In what the White House calls a milestone in its effort to cut redtape, the Obama administration today said it was overhauling oreliminating five regulations -- including a Clinton-eraair-pollution rule -- in an effort to save $6 billion inunnecessary costs over the next five years. President Obama also issued a new executive order aimed at ensuring that federal agencies make regulatorystreamlining a part of their missions in years to come. "Smart rules can save lives and keep us safe, but there are someregulations that don't make sense and cost too much," Obama said ina statement accompanying today's executive order. "We will remainvigilant when it comes to eliminating regulations that are notnecessary or that impose unnecessary burdens on America's familiesand businesses." But the much-touted review has been eyed skeptically byenvironmentalists and other supporters of federal protections, whoworry that the administration is trying to curry political favor bythrowing open the rulebooks to revision by industry groups. Rena Steinzor, president of the left-leaning Center for ProgressiveReform, decried the effort in a blog post today as the "latestsalvo in the Administration's efforts to placate the businesscommunity." Republicans and industry groups remain cool to the effort, accusingObama of heading an administration that has produced an excessivenumber of costly regulations that hurt businesses. |
"President Obama's executive order might appear to be a small stepin the right direction but it does little to address thejob-killing regulatory costs his Administration has imposed in thelast three years," House Oversight and Government Reform ChairmanDarrell Issa (R-Calif.) said in a statement. "Rules imposed by hisAdministration including the 106 new major federal regulationsadded during his term have cost the economy more than $46 billionper year. These regulations impede job creation and stifle economicgrowth." Among the five regulatory changes announced today is a finalizedplan by U.S. EPA to phase out 18-year-old rules requiring gasolinestations to reduce air pollution by using special nozzles on gaspumps.
In 1994, EPA began requiring service stations in some areas to usevapor-recovery nozzles to trap harmful chemicals that can escapefrom gas tanks. But newer vehicles are built with their own systemsfor capturing those emissions. About 70 percent of cars, trucks andlight-duty vehicles have such systems, and last year EPA began theprocess of eliminating the nozzle rule. It's estimated that dropping the nozzles will save gas stationsabout $3,000 per year, and the White House said about $300 millionwill be saved over five years by eliminating the rule. EPA said ina release the phaseout process will begin later this year.
Among the rule changes is a Department of Transportation effort togive state and local governments more flexibility in adoptingnational requirements for street signs and traffic control. DOT isalso finalizing a rule that would give companies more flexibilityinstituting new train control systems on tracks that don't carrypassengers or toxic materials. The bulk of the savings from the rule changes announced today isexpected to come from two efforts to streamline regulatory andreporting requirements currently imposed on hospitals and otherhealth care providers. Those changes are estimated to save about $1billion a year over the next five years.
Executive order Along with the rule changes and executive order released today, theWhite House issued a report on the status of the governmentwide regulatory review process thatbegan with a January 2011 executive order that required executivebranch agencies to review all significant regulations and justifytheir costs with benefits. About two dozen agencies have already completed their rulebookreviews and more than 500 potential reforms have been identified,the report notes. In January, White House regulatory czar CassSunstein estimated that initiatives already under way would resultin more than $10 billion in savings. And while regulatory streamlining efforts have been undertaken byseveral other administrations, Obama charted new territory lastsummer when he asked independent agencies to join the effort.Today's report notes that 20 independent agencies have joined theeffort. ( Greenwire , July 11, 2011) Among the efforts being undertaken is a proposed rule beingdeveloped by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to eliminateredundant reporting requirements for natural gas companies.
Thechange is estimated to save $440,000 annually. And the White House hopes to keep racking up the savings byensuring the agency rule review process continues in the years tocome. Today's executive order requires agencies to report on theirreview efforts each January and July. Reactions The handful of changes to rules announced today was welcomed bysome industry officials, but, like Issa, they said there is muchmore to be done.
"The administration is taking steps in the right direction byeliminating regulations that could unnecessarily harm the economy,"said Howard Feldman, the American Petroleum Institute's director ofregulatory and scientific affairs. "For the sake of the millions ofAmericans still looking for work, we urge the White House toeliminate some of the largest threats to the economy like EPA'supcoming tsunami of unnecessary and burdensome regulations." During a break of an Oversight and Government Reform Committeehearing today, Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) questioned whenagencies would get around to assessing the red tape in the rulesthat have been passed on Obama's watch. Lankford, who chairs the panel's intergovernmental relationssubcommittee, said the real problem that needs to be looked into isoverlap and duplication of effort. He added that the best way toensure that the federal government continues to scale back red tapeis through congressional action, not continued executive orders.
"I don't mind regulatory look-backs, but you can't make itpermanent with an executive order," Lankford said. "That's notpossible unless he intends to be president forever." But Celia Wexler, who works on regulatory and scientific integrityissues for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that themultiple executive orders about streamlining federal regulationssend the wrong signal. Wexler said the ongoing effort by the WhiteHouse plays into the false narrative that regulation is inherentlybad and costly. "We had regulations when the economy was growing just fine, and alot of people would argue that it was a lack of regulation thathurt the economy in 2008," Wexler said. She added that the Obama administration's actions seem to encourageagencies to focus on tearing up their rulebooks "rather than theirmissions, which is protecting us, protecting the environment,protecting health and safety." Reporter Emily Yehle contributed.
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