Business groups brace for deluge of regs

Business groups brace for deluge of regs
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Business groups are bracing for an onslaught of regulations, with the Obama administration bent on completing a host of the president’s unfinished policy goals and the midterm elections now in the rearview mirror.

Agencies across federal government are expected to drop a host of major rules over the next few months, with regulations running the gamut from calorie label requirements on restaurant menus to new rules for hydraulic fracturing and air pollution.

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There are at roughly two dozen major rules that are scheduled to drop between now and late January, according to a review of the administration’s official regulatory agenda and rules now awaiting approval at the White House.

Groups including the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Petroleum Institute said they are most concerned by expected costs associated with a slate of rules now in the pipeline at the Environmental Protection Agency. 

“The EPA’s regulatory march is very concerning to the business community,” said Matt Letourneau, spokesman for the Chamber’s energy institute. "We’re fighting these regulations,” he added. "We’re trying to encourage EPA to listen to our concerns. We’re hoping EPA backs off or changes course.”

Environmental and public health groups are urging the administration on, arguing that the public’s wellbeing should come ahead of industry concerns.

“We need to cut back on smog to protect people’s health,” said David Goldston, director of government affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Critics from both the left and the right suggest the White House might have timed some of these rules to drop after the midterm elections because of election-year politics.

“It’s not surprising that the Obama administration would hold back some of these big regulations for political reasons,” said Sam Batkins, regulatory director at the conservative American Action Forum. “There’s more than one instance of this happening over the past few years.”

The White House Office of Management and Budget, where the rules are reviewed said Tuesday stressed that regulatory decisions are based on an assessment of several variables.

"The Administration is committed to a regulatory strategy that maintains a balance between protecting the health, welfare, and safety of Americans and promoting economic growth, job creation, competitiveness, and innovation. Our goal is to maximize the effectiveness and benefit of the rules we complete."

Ahead of the 2012 presidential election, critics accused Obama of twisting then-EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s arm into dropping a controversial ozone rule that would have established stronger air quality standards but could have also been a drag on his reelection campaign.

This time around, with Senate Democrats in the hot seat, the administration elected to hold off on issuing the rule until after the election, despite a pressing Dec. 1 court-ordered deadline. 

Environmental and public health organizations say the ozone standards are long overdue, but business groups warn the forthcoming rule would reflect the “most expensive regulation in history” coming in at a $270 billion per year in industry compliance industry cost, according to a study from the manufacturers group. 

Currently, the ozone standards are set at 75 parts per billion, but the EPA is expected to lower the level of permissible air pollution to between 60 ppb and 70 ppb, which business groups say would be nearly impossible for communities to reach.

“Even in some national parks they can’t meet the ozone standards,” said Heath Knakmuhs, senior director of policy at the Chamber’s energy institute.

The ozone standards are just one of several controversial rules the EPA is scheduled to release in the coming months.

The agency is also working on a rule that would protect ground water from being contaminated with coal ash that power plants dispose of. The final coal ash rules are due by Dec. 19, according to a court-ordered deadline.

It is also due to finalize standards as early as Jan. 8 that would limit carbon emissions at newly constructed power plants — though this rule has taken a back seat to even more controversial emissions limits at existing power plants. Those regulations won’t be released until next summer.

The EPA is running behind on issuing the renewable fuel standards for 2014, which are expected to come out before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, other regulatory agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are preparing to drop their own set of rules that have business groups scrambling.

The FDA’s menu labeling rules could shake the restaurant industry. Under the plan, eateries could be required to post calorie counts on menus, which they say would cost the industry billions of dollars.

The rules would also affect delis and bakeries at grocery stores.

“This would effectively make a grocery store count the calories of every item every time they cut a piece of fruit or bake a cake,” said Rob Rosado, director of government relations at the Food Marketing Institute.

“It’s not like a burger joint, where they make all of the sandwiches the same way,” he added.

But public health groups say the rules will help consumers make healthier food choices.

“People’s diets are considerably worse when eating out, because they eat more calories, saturated fats, salts, and fewer fruits and vegetables,” said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

“It’s very easy for people to end up eating almost their whole day’s worth of calories in a single meal at a restaurant,” she added.

The menu-labeling rule could drop by the end of the year, experts say.

Also potentially coming any day are BLM regulations for hydraulic fracturing, requiring companies to disclose the chemicals they use while drilling for natural gas, experts say.

“Fracking has a major impact on the landscape and can pose risks to water and air quality,” Goldston said.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is also pushing through new rules for trains carrying hazardous materials that could be ready early next year, experts say.

This comes in response to several recent high-profile train crashes that have led to oil spills and other hazardous materials leaking into the environment.

“We’re seeing increasing amounts of oil being transported by train, and some of it is very volatile,” said Amit Narang, regulatory policy advocate at the left-leaning Public Citizen. “All the communities along these train routes are at risk, and many aren’t even aware of it until an explosion occurs."