All presidents indulge in end-of-the-term environmental rule-making, partly to tie up bureaucratic loose ends but mainly to lock in policies that their successor will be hard pressed to reverse. President Bill Clinton’s midnight regulations were mostly good, including a rule protecting 60 million acres of national forests from road-building and most commercial development. Not surprisingly, most of President Bush’s proposals are not. Exhibit A is a set of six resource management plans covering 11 million acres of federal land in Utah. They would open millions of acres to oil and gas drilling and off-road vehicles, risking priceless cultural artefacts and some of the most breathtaking open spaces in America.

Environmentalists are also suspicious of the Interior Department’s recent proposal to revoke a longstanding regulation that gives Congress and the interior secretary emergency powers to protect public lands when commercial development seems to pose immediate environmental dangers. Some of the administration’s recent regulations have been helpful — one tightening pollution controls on small engines like lawnmowers, another tightening lead emissions. But others could cause serious and lasting damage. And there are still three nerve-racking months to go before Bush leaves office.