Every federal agency will set up a task force dedicated to quickly finding regulations to eliminate, as mandated by an executive order signed Friday by President Donald Trump. It is one of a series of moves the White House believes will free U.S. businesses from the bonds of health, safety, consumer and environmental protections.
Surrounded by executives from some of the nation's largest corporations, Trump made clear his anti-regulatory drive is a large part of his jobs-creation plan.
Although Trump did not mention climate change in the order, this step to rein in the regulators is intended, among other things, to constrain their actions to control emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants from fossil fuels.
"Every regulation should pass a simple test," Trump said as he signed the order. "Does it make life better or safer for American workers or consumers? If the answer is no, we will be getting rid of it and getting rid of it quickly."
The regulatory reform task forces will be required to report on their progress within 90 days.
The White House issued a statement saying that the Obama administration had finalized more than 3,000 regulations, at a total cost to the American taxpayer of $873 billion. The White House has said the figure was from the American Action Forum, a conservative advocacy group run by Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who served as director of the Congressional Budget Office from 2003-5. But the White House did not mention that American Action Forum's figures also show that the calculated benefits of the Obama era regulations outstrip the costs by more than 3-to-1 ($458 billion annually in benefits to $139 billion annually in costs.)
In taking up the cause of "regulatory reform," Trump is following in the footsteps of virtually every one of his predecessors. It was a central theme of President Ronald Reagan's domestic policy, and President George H.W. Bush established a "Council on Competitiveness" in the White House to cut red tape. In President Bill Clinton's administration, the effort was called "Reinventing Government," and was headed by Vice President Al Gore. President George W. Bush kept in place an executive order his predecessor had penned, but his White House rejected more agency-written rules during his first year than were sent back to agencies in all eight years of the Clinton administration.
President Obama, too, issued an executive order calling for a government-wide review of regulations to reduce costs and to get rid of "absurd and unnecessary paperwork requirements that waste time and money."
The Trump executive order cites the previous orders by Clinton and Obama—keeping them in place and directing the new task forces to carry out regulatory reform "consistent with the law."
Although each administration was able to count successes in reforming regulation—whether in number of pages of eliminated from the Federal Code, or bureaucracies trimmed—each also added to the federal rule book, often responding to new laws written by Congress or new policy imperatives. Under the second Bush administration, a large number of regulations were written for the new Homeland Security agencies. President Obama's administration for the first time finalized regulations to address climate change.
Environmental groups were quick to warn that Trump's executive order would be used to weaken protections at the behest of polluters. "President Trump is rigging the system so corporate lobbyists can lower standards that protect the public health and safety of all people in this country," Tiernan Sittenfeld, vice president for government affairs at the League of Conservation Voters said in a statement. "These task forces will attempt to roll back commonsense protections for the air we breathe, the water we drink and the lands we cherish."
Said Greenpeace spokesman Travis Nichols, "The Trump administration wants less government, except when it wants more to carry out its oil and gas industry agenda."
The American Petroleum Institute's president, Jack Gerard, applauded Trump's order, citing 145 new rules and regulations affecting the industry in recent years. "Today's action by President Trump will unleash innovation across the nation, and it will allow our economy to grow, help lower energy costs for consumers, and help American workers," he said in a statement.
Trump said he was aiming to create jobs by reducing regulatory burden. "Excessive regulation is killing jobs and driving companies out of our country like never before," Trump said. "[It's] reducing wages and raising prices. I've listened to American companies and American workers complain, and I've been listening to them for a long time.
"The regulatory burden for these big companies and for small companies is an impossible situation, and we're going to solve it very quickly."
The new edict follows Trump's first executive order on regulation that required two rules be eliminated for every one an agency finalizes. That order already faces a legal challenge by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the watchdog group Public Citizen. They argue that Trump exceeded his Constitutional authority by interfering with the authority vested in Congress, preventing federal agencies from carrying out the law as Congress mandated. The Trump administration has until the beginning of April to respond to that suit.
One of the Trump administration's earliest actions upon taking office was to impose a regulatory freeze on federal agencies. Such a move is typical in a transition to a new administration, but observers said the Trump freeze was broader than usual, even halting new rules that had already been published in the Federal Register.
The administration is expected to issue more executive orders to rein in regulations in the days ahead, including one aimed specifically at repealing the Obama administration's signature climate initiative, the Clean Power Plan.
Among the chief executives who appeared with Trump at Friday's signing were Ken Frazier of the pharmaceutical giant Merck; Marillyn Hewson of the aerospace contractor Lockheed Martin; Andrew Liveris of Dow Chemical; and Juan Ricardo Luciano of Archer Daniels Midland.