Inside Trump’s war on regulations

“The push to block, rewrite and delay scores of Obama-era rules may be the administration’s biggest untold success.”

Ironically, this is statement many environmental professionals would agree with:

“I think it’s something that’s just been lost on people in terms of the regulatory sediment that has built up — decade after decade after decade in many of these areas,” [Andrew Bremberg, director of the White House’s Domestic Policy Council] said in a telephone interview. “You’re talking about legislation that was either passed at the beginning of the last century or somewhere in the middle of the last century, amended a couple times here and there, but whose statutory structure has largely stayed the same. Yet the regulatory structure has just layered — layer after layer after layer on a seemingly constant basis.”

But a legitimate overhaul would involve engaging multiple points of view; be conducted in an open and transparent process; and take time. Moreover,. Congress would have to be part of the solution: many statutes need to be updated to make the law better reflect our improved scientific understanding. That ain’t what’s happenin’ here.

And NEPA – the law that forces agencies to take public health and environmental considerations into account when making decisions – is also in the crosshairs.

“The administration also hopes to advance its deregulatory agenda through legislation to promote its infrastructure plan, which White House officials said will include an overhaul of the federal permitting process. That will include a push to revise the National Environmental Policy Act, a 1969 law that Republicans say slows projects’ approvals with overly burdensome environmental assessments.”

Article excerpts below.

“If successful, these efforts could represent the most far-reaching rollback of federal regulations since Ronald Reagan’s presidency, especially if Trump’s proposed budget cuts make it hard for a future Democratic president to reaccelerate the rule-making apparatus. But Trump’s retrenchment faces multiple obstacles, including his slow pace in naming political appointees and his team’s overall inexperience in navigating the federal bureaucracy…

— At the 100-day mark of his presidency, Trump had a patchy record of keeping campaign promises. But not so with the regulatory rollback, report Politico’s Andrew Restuccia and Nancy Cook. They describe how the deregulatory sausage is being made with factory-like efficiency: “The fight is getting personal attention from Trump, whose desire to streamline regulations and speed up permits originated with his decades-long career as a real estate developer, according to people who have spoken to the president and his top advisers. Which regulations the administration should eliminate often comes up in Trump’s White House meetings with CEOs, according to three people briefed on the meetings. Executives who meet with the administration often name regulatory reform as their top agenda item, even ahead of tax reform, according to officials have held discussions with hundreds of business leaders.”…

Trump signed off on congressional actions that used a seldom-invoked 1996 law to block four energy-related rules, including an anti-corruption regulation that required oil and gas companies to disclose their payments to foreign governments. He has also ordered the EPA to review — and most likely rescind — two sweeping Obama-era rules, one restricting power plants’ greenhouse gas pollution and one spelling out Clean Water Act protections for wetlands and waterways.

The administration has left the fate of several regulations in limbo by persuading federal judges to postpone action on legal challenges filed by industry groups and GOP-led states. Such delays have affected EPA’s power plant climate rules, along with regulations on toxic mercury pollution and smog-causing ozone. Administration lawyers have similarly sought to delay court action on rules regarding overtime pay, anti-union “persuaders” and Obamacare’s birth control mandate.

The fight is getting personal attention from Trump, whose desire to streamline regulations and speed up permits originated with his decades-long career as a real estate developer, according to people who have spoken to the president and his top advisers. Which regulations the administration should eliminate often comes up in Trump’s White House meetings with CEOs, according to three people briefed on the meetings.

Trump’s efforts go well beyond reining in individual rules. He has issued broad directives meant to speed up environmental reviews for“high priority” infrastructure projects, ordered a wide-ranging review of tax regulations and created a task force to examine laws and rules that affect rural America, in addition to Ross’ review of impediments to domestic manufacturing.

The president has also directed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to conduct a comprehensive examination of financial regulations, with the first report expected to come in early June…”

“The administration might have some visions of what they want the agencies to be doing — not just about reversing course from the Obama years but advancing the jobs agenda or ‘America First,’” said Philip Wallach, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and expert on the administrative state. “Those moves require skillful coordination of the bureaucracy rather than a deconstruction of it.”

“If you don’t have political leadership in the agencies, then you’ve handed the keys to the bureaucrats,” said Jay Lefkowitz, who was OMB’s general counsel under President George W. Bush.

Even one White House official acknowledged that the administration’s unfamiliarity with government is getting in the way of restructuring it.

“In order to reshape it, you need to have an understanding of how it works,” said the official, who requested anonymity to speak freely. “I have not seen a lot of it among the folks I have worked with so far. It is an issue of folks not being able to get out of their own way.”…

One career government official argued that Trump’s political appointees don’t understand the complexities of undoing regulations, which requires additional cost-benefit analysis, public comment periods and a lengthy process to rewrite rules — not to mention inevitable legal challenges.

Inside Trump’s War on Regulations

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