January 31, 2017

Relief from Harmful Regulations: Week One

  • President Obama, the “regulator-in-chief,” buried the American people and small businesses under an avalanche of regulations.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for the most costly regulations.
  • Congressional Republicans and the Trump administration have vowed to provide much-needed regulatory relief and have already taken steps to keep this promise.

Last August, the New York Times dubbed President Obama the “Regulator-in-Chief.” The newspaper explained: “Mr. Obama will leave the White House as one of the most prolific authors of major regulations in presidential history.” The Environmental Protection Agency was the biggest contributor to this legacy.   


Under President Obama, the EPA finalized 192 regulations that came with a cost to the economy. By the agency’s own estimates, these rules accounted for more of a regulatory burden than any other office in Washington. The total cost of EPA’s regulations over the last eight years was more than $344 billion.


On the day after the election, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy wrote to agency staff, “we’re running – not walking – through the finish line of President Obama’s presidency.” Between Election Day and inauguration, the Obama administration issued hundreds of rules, with a total cost of $157 billion. These “midnight rules” at the end of an administration tend to be sloppily written and legally vulnerable, often rushed through interagency review and the regulatory process. President Obama’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs advised in December 2015 against midnight rules. It called on federal agencies to issue rules by the summer of 2016 “to avoid an end-of-year scramble that has the potential to lower the quality of regulations.”


The Trump administration has already taken steps to provide a much-needed pause on new red tape for states, job creators, and the American people. Hours after President Trump was sworn into office, chief of staff Reince Priebus issued a memo to the heads of executive departments and agencies that included:

  • A freeze on any new regulations until reviewed by an official in the new administration
  • A “clawback” of Obama regulations not yet published in the Federal Register
  • A 60-day delay of Obama regulations that have not gone into effect

Previous administrations have issued similar memoranda on inauguration day. Given the extraordinary number of midnight rules by the Obama administration, the Priebus memo is already having a significant effect, particularly at the EPA.

On January 24, the EPA published a list of 30 regulations that will be delayed until March 21 and subject to further review. Even this relatively brief delay will give the public some relief. The list includes rules relating to air quality models and infrastructure plans in states such as Wisconsin, Louisiana, and Michigan. It also includes:

  • Volumes for the Renewable Fuel Standard; estimated to cost $1.6 billion; published December 12, 2016; original effective date of February 10
  • Standards for formaldehyde in composite wood products; estimated to cost $105 million; published December 12, 2016; original effective date of February 10
  • Updates to the Risk Management Program for chemical facilities; estimated to cost $132 million; published January 13; original effective date of March 14

EPA also withdrew three Obama rules pending review by OIRA, including a federal plan for oil and gas facilities estimated to cost more than $100 million annually. EPA’s move to pull back the rules under OIRA review gives the Trump administration the opportunity to reconsider them.

Issue Tag: Energy