The Trump Administration and Republican leaders in Congress have launched 2017 with several early actions on an agenda that, if implemented, would represent a tectonic shift in the U.S. regulatory landscape, particularly in the areas of environment, labor, health and safety.
Nominees and Advisors
The president’s nominees to head key agencies – Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt for the Environmental Protection Agency and burger chain executive Andy Puzder for Department of Labor – are widely known critics of the federal bureaucracy and government overreach. Pruitt led states’ efforts in recent years in major lawsuits against EPA. Puzder, who battled regulation in California, has warned that overly strict labor laws will lead employers to replacing workers with machines. Both nominees are now awaiting Senate confirmation.
The president also recently named activist investor and billionaire Carl Icahn as his special advisor on regulatory overhaul. He promised a regulatory moratorium and a rollback of key Obama Administration executive orders and memos on a host of topics. That’s exactly what’s transpired since Trump took office.
The President’s EPA transition team chief, libertarian think-tank advocate Myron Ebell, recently called the environment movement “the greatest threat to freedom.” He suggested last week that EPA’s budget should be cut by two-thirds, from 15,000 to 5,000 employees.
Executive Orders and a Regulatory Freeze
The President just this week signed an executive order promising that going forward for each new regulation issued, two old regulations would have to be eliminated. In announcing the policy, he noted “we’re cutting regulations massively for small business – and for large business” and that the annual impact on the economy of government rules would be “no greater than zero.”
The order follows an Inauguration Day memo from the President’s Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to all departments and agencies. The directive would freeze a number of recently finalized regulations for a 60-day review period. It also instructed agency heads to also consider delaying effective dates for regulations beyond the 60-day time period. The temporary moratorium on regulations is not uncommon for incoming presidents.
Indeed, several major rules that the Obama administration was speeding to the finishing line will be held up. Among them is the Department of Labor’s controversial overtime rule to boost worker pay, along with several EPA regulations. Another on the slate is a rule to make hardrock mining operations show the financial ability to pay for contamination clean-up if closed. This is the first in a series of rules that EPA has anticipated would affect a range of industries in the future, including surface finishing.
Regulatory Reform Legislation on Capitol Hill
On Capitol Hill, Republicans with control of both legislative chambers on Capitol Hill have moved swiftly in the first few weeks of the new Congress to reshape the future of regulation. In its first week back in Washington, the House began action on and approved several regulatory relief bills, including:
- the REINS Act (Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny) – requires Congress to approve any agency rule estimated to have more than a $100 million cost on the U.S. economy;
- the Regulatory Accountability Act – requires agencies to complete a number of steps on a proposed rule, including weighing the direct and indirect costs and benefits of their rules on jobs and economic growth; and
- the Midnight Rule Relief Act – allows Congress to repeal in a single vote any rule finalized in the last 60 legislative days of the Obama administration.
Since passage in the House, the Senate is now reviewing these measures, but Democrats have promised opposition there. The bills were passed by the House in earlier Congresses but were never previously acted on by the Senate.
In addition, House leaders have assembled a first short list of major Obama-era rules for repeal in the coming days. Republican leaders have promised to use their legal authority to scuttle the regulations under a rarely used legislative tool, the Congressional Review Act. The law, enacted in 1996, has been successfully invoked by Congress only once. In 2001, Republicans used it as President George W. Bush took office to overturn a major OSHA workplace ergonomics standard from the Clinton Administration.
EPA – Selected Regulatory Targets
Several major environmental regulations that the Trump administration has targeted for elimination, reform or delay include EPA’s Clean Power Plan to set carbon emission limits on power plants, the agency’s revised ozone standard and EPA’s controversial Clean Water Rule, which would determine which rivers, lakes, streams and ponds are subject to federal jurisdiction. The U.S. Supreme Court just this month agreed to hear arguments in litigation over the water rule. For surface finishing, EPA is still reviewing whether to propose tighter wastewater discharge limits for the industry, and NASF will continue to work closely with EPA and the Trump administration to inform the agency’s decision.
Department of Labor and OSHA – Selected Regulatory Targets
One of the most controversial labor regulations advanced by the Obama Administration has been the overtime rule. The rule, which would have raised the salary threshold for exemption from overtime pay, was blocked by a Texas district court judge just before it went into effect on Dec. 1, 2016. Both the incoming White House and Republicans in Congress have argued the rule should be scrapped, along with a growing list of other Obama-era labor rules and decisions from DOL, the National Labor Relations Board and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
On workplace safety matters, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s efforts to make major changes in recordkeeping and reporting for business have been opposed by a range of industry groups, including NASF. Among these have been OSHA’s final electronic reporting rule to put injury and illness records of employers on the internet, and the agency’s pending final rule that would allow OSHA to cite employers for alleged injury and illness recordkeeping violations up to five years old, an extension much longer than the current limit of six months.
It’s only January, and a profound shift is underway in Washington. The regulatory agenda will be in a center spotlight this year, along with further action on tax reform, trade, immigration, health care and infrastructure. NASF has been closely engaged at the agencies and will continue to monitor and inform decisions that impact the industry as the year unfolds. Look for new updates on specific issues in play in the coming weeks and months. In the meantime, we look forward to having you join us for the NASF Washington Forum in the nation’s capital on Apr. 25-27, 2017. For more information, go to www.nasf.org.