Over the next 12 months, the Obama administration is due to issue regulations governing everything from e-cigarettes to smoke-stack emissions in what experts predict will be a second-term rush to put rules in place before leaving office.
“In every administration, these things have to be wrapped up in at least the second to last year,” Cindy Skrzycki, author of “The Regulators: Anonymous Power Brokers in American Politics,” said in an interview. Skrzycki said 2014 will be an important year for agencies to get new rules under way.
It’s all part of what U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue yesterday called a flood of regulations that the business lobby intends to fight. “There is no such thing as a lame-duck president when it comes to regulations,” he said in a speech in Washington calling for a reform of rulemaking.
President Barack Obama’s administration so far has approved 240 economically significant rules -- those that have an annual economic impact of more than $100 million -- since taking office. That compares with 191 for the administration of President George W. Bush and 188 for President Bill Clinton over that same period of time, according to an Office of Management and Budget database.
A semiannual summary of regulatory actions in the works, published last week by the OMB, shows a full agenda. The White House has been reviewing since October proposed Food and Drug Administration regulations for electronic cigarettes. U.S. banking regulators this month plan to vote on the so-called Volcker rule to prohibit banks including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS:US) and JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM:US) from using their own money to make speculative bets.
In May, the Interior Department is expected to issue a final rule for hydraulic fracturing on federal lands, a move that could affect energy-services companies including Houston-based Halliburton Co. (HAL:US) and BP Plc of London. Also that month the Federal Aviation Administration is expected to propose rules for civilian aircraft drones, which Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN:US) wants to use to deliver packages to consumers.
“There’s usually a big rush in the last year, particularly if things have been delayed,” said Skrzycki, a former Washington Post and Bloomberg columnist.
Donohue said the chamber will use all of its resources to scale back what it views as regulatory overreach, including filing lawsuits and lobbying agencies and lawmakers.
Senate procedural changes last month allowing confirmation of most presidential nominees by simple majority, “will further accelerate the regulatory avalanche,” Donohue said.
Major rules issued by the Obama administration in its first three-and-a-half years cost as much as $46.3 billion annually, compared with $9.4 billion a year over the same period for Bush and $9.5 billion for Clinton, according to a draft report by the budget office in April.
The net benefits of Obama’s rules were almost four times those of Bush-era regulations, the agency said. The April study estimated that the annual benefits of major environmental rules -- such as reductions in health spending or premature deaths -- from from Oct. 1, 2002 through September 2012 were as high as $637.6 billion. That compares with costs of $36.5 billion to businesses, utility ratepayers and others.
Environmental regulations have net positive benefits and create jobs including those for pollution control, Daniel J. Weiss, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, which has ties to the Obama administration. He said claims that environmental rules harm the economy are false.
“We’ve got more environmental safeguards than ever before and yet the stock market is at a record,” Weiss said in an interview. “2014 will be the last year that you’ll be able to begin a rulemaking process and complete it before the president leaves office for anything but the most trivial of rules.”
For example, the Environmental Protection Agency in June is set to propose performance standards for greenhouse-gas emissions from coal-fired power plants, with a final rule expected a year later. Also up are regulations on food labels and health insurance, according to last week’s semiannual summary, called the Unified Agenda and Regulatory Plan.
The White House has said its efforts to cut red tape would save almost $6 billion by 2017. Emily Cain, a spokeswoman for OMB, which oversees regulatory policy, said yesterday that the administration has sought to protect public health while promoting economic growth.
“Through a series of ambitious steps, the administration has created a cost-effective, evidence-based 21st-Century regulatory system,” Cain said in an e-mail. She said the administration’s approach has been consistent, including careful analysis of the benefits and costs of government rules.
Diane Katz, a research fellow in regulatory policy at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, which describes itself as a conservative policy group, said the Obama administration has issued a flood of rules in its second term.
“The count that we’ve done indicates that the pace of new regulation is keeping up with what it’s been in the first term, which is largely unmatched by any prior administration,” Katz said.
Donohue said the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has led to scores of new rules. He said that potential EPA moves, including plans to lower levels of harmful ozone, limit greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants and study hydraulic fracturing, could lead to over-regulation.
“It’s 4,000 this year,” Donohue said. “Next year, with those big things that I told you about, it could be much, much bigger than that.”
Peter Van Doren, editor of the journal “Regulation” and a senior fellow at the Washington-based Cato Institute, which favors limited government, said lawmakers are to blame for the regulatory thicket because they write laws that give federal agencies wide room for interpretation.
“Presidents do have discretion on these things, but less than people think,” he said in an interview. “Congress is the problem.”
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