The rollback of health and safety regulations celebrated as an economic boon by the White House has just been quantified.
The Trump administration in just over a year has withdrawn or paused more than 1,500 ongoing rulemakings, according to a report released on Tuesday by the liberal-leaning Public Citizen.
“That vastly exceeds the number under President Barack Obama at a similar point in his administration and roughly parallels the number under President George W. Bush,” wrote Michael Tanglis and staff in the paper titled “Deregulatory Frenzy.” The paper analyzed 20 years of data from the unified agenda published by the Office of Management and Budget.
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“President Donald Trump has withdrawn substantially more rulemakings deemed ‘significant’ (279) than either of his most recent predecessors at this stage of their administrations,” the report said. Rulemakings are categorized as “significant” if they are projected to have an economic impact of more than $100 million or if they meet certain criteria, such as raising novel policy issues or affecting multiple agencies.
The agencies that have withdrawn the most rules deemed significant are the departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Justice and Labor.
“Trump is cutting the safety net out from under the very people he promised to protect,” said Tanglis, senior researcher for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. Examples include “one that would have addressed the hazards that led to the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster, which killed 29 people. Others would have protected workers from vehicles backing up, which are one of the top causes of workplace fatalities, prevented explosions from combustible dust and reduced emissions of the potent greenhouse gas methane.”
The Public Citizen paper followed on the heels of a broader narrative and compendium of the Trump rollback agenda written by Tanglis’s colleague David Rosen for the 160 nonprofits in the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards. Titled “The War on Regulation,” the coalition’s report characterized Neomi Rao, Trump’s administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Policy, as a “fox in charge of the hen house.”
Before her nomination, Rao’s research as a law professor at George Mason University “reflected a strong antipathy toward regulatory safeguards,” the report said.
“Our nation’s system of public protections is under attack as never before,” it continued. “This war on regulation—backed by private industry—carried out by the Trump administration, conservatives in Congress and private industry—is premised on a great deal of misinformation and misleading claims.” Trump and his appointees “would personally reap financial rewards from deregulation and antiregulatory policies,” Rosen wrote, the president having “surrounded himself with corporate Cabinet officials as well as ideological extremists who are hostile to government regulation of any kind.”
In surveying the deregulatory agenda in areas such as the environment, labor and finance, the paper argued that in contrast to Trump’s rhetoric, regulation is “broadly popular,” democratic in process and protects not only individuals but businesses by giving them certainty.
A similar message was delivered by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., on Tuesday to advocates gathered at Georgetown University Law Center. “The Trump Administration and an army of lobbyists are determined to rig the game in their favor, to boost their own profits—the cost to consumers be damned,” Warren said. “In agency after agency, across the federal government, powerful corporations and their Republican allies are working overtime to roll back basic rules that protect the rest of us. “
The reason, she said, is “corruption. Giant corporations and wealthy individuals are working in the shadows to make sure that government works for them, not for the people. To hide what they are doing, big corporations and Republicans here in Washington often claim that government regulations are bad for our economy,” restrict freedom and make it harder for businesses to succeed. “That’s a big, greasy baloney sandwich that has been left out in the sun too long and has started to stink,” she said.
Proper regulations protect consumer rights to information, health and safety, and also “level the playing field for everyone competing for our business,” Warren added, citing Environmental Protection Agency figures showing the now-threatened Clean Air Act saves 160,000 lives a year. “Competition shouldn’t be about who can hide the nastiest (and most profitable) trick somewhere in the fine print; it should be about who offers the choices that customers like best.”
Warren said she will introduce legislation in the next few weeks to challenge campaign contributions corporate lobbyists make to steer agency regulations.
The EPA alone is working on as many as 66 repeals of key rules, said Elizabeth “Betsy” Southerland who last August resigned in protest from EPA’s Office of Science and Technology, speaking at a subsequent panel discussion. Those repeals are being executed with consultation only with industry representatives, not career scientists or engineers, Southerland said, “with no evidence that the existing rules have technical or procedural flaws.” Because of the long-term rule-making process, she said, the full impact of this roll-back won’t be clear until 2024.