President Trump vowed Thursday to scale back the scope of federal regulations to the level it stood in 1960, suggesting that he could get there "fairly quickly" by pushing ahead with a deregulatory effort that has wiped dozens of rules off the books since he took office.
"We're here today for one single reason: to cut the red tape of regulation," Trump said of his tenure, adding that "the never-ending growth of red tape in America has come to a sudden, screeching and beautiful halt" under his administration.
Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs Administrator Neomi Rao told reporters later Thursday that while the deregulatory push has been "pretty impressive . . . I think returning to 1960 levels would likely require legislation."
The administration eliminated 67 regulations between the time Trump took the oath of office and the end of fiscal 2017, according to the White House's newly released "Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions," while proposing just three new rules. Those regulations included imposing restrictions on how dental offices dispose of mercury, stricter energy-efficiency standards for walk-in freezers and coolers, and a new billing and reporting system for skilled nursing facilities.
The initiative has eliminated $570 million a year in regulatory costs, Rao said.
"We're planning to keep up the deregulatory effort," she said, adding that undoing federal rules "takes time."
Trump touted that in its first 11 months, his administration had "canceled or delayed over 1,500 planned regulatory actions — more than any previous president by far."
"And you see the results when you look at the stock market, when you look at the results of companies," he added, "and when you see companies coming back into our country."
Many of those rules were either in the planning stages or, in the case of 244 of them, had languished for some time and have now been classified as inactive.
The president brandished several props for his Roosevelt Room appearance, including a chart detailing federal requirements for a highway project that was so lengthy that Chris Liddell, White House director of strategic initiatives, could not manage to fully unfurl it. Trump also stood by stacks of white office paper that embodied the extent of federal regulations in 1960 — which ran 20,000 pages, compared with the current regulatory code, which amounts to 185,000 pages.
As he took a pair of shiny scissors to the red ribbon that spanned the two piles, Trump declared, "We're going to cut a ribbon because we're getting back below the 1960 level, and we'll be back there fairly quickly."
Amit Narang, a regulatory policy advocate at Public Citizen's Congress Watch division, said in an email that Trump's move to require to offset the costs of any new regulation will delay needed public health protections.
The Environmental Protection Agency had nearly finalized an update to the nation's 1991 lead and copper drinking water standards just before Barack Obama left office. It announced Wednesday that it was seeking state input on the standards and projected in the Unified Agenda that it would not finalize the rule until 2020.
"EPA is evaluating the costs and benefits of the potential revisions and assessing whether the benefits justify the costs," the agenda reads.
"The latest unified agenda is a perfect illustration of the deeply harmful real-world impacts of Trump's deregulatory push," Narang said in the email. "Corporate interests may celebrate, but the public will pay."