The White House’s Office of Management and Budget detailed Thursday how it would jettison hundreds of existing or planned regulations as part of its larger push to ease federal restrictions on the private sector, upending federal policies on labor, the environment and public health.
The list, issued as part of a semiannual report on the entire government’s regulatory agenda, shows the extent to which this administration is determined to erase many of the Obama administration’s policy priorities. In several instances, the administration is dropping rules aimed at tightening worker safety standards or omitting species the government had pledged to protect under the Endangered Species Act. In other cases, it is proposing new regulations that provide employers with more leeway in how they run their businesses or report their activities to federal officials.
The Trump administration said it was pulling or suspending 860 pending regulations. Of those, 469 were being completely withdrawn. Another 391 were being set aside or reevaluated. These proposed regulations could be revisited at some point or dropped altogether.
The rules the administration targeted govern everything — from the basics of everyday living, such as a product safety standard for mattresses’ flammability when it comes to cigarettes, to what sort of precautions construction firms should be required to take so their workers are not run over by other vehicles on site.
“I cannot express to you enough how much things have changed when it comes to the regulatory burden, the attitudes towards regulations, in this country, and you are just going to see more of that for the next eight years,” OMB Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters Thursday. “Our philosophy has been that the previous administration fudged the numbers — that they either overstated the benefits to people or understated the costs — and we are going to look at it in a much more pragmatic perspective.”
Consumer and worker advocates countered that Trump officials were scrapping critical government safeguards, and the implications of these actions could ripple across the country for years.
“These rollbacks of critical public protections will leave American workers, consumers and children vulnerable on a daily basis,” said Amit Narang, regulatory policy advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, “to risks such as air and water pollution, unsafe products and tainted food, dangerous workplaces and a newly deregulated Wall Street that once again could threaten economic collapse.”
President Trump has promised to eliminate 80 percent of all federal regulations, arguing that the plethora of rules is harming economic growth and making it harder for companies to create more jobs.
But OMB officials have suggested that could be very difficult to achieve because many regulations are written to enforce congressionally authorized laws, and the White House cannot unilaterally remove them.
Susan Dudley, who directs George Washington University’s Regulatory Studies Center, said in an interview that the agenda “does signify a slower pace of new regulatory actions,” although it was too early to know whether officials would follow through on their pledge to eliminate two regulations for every new one they propose, and ensure these actions did not add to the federal deficit.
Still, the White House’s updated regulatory agenda on Thursday shows that it is taking steps to freeze, slow or remove many pending regulations, some of which have been in the works — and at times, languishing — for years. For example, one proposal that the Trump administration is suspending would have created new standards for the way meat and poultry products are processed. That rule was first proposed in 2001.
Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a conservative economist and former Congressional Budget Office director, said in an interview that at the end of Obama’s second term “there was a lot of overreach” as it finalized a slew of rules, and the new administration is taking corrective action. Holtz-Eakin cited a recent study by the American Action Forum, a conservative think tank, which estimated that the previous administration’s regulations imposed a “cumulative burden” of $890 billion in compliance costs.
“There’s no question the Obama administration went too far,” Holtz-Eakin said. “The notion that you should stop and reexamine things is perfectly sensible.”
Manufacturers have also hailed these moves: In the National Association of Manufacturers’ most recent survey of its members, 80 percent say that Trump’s “actions on regulation are headed in the right direction.”
Raj Nayak, the National Employment Law Project’s director of research, said in an interview that the regulatory rollbacks touted in the new agenda have a consistent theme. “They are deemphasizing the projects that help workers,” said Nayak, who served as deputy chief of staff to Obama’s second labor secretary, Tom Perez.
The administration has touted several regulatory changes already, including the Environmental Protection Agency’s move to repeal a sweeping rule governing what water bodies qualify for federal protection and one limiting greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants.
EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said the agency’s move to withdraw 25 separate regulations reflects the administration’s “commitment to refocusing the agency on our core mission of protecting the nation’s air, water and land while reducing unnecessary regulatory burdens on Americans.”
And in late March, the Energy Department withdrew proposed regulations designed to make products more energy efficient. The regulations concerned gas-fired indoor or outdoor fireplaces, natural gas compressors and computers.
The list the White House issued Thursday was notable for what it said about its plans to address lower-profile measures that govern the operations of businesses and other regulated entities.
Mulvaney noted that many of these federal requirements often escape public notice: “None of them are very sexy, none of them are very glamorous, none of them really rise to the level of getting national attention.”
But they often have major implications for how companies operate and what sort of federal enforcement actions they will face.
The Labor Department, for example, removed from its long-term agenda a proposal to stiffen exposure standards for styrene, a chemical used in plastics that has been identified as a carcinogen, and 1-bromopropane, a chemical solvent that is a neurotoxin. It is also jettisoning plans to change permissible exposure limits for some substances that were set in 1971.
In a 2011 letter to the department, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wrote that given the fact that the permissible exposure limits were set four decades ago, they “do not reflect current technology or contemporary understandings of exposure levels and should be updated.”
“Clearly, what this administration is saying is that no further work will be done on health standards,” said David Michaels, who headed Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration under Obama and now serves as a public health professor at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health.
Labor Department spokesman Michael Trupo said department officials “are not commenting beyond what is in the agenda.”
In a major win for restaurateurs, Labor indicated Thursday it would reverse an Obama-era rule that prohibited them from sharing some of the tips that servers earning the full minimum wage received with other employees, such as cooks and dishwashers. The National Restaurant Association had challenged the 2011 rule, and there had been conflicting rulings from the 9th and 10th Circuit on whether the regulation was legal.
Angelo Amador, executive director of the association’s Restaurant Law Center, described the move as “a reaction to the years of litigation,” noting that the rule had been stayed since 2013.
Amador said that confining tips to just servers “creates a disparity” between them and those in “the back of the house” washing dishes and preparing the meal. “They’re all working towards the same goal,” he said. “If your food is burned or your plates are dirty, you might not get a good tip.”
But Nayak argued that by allowing the employer to pool tips, “It’s essentially subsidizing wages that the restaurant should pay. Fundamentally, the employer should not be taking a portion of the tips.”
And while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to designate protections for several species under the Endangered Species Act by Sept. 30, nearly a dozen of these measures are missing from OMB’s agenda. Federal officials are under court order to determine whether to list the Kirtland’s snake, a rare and secretive reptile in the Midwest, but there is no mention of the species in the document.
“Many of these species are highly imperiled and need all the protection they can get, said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity, an advocacy group.
Abby Phillip and Chris Mooney contributed to this report.