In late July, while many of us were preoccupied with Republican Senators’ attacks on healthcare, the Trump administration released its first regulatory agenda (technically, the Current Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions). These routine updates are published so the public can see what they can anticipate from federal agencies in the way of rulemaking. (Celeste Monforton has been tracking the Department of Labor regulatory agenda for years.)
The Trump administration’s first entry into this genre is better described as a de-regulatory agenda. It’s a dizzying array of delays, abandonment of in-process rules, and decisions not to act for the foreseeable future on a wide array of public-health hazards. Fortunately for those of us who have insufficient time to digest the many horrors coming out of the Trump administration, the Center for Progressive Reform has sorted through the agenda specifics. CPR Executive Director Matt Shudtz aptly responded to the Spring 2017 Unified Agenda by stating, “We are watching the American safety net unravel before our eyes.”
CPR’s Rena Steinzor and Elise Desiderio took a look at the reg agendas for several agencies important for public health: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Department of Labor (DOL) Wage and Hour Division (W&H) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). They compared the Trump administration’s first regulatory agenda to the Obama administration’s final one and generated a striking set of charts. They report that the Trump administration appears to have abandoned 131 rules that appeared in the 2016 agenda but not the 2017 agenda. This is in addition to at least 42 rules that Steinzor and Desiderio identified as being delayed between January 20 and July 14 of this year.
Steinzor and Desiderio analyzed the kinds of rules that the Trump administration dropped to see if some rationale might be evident. The abandoned rules were “notable winners for public health, consumers, workers, and the environment,” and we don't have evidence that the hazards are effectively addressed by state governments, the market, or voluntary programs. So, they consider other explanations, writing:
Clearly, the administration had some kind of quota in mind and was slashing as many rules in both the proposed and final stages of development as possible. President Trump wanted to brag that he had cut hundreds of regulations. As devoid of a coherent policy explanation as this approach may be, we suspect something even more disturbing was going on.
We envision conference rooms at the Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, the American Petroleum Institute, the American Chemistry Council, the Heritage Foundation, and law firms along the K Street corridor. Occupants of these rooms are compiling lists of the rules that their constituents find irritating and unduly expensive in response to the White House siren song that anything and everything could get moved to the chopping block. Some of these organizations have released very public complaints against many of the abandoned rules, although no one has bragged about transmitting lists to the White House that were cut and pasted into the Trump regulatory agenda. President Trump, though, constantly extols his efforts to help business "thrive again" and even sent "landing teams" to the agencies soon after his inauguration to make sure they were brought under control. We cannot prove definitively that the cuts resulted from industry lists because participants aren't talking, but we are confident that's what happened.
Various blog posts from CPR legal experts take a closer look at problematic rule delays and losses from specific agencies:
Department of Energy: Hannah Wiseman explains, “The U.S. energy sector, finally catching up with the rest of the world, has modernized by leaps and bounds in recent years with the help of limited but targeted governmental support. But Trump's agenda would bring this all to an abrupt halt and send us skidding back into the dark ages of energy.” The Trump administration’s agenda slashes pending programming at DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy while repealing modest regulations on hydraulic fracturing and delaying (likely with an eye toward revising or rescinding) a rule on methane emissions from oil and gas wells on Bureau of Land Management lands.
Environmental Protection Agency: Matt Shudtz writes of EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, “the office is in a deep freeze, with nearly all actions delayed, save for a few items that are obvious handouts to favored industries. What's striking about this list is the degree to which regulatory delay and shifting priorities undermine a core function of toxic chemical regulation – protecting people from the hazards that can cost them dearly in terms of health, well-being, and the ability to earn a living.” Problems include delayed action on formaldehyde, lead paint, pesticides, and solvents, as well as slowing more than a dozen rules that would have increased public access to information on chemical manufacturing, releases, and hazards.
Food and Drug Administration: Steinzor and Desiderio highlight FDA’s proposed delay of a rule prohibiting compounding pharmacies from making or selling three drugs that are no longer for sale from manufacturers because they are either unsafe or ineffective. This rule, they note, came after steroid injections from the New England Compounding Center were contaminated with fungal meningitis, leaving 64 people dead and more than 700 seriously ill.
Housing and Urban Development and US Department of Agriculture: David Flores warns, “If we were a society that made substantial investments in community resilience, we might accept policies that curtail implementation of disaster assistance programs. But America has historically – and, with President Trump, will very clearly continue to – vastly and dangerously underinvest in pre-disaster mitigation, climate adaptation, and community resilience needs.” He notes that the Trump administration has halted USDA rules for assisting disaster-affected agricultural producers and low-income communities and appears to have abandoned HUD rules providing emergency housing for homeless individuals, veterans, and rural communities.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: Steinzor and Desiderio note the death of a rule that would have required heavy trucks to install speed limiting devices in order to reduce the death toll from crashes. The “free” market won’t fix this problem, they warn, because trucking companies hold so much power over drivers.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration: Katie Tracy asks whether OSHA is getting out of the worker protection business, citing the Trump administration’s weakening of recently finalized Obama-era beryllium standard, proposed delay of electronic reporting of workplace injuries and illnesses, and slow-walking of standards to protect emergency workers from on-the-job hazards, healthcare workers from infectious diseases, and workers in a range of industries from combustible dust fires and explosions. She writes, “The White House released the agenda amid what it called 'Made in America' week, but instead of recognizing workers and advocating for safe and healthy jobs and fair wages, Trump brought manufacturers to the nation’s capital to show off their products. When it comes to working families, Trump is ignoring what should be his highest priority – ensuring that every person who leaves home for a job in the morning returns at the end of the day without injury or illness.”
And looking at the big picture, CPR's James Goodwin writes, “All of this may seem like technical 'inside baseball,' but the Regulatory Agenda, if carried out as planned, would have significant real-world impacts on workers, consumers, families, and communities. It would place an especially heavy burden on the backs of the most vulnerable among us, including low-income and working-class families and communities, children, and workers in dangerous industries, while benefiting well-connected corporate special interests.”
Each of these abandoned and delayed rules involved countless hours of work from agency staff who used research, stakeholder input, and expert advice to draft rules and revise them based on public comment. This work can be undone quickly, though, and with little apparent thought for the lives that will be lost as a result.
UCS tallies assaults on science during Trump’s first six months (July 24)
Scientists join case against Trump’s 2 for 1 regulatory order (June 6)
Revolving door from chemical industry to EPA: No way to boost public confidence (April 20)
One step forward, two steps back. Dire consequences from Trump’s edict on regulations (January 30)