One of his first moves as president was to sign an executive order vowing to rescind two regulations for every new one his administration approved.
WASHINGTON President Donald Trump swept into office nearly two years ago promising to slash regulations that he said cost taxpayers and business billions of dollars and kept the economy from blossoming.
He wasted little time: One of his first moves as president was to sign an executive order vowing to rescind two regulations for every new one his administration approved.
Last December, he announced that his administration had cancelled or delayed more than 1,500 planned regulations — eliminating 22 regulations for every new regulation in the books. His administration also imposed a process that put limits on the costs of what each department’s regulations could cost the public. The latter move, said Diane Katz, a senior research fellow with the conservative Heritage Foundation, forced agencies to “choose their priorities and not just regulate everything it could.”
This October, his administration released a report finding that the Trump administration had cut regulations with a net savings of $23 billion in fiscal year 2018.
For Republicans, Trump’s push to slash regulations is a breath of relief for small businesses and farmers who say such rules limit their ability to innovate.
Rep. Bill Johnson, R–Marietta, said when Trump came into office, regulations cost the U.S. economy $1.8 trillion per year. That money, he said, “doesn’t pay an employee. It doesn’t produce a product. It doesn’t expand a building … It’s like having to get a permission slip.”
For Democrats, the push to deregulate can come at a deadly cost: Even as Trump lauds his rollback of regulations, they say, the air is getting dirtier, college victims of sexual assault aren’t receiving the same level of federal protection, and workers are more exposed to unfair labor practices.
“I’m always concerned when a president comes in and does the bidding of those who want weaker consumer protection rules, weaker mine safety rules, weaker food safety rules,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D–Ohio. He said the government “should be on the side of working families, whether it’s mine safety rules or Medicare or whether it’s safe drug research and safe prescription drugs.”
Brown and others concerned about the push to roll back rules worry that regulations that genuinely save lives and protect workers will be among those eliminated.
One analysis by Harvard University researchers Francesca Dominici and David M. Cutler found that the Trump administration’s environmental rollbacks alone could lead to some 80,000 extra deaths per decade as well as cause respiratory problems for more than one million people.
Erik Olson, senior director of Health and Food, Healthy People and Thriving Communities for the National Resources Defense Council, can pin down the impacts of deregulation even more specifically. Late last year, the FDA announced they were delaying rules enforcement that would block require testing of water used to irrigate leafy greens and other fruits and vegetables consumed raw.
The most recent outbreak of E. Coli–tainted romaine lettuce occurred not far from a factory farm where cattle grazed near an irrigation ditch upstream from the romaine. Olson said “it seems pretty obvious” that had those rules been enforced, the lettuce would’ve been less likely to be tainted.
“The opponents of the rules really only want to look at the costs, not at how the consumers have benefited,” he said. “So the basic focus is: Is this going to cost the industry a penny? And if it does, then they don’t want to have the rule.”
The flip side is this: While many of the rules are well-intended, some cause more inconvenience than protection.
Johnson said the growth of regulations in the mid-1970s quashed America’s great tradition of innovation.
“Big government came on the scene,” he said. “Richard Nixon brought in the EPA, Jimmy Carter brought in the Department of Energy and the Department of Education. Big government began mushrooming in Washington, D.C., telling the American people not only what to innovate, but when, where, why and how, taking authority away from the states and bringing it to a federal level.”
James Broughel, a senior research fellow with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, said in fact, the number of regulations went up in Trump’s first year in office. But that’s partly because to rescind a regulation, the federal government has to pass a regulation. It also takes a long time to repeal a regulation, which is why in some cases, the Trump administration has simply delayed implementing the rules instead.
Still, he said, “there’s been a significant slowdown in the production of new regulations relative to previous presidents. So we are seeing a lot fewer new regulations – especially big regulations that have a big economic impact.”
Still, when Trump boasted of eliminating 22 regulations per every new regulation, “it was not really an apples to apples comparison.” Some of the regulations had minimal impact, were routine or administrative and it’s also arguable whether a delay in implementation is the same thing as an outright act of deregulation. If the Obama administration proposed a regulation, and it was never finalized, for example, it’s unclear whether a different administration would have approved it.
“I think they’re struggling to find a lot of rules that they can either modify or repeal to generate savings,” he said. “A lot of what they’re doing right now is picking a lot of low-hanging fruit.”
Still, he said, “I don’t want to downplay what he’s done,” he said. “His regulatory reforms are beyond a doubt the most significant regulatory reforms we’ve seen in a generation.”
Some rules being examined are lightning rods. Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in early December announced a plan to roll back a federal clean water rule — called the Waters of the United States — that defines which bodies of water the federal government can regulate.
Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Lakeville, who attended the ceremony announcing the decision, said when the Clean Water Act passed in 1972, it was approved under the theory that the states would implement and enforce the act. The 2015 Obama-era rule expanded federal jurisdiction, implementing a “one-size-fits-all” policy that greatly expanded which water bodies were under federal jurisdiction. Trump, he said, right-sized that, so bodies of water such as the Erie Canal are considered federal waters, while smaller ditches on private property are not.
“I think the key term here is ‘common sense,’” he said. “Farmers, developers, business people, they all want to do what’s right. So this regulation helps them. It gives them certainty and clarity. The Obama rule was just all over the place. It had so much encompassing land under federal jurisdiction it really made things difficult.”
He said the revised rule “makes common sense and economic sense.”
“I’m a strong believer that we can protect the environment and grow the economy at the same time,” he said.
But Jon Devine, director of federal water policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the rule will protect both the streams and tributaries that help provide drinking water to roughly 117 million Americans and many of those same Americans from flooding.
Yes, that means costs for business, he said. But cleaning up polluted water is also expensive, as is paying for property damage caused by flooding.
“I don’t want to suggest this is cost free,” he said. “There are people who need to get permits before they fill in wetlands or streams or they need to prepare oil spill prevention pans. That doesn’t come at no cost … but the cost is outweighed by benefits that we are able to quantify.”