Obama to scale back regulations in effort to spur economic growth

The Obama administration announced 30 plans Thursday to scale back or eliminate hundreds of federal regulations and save American companies billions of dollars in unnecessary costs.

The proposals, the latest attempt by the administration to burnish its pro-business credentials, will affect workplace safety, environmental protection, endangered species and a number of other areas. Many of the changes involve reducing paperwork or eliminating redundancies in the law.

Cass Sunstein, a Harvard Law School professor who leads the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, will lay out the proposed changes in a speech Thursday morning at the American Enterprise Institute.

One of the proposals, by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, would ensure that required hazard labels and classifications in the United States are the same as those used in other nations, which could save companies $585 million a year.

Another, by the Environmental Protection Agency, would eliminate the requirement that states install a system to protect against fuel polluting the air at gas stations, since modern vehicles already have these systems. That would save up to $67 million a year.

Regulatory experts and corporate America will be looking to see whether the administration has paid lip service to the idea of scaling back unnecessary regulations or has in fact taken meaningful steps.

The proposals will be subject to public comment periods.

“The purpose of the review was to identify rules that need to be changed or removed because they are out-of-date, unnecessary, excessively burdensome, or in conflict with other rules,” said a statement by the Office of Management and Budget, which is coordinating the review. “It was an ambitious first step toward ensuring that all the regulations on the books are having their intended effect, and at the lowest possible cost to American businesses, states and individuals.”

The proposals come after President Obama signed an executive order in January requiring all federal agencies to review regulations and find those that are not worth their cost. The review is part of a renewed effort by Obama to cultivate ties with corporate America after a testy first two years.

Obama, cognizant that political attitudes in Washington had turned against using government spending to stimulate the economy, turned to business earlier this year. He dedicated his State of the Union to the notion of American competitiveness, and followed that up with speeches on education and green technology, which he said were crucial to assuring the nation’s top spot in the global economy.

The president pressed free trade deals with South Korea, Panama and Colombia favored by U.S. companies and named General Electric chief executive Jeffrey Immelt to lead a jobs council of chief executives and other experts on the economy.

After months discussing the deficit, Obama will spend the coming weeks renewing his jobs message, flying to Toledo to visit a Chrysler plant next week and then holding the second meeting of his jobs council in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., on June 13.

Among other proposals to be outlined in Thursday’s speech is an OSHA rule that would free businesses from filling out unnecessary government forms. The departments of Commerce and State will undertake steps to make it easier for U.S. companies to export products. And the Department of Health and Human Services will review duplicative requirements facing hospitals and doctors, such as having to enter the same information into databases multiples times.

Zachary A. Goldfarb is a staff writer covering the White House, focusing on President Obama’s economic, financial and fiscal policy.
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