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CQ TODAY: White House Regulatory Overhaul Gets Lukewarm Response
May 27, 2011

Posted by Matt Dempsey

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White House Regulatory Overhaul Gets Lukewarm Response

By Geof Koss

May 26, 2011

Link to Article 

The Obama administration is receiving mixed reviews from lawmakers for a laundry list of steps that federal agencies plan to take to comply with a presidential order to streamline the regulatory process.

Jacob J. Lew, director of the Office of Management and Budget, cast the proposals released Thursday and affecting numerous federal agencies as the dawning of a new regulatory era.

"This is not a one-time project," he told reporters. "This is a new way of doing business."

The plans, issued in response to a January executive order directing agencies to streamline the regulatory process, would save billions of dollars while protecting public health and safety, Lew said.

Cass Sunstein, the head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, said the proposals cumulatively would save tens of millions of hours of paperwork.

For example, EPA, which has borne the brunt of withering criticism from Republicans over regulatory overreach, announced more than two dozen reviews of regulations, including numerous efforts to reduce reporting or permitting requirements.

The agency also plans to eliminate requirements for vapor recovery at gasoline stations, which a White House statement called redundant because many vehicles already contain equipment to prevent the release of fumes. The administration estimates the plan will save $670 million over 10 years.

Some of the EPA proposals track with the goals of proposed legislation, including efforts to better quantify the economic impact of regulations, bolster regulation of air pollutants and improve coordination of periodical regulatory "look backs" as required in law governing regulatory flexibility (PL 96-354.)

Also released Thursday were plans by the Interior Department to overhaul implementing regulations for the Endangered Species Act (PL 93-205), as well as plans by the Energy Department to tweak energy efficiency standards.

Sunstein, a constitutional law expert whose nomination to be the nation's top regulatory "czar" troubled critics on both ends of the political spectrum, said the overall focus of the plan is to "hard-wire empirical data" into the regulatory process, which he said would help to bridge the philosophical divide over regulation.

But the plans received a lukewarm response from lawmakers and interest groups.

Rep. Cliff Stearns, the Florida Republican who chairs the Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, slammed the White House for ignoring his request to submit the plans to him in advance of Thursday's release. He promised to "redouble our efforts to close the Obama administration's red tape factory and remain vigilant in protecting good paying jobs and fostering a new era of economic growth."

Some Republicans focused their criticism on particular regulations that they oppose.

"President Obama's actions are out of step with his talking points," said Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, ranking Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, who said the administration has "unleashed the most aggressive regulatory regime in American history."

"If the president truly wants to make a difference to job growth, he can begin by reining in the Environmental Protection Agency's stringent greenhouse gas regulations and water rules, which are unrivaled in the harm they pose to the American economy," Inhofe added.

House natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said the administration's proposals to update the Endangered Species Act regulations is an admission that the law itself is outdated and should be overhauled.

"Instead of choosing to exercise bureaucratic fiat, the Obama Administration should sit down and work with impacted communities and their elected representatives in Congress to enact improvements to the law that will actually bring species to recovery, end the debilitating costly lawsuits and utilize strong science to guide decisions in order to protect jobs and the livelihoods of rural Americans," Hastings said.

The House Republican leadership on Thursday reiterated its earlier pledge to pass legislation (HR 10) that would require congressional approval of federal regulations with significant economic costs.

But Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire applauded the effort.

"With a recovering economy, we must find a regulatory balance that maintains appropriate safeguards while still fostering job creation," she said in a statement.

The National Association of Manufacturers, a frequent critic of the Obama administration, called the proposals a "great step," but urged the White House to go further by addressing EPA rules on greenhouse gases and other power plant emissions.

"[M]anufacturing workers will not fully benefit until the crushing burden of proposed new regulations is brought under control," the group said in a statement.

The Coalition for Sensible Safeguards, which includes consumer groups, urged the administration not to abandon strenuous regulation, citing last year's Big Branch mining disaster and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. "Looking back is fine, but not at the expense of looking forward," the group said.

The liberal Center for Progressive Regulation slammed the entire review as politically driven, noting that Sunstein delivered a speech on the proposals before their release at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

"[The] administration's pandering to industry on this issue is in danger of doing long-term damage to the important business of protecting Americans from a variety of hazards," wrote Temple University law professor Amy Sinden for the group.

But Frank O'Donnell, president of the environmental group Clean Air Watch, described the EPA proposals as "relatively benign."


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