President Reagan's 60-day freeze on government rule making yesterday galvanized lawyers, lobbyists, bureaucrats, legislators and business people all over the city into frenzied efforts to figure out just what he had done and what it might cost them.
It was immediately apparent that the Reagan team may have missed snagging some controvesial regulations it wanted to stop, halted others that everyone agrees must go through right away, and canceled pending truces in some bloody wars.
Within hours of Reagan's attempt to put the government's regulatory process on hold, general counsels in every agency were hard at work drawing up lists of affected rules. It wasn't easy and it isn't done yet in most places.A White House list of 119 "candidates for postponement," rapidly proved incomplete and misleading, including some in error and omitting others.
The fastest scramling may have occured at the Food and Drug Administration when lawyers discovered that the freeze would make it illegal for countless manufacturers of drugs, food products and cosmetics to use the 23 most common coloring additives after tomorrow.
Taken literally, the freeze would have banned thousands of consumer products, since there is hardly a single processed food, lipstick or vitamin that isn't decorated with some artificial coloring from the FDA list.
An FDA rule allowing the additives expired today and
But the FDA's reaction was not take the order literally. While some officials complained to the Reagan deregulation team, others were writing to the food, cosmetic and drug manufacturers telling them not to worry. Robert Lake, regulatory coordinator in the FDA's bureau of foods, said he was certain the coloring additives would qualify for an emergency exemption from the freeze that is permitted under the president's order. "Somebody will explain that to them," he said.
At the Environmental Protection Agency, three controversial sets of regulations appeared to have escaped the net of the freeze by being under court order to go into effect, although the point was in dispute. One was a set of amendments to rules on the toxic metals and chemicals that electroplating plants are allowed to send to local sewage treatment plants in their wastewater.
The original rules were "one of the most controversial things we ever promulgated," according to Steven Schatzow, deputy assistant administrator for water regulations and standards, because they were expected to shut down 20 percent of all electroplaters. After a lawsuit from the National Association of Metal Finishers, a consent agreement reached last March outlined a compromise that was set to go into affect next month. It still might; no one is sure whether the consent decree constitutes the kind of court order that exempts a rule from the freeze.
Similarly, the Reagan team thought that their action would ice EPA rules that tighten controls on water pollution from the masonite, plywood, insulation board and other timber products industries. An administration spokesman said the rules, pending for the last four years, were unrealistically severe and should not become a precedent for similar water rules soon to come out for 30 more industries.
The American Forest Institute once estimated that the pending regulations woul cost the timber people $1 billion (although EPA's estimate is $31 million), and a spokesman said yesterday that if the freeze works, it would be "a very positive step in the direction of regulatory reform."
But the timber industry rules may be exempt because of the 1976 consent decree that ordered them written, even though it only specifies that rules for all 30-plus industries must be out by the middle of this year. Nobody is sure.
A second target of Reagan's staff also involves the timber industry. A Labor Department rule issued in the final days of the Carter administration extends federal "prevailing wage" labor payment to most federal timber contracts.
Gene Bergoffen, assistant vice president of the National Forest Products Association, said that most timber firms employ nonunion labor or organized workers making less than "prevailing" rates and that if the regulation stands, higher labor costs for the timber firms would ultimately increase prices consumers pay for wood products. Lower wage rates are all right for at least the next 60 days.
At the Fish and Wildlife Service, the future of the Hawaiian tree snail may be in the balance. Urbanization of its Oahu island home has been decimating the numbers of the unique snail, so a citizen petitioned for its inclusion in the endangered species list in late 1979. Hearing were held, data collected and public comment was heard, and the inclusion was made final Jan. 13, to be effective Feb. 12. But now the snail will have to hang on without federal protection for another 60 days.
Still another target was a Labor Department regulation redefining and increasing the numbers of workers in private industry who must receive overtime payments under federal labor rules. Reagan aides want to halt this one in its tracks for further review, but a lawsuit is certain to follow a definite freeze on the labor rules, according to Alan Morrison, director of litigation for Private Citizen, an advocacy group.
The Reagan order does not by itself freeze regulations but directs Cabinet secretaries and department heads to so do to any that are not covered by Reagan's exemptions. But Labor Secretary-designate Raymond J. Donovan had not been confirmed by the Senate, and no EPA administrator has been selected. Acting EPA Administrator Walter C. Barber said he expected "no big disruptions" with what he called a "breathing period to sort everything out."
Although some rules may appear to have enormous legislative and political history behind them "there's always an option to develop a proposed alternative rule and go through the process again," he said. "People invariably petition for reconsideration on everything we do anyway."
In some cases, the freeze threatened to block pet regulations of Congress, including a new ruling by the Immigration and Naturalization Service that provides specific limits on the time foreign students may spend in this country pursuing an education. The change followed the uproar over the actions of Iranian students here after the late shah was overthrown and the U.S. Embassy seized in Tehran.
For a time, it appeared the freeze might have disrupted the regulations protecting the Atlantic tuna fishing grounds from overfishing. Then a closer check by officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed that only a minor change in the fishing rules had been iced.
Two highly controversial regulations in the Office of Surface Mining appeared to be included in the freeze. They define prime farmland in terms of its history or legal status for purposes of deciding whether it can be mined, since strip mining law requires reclamation and restoration. Debate over the rules, proposed last June, was simple, according to an OSM spokesman: "It was 'do you want to produce meat or coal?"
The frost also caught West Virginia's abandoned mine reclamation plan, postponing for 60 days the state's ability to ask for federal money to help it reclaim old mine wastelands. And it stopped the Farmers Home Administration from extending low-interest loans to middle-income families previously excluded.
But it didn't stop two Department of Transportation regulations over the transport of radioactive materials through towns. Although they were on the White House list of 119 affected rules, they aren't scheduled to go into effect until Feb. 1, 1982.