Dino Grandoni writes in the Washington Post that the Trump administration is rushing through actions that will be difficult for the Biden administration to reverse. One of them involves formerly protected wilderness in Alaska.

President Trump refuses to acknowledge his defeat in the 2020 election. But his outgoing environmental deputies are still hurrying to complete more than a dozen agency actions in expectation of hitting the exits.

With just two months until Joe Biden becomes president, Trump appointees at the Environmental Protection Agency and elsewhere are up against the clock to lock in rules changes. The last-minute efforts could affect everything from vast tracts of remote Arctic wilderness and air quality nationwide to the everyday showers and clothes dryers in people’s homes.

Biden has promised to undo many of the regulatory rollbacks completed over the past fours years. But some of the Trump administration’s under-the-wire rules could end up hampering the Biden administration from aggressively tackling climate change and other issues right out of the gate.

“The last gasps of the administration,” said David J. Hayes, executive director of the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center at the New York University School of Law, “have the potential to either be a speed bump or a potential roadblock for the new administration coming in.” His group has launched the “Midnight Watch Project” to track the end-of-term efforts.

One of the first of the last-minute moves since Election Day is in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. 

The Interior Department is set this week to ask oil and gas companies to choose where they want to drill in the untouched Alaskan wilderness. Should the Trump administration sell drilling rights within the refuge before Jan. 20, it may be very hard for Biden’s team to take back those leases.  

In 2017, Republicans in Congress opened nearly 1.6 million acres of caribou and polar bear habitat there to potential petroleum extraction. But it has taken until this year for the department to be ready to hold a sale on drilling rights.

Caribou in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP)Caribou in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP)
 

Frank Macchiarola, senior vice president of policy, economics and regulatory affairs at the American Petroleum Institute, told my colleague Juliet Eilperin that Trump’s team is “under a tight timeline.” But he added that the department is on legally solid footing: “Our view is that Congress has acted.”

Yet despite the 2017 law mandating a lease sale, Biden has promised to oppose drilling in the refuge, calling it “a big disaster to do that.”

When it’s all said and done, the Trump administration may finish a dozen significant actions before Biden’s inauguration.

In addition to potentially leasing within the Arctic refuge, officials aim to complete a plan to open up another vast area in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska to drilling and to auction off extraction rights on more than 4,100 acres in central California on Dec. 10.

Interior may also formalize a more narrow definition of habitat for endangered species before Jan. 20. It could also further water down prohibitions on the incidental killing of migratory birds — a change long sought by some oil companies whose uncovered oil waste pits attract waterfowl.

At the Energy Department, officials may exempt some clothes washers and dryers from energy-efficiency requirements and change the definition of a showerhead to allow more water to flow before Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris take office.

This last action reflects Trump’s pet peeve that his showerhead does not produce enough water when he shampoos his hair.