How Trump is doing at cutting regs

How Trump is doing at cutting regs
© Greg Nash

President Trump is making headway on at least one campaign promise: cutting regulations.

Shortly after the election, Trump boasted that 75 percent of federal regulations could be eliminated, arguing that too much regulation was preventing businesses from growing and hiring. 

“We're going to be cutting regulation massively,” the president promised business leaders in January.

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Trump has issued a series of executive orders both directing agencies to find their own rules to repeal and hand-picking which regulations must go, including former President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

Earlier this week, Trump signed an executive order to streamline and cut certain federal permitting regulations to speed up transportation, water and other infrastructure projects. 

Here’s a look at how successful Trump has been so far in cutting down regulations.

Congressional Review Act

Trump took advantage of the obscure Congressional Review Act to repeal 14 rules that had recently been finalized under former President Obama.

The law allows Congress to roll back recent rules within a limited timeframe, and it prevents a filibuster in the Senate.

This has been one of the successes of the Trump administration so far.

Trump and Republicans in Congress used the CRA to kill rules making it harder for people with mental illnesses to purchase guns, forcing federal contractors to fess up to labor law violations committed in the last three years and preventing states from withholding funds for abortion providers like Planned Parenthood.

Dan Goldbeck, a research analyst for the conservative American Action Forum, called the repeals “historic” and estimated they would produce an annual savings of $1.1 billion.

Before Trump, the 1996 law had only ever been successfully used once before.

Republicans are now using it to repeal the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's attempt to prevent banks and credit card companies from stripping consumers of their right to join class action lawsuits.

The House has already passed a resolution of repeal. The Senate has 60 legislative days to act.

Critics of Trump acknowledge he has had some successes, but they say the regulatory wins fall far short of his vows — and come in a context of few other legislative wins.

“I would say the quote unquote success is only striking in contrast to his utter failure elsewhere,” said Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs for Public Citizen.

“After six months in office, most presidents would hope to say they’ve done more than tackle 14 rules. It’s nowhere near the things he’s promised and from our perspective that’s a great thing because those are public protections that need to stay in place.”

Two-for-one

Trump in January directed federal agencies to repeal two rules for every one they issue.

Experts say Trump has little to show here so far.

Wayne Crews, vice president for policy at the libertarian think tank Competitive Enterprise Institute, said there’s been a slowdown of agency rulemakings, but he hasn’t seen a flurry of two-for-one repeals.

“What you’ve seen instead is a disinclination to issue new rules,” he said.

By Crews’s tally, federal agencies released 1,509 rules in Trump’s first six months in office compared to Obama’s 1,865 rules.

Of those 1,509 rules, 99 were significant, meaning they carried an annual economic impact of $100 million or more. Obama in his first six months issued 173 significant rules.

“I would say in terms of what an executive can do alone within the rule of law, he's probably done about as much as can be expected,” Crews said. 

Public Citizen and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) have sued to squash Trump’s two-for-one order. 

The pro-regulatory groups claim the president exceeded his executive authority under the Constitution and that agencies cannot comply with the order without violating the laws under which they operate.

Regulatory Reform Task Forces

Agencies are charging on and looking for rules to eliminate.

Trump ordered each agency in February to create a Regulatory Reform Task Force to evaluate existing regulations and make recommendations to the agency head regarding their repeal, replacement or modification, consistent with applicable law.

Since then, agencies have released a flurry of requests for public input on which rules can be reworked or repealed.

Agencies must first ask for public comment under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) to change or repeal a rule, as noted by Labor Secretary Alexander AcostaRene (Alex) Alexander AcostaDACA is about more than just compassion America's workers deserve to get paid for burning the midnight oil Trump Cabinet members attended mining lobby meeting at Trump hotel: report MORE.

In a progress report on its regulatory reform task force in June, the Department of Education said it found 150 regulations for department offices to review

Climate rule changes

In March, Trump ordered the EPA to reconsider Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which limited carbon emissions for existing power plants and methane emissions for oil and natural gas drilling.

Trump scored a victory a month later when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed to put the case challenging the Clean Power Plan on hold to give the agency time to repeal the rule.

A federal district court judge sided with NRDC and other green groups in July that challenged EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s attempt to stay the methane pollution rules for 90 days.

EPA was also reportedly forced to walk back plans to delay the Obama’s administration ozone pollution regulations by one year after 15 states and Washington, D.C. sued the agency.  

NRDC claims the courts are serving as a safety net, enforcing the rule of law when it comes to health and environment.  

Scott Slesinger, NRDC’s legislative director, argues Trump’s actions have been blindly focused on cost.  

“You save a million by not having a requirement, but if you have a billion dollars worth of health impacts you are hurting more than you are impacting,” he said.

He claims Trump has this idea that he’s going to find useless regulations that just waste money, but that they don’t exist.