated by the President after noon on January 20, 2009

Exceptions can be made for regulations pertaining to “health, safety, environmental, financial, or national security matters” — but of course it will now be the Obama administration determining what qualifies for those exceptions.

The memo also asks department heads to consider pushing back for 60 days the effective date for new regulations that have been published but have not yet gone into effect.

Among the rulings put on hold was the Bush administration’s revision to endangered species rules, which would have blocked the Endangered Species Act from being used to curb global-warming emissions and given scientists in the federal government less input on listing species. More to come on other environment-related regulations now on hold.

UPDATE: The freeze on publishing new regulations also means that the Bush administration’s controversial decision to take gray wolves off the endangered species list won’t go into effect.

Critter fans are applauding: “The past eight years have been a nightmare for wildlife. Fortunately, within hours of assuming office, President Obama has put the brakes on the Bush Administration’s 11th hour attacks on wolves and the environment. President Obama is a breath of fresh air,” said Brian Vincent, communications director for the group Big Wildlife.

Letting in the Sunlight

On his first full day in office on Wednesday, Obama signed two executive orders and three presidential memoranda on executive branch ethics. Though none were explicitly environmental, his new policy regarding the Freedom of Information Act will certainly be relevant for activists, reporters, and citizens seeking information about environment-related executive-branch activity. The order signals to government employees that the new administration intends to make information more readily available to the public. “The mere fact that you have the legal power to keep something secret doesn’t mean you should always use it,” said Obama in a press conference on Wednesday.

From the memo sent to the heads of executive departments and agencies:

The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears. Nondisclosure should never be based on an effort to protect the personal interests of Government officials at the expense of those they are supposed to serve. In responding to requests under the FOIA, executive branch agencies should act promptly and in a spirit of cooperation, recognizing that such agencies are servants of the public.

Here’s hoping these new directives signal an end to secret energy task forces, among other things.

After his press conference Wednesday afternoon, Obama met with four members of his economic team, including Carol Browner, White House coordinator of energy and climate policy.