Obama’s year in regulations

Obama’s year in regulations

With time running out on his presidency, President Obama looked to muscle through his regulatory agenda in 2015. 

From the Environmental Protection Agency’s new regulations on power plants and water protections to the Labor Department’s push for stronger overtime standards, the Obama administration was in a rush to get its regulatory agenda completed before a new president takes office.


Here’s a look at some of the biggest regulatory fights of the year.

Power plant rules

The EPA took major strides toward implementing President Obama’s climate agenda in 2015. 

Perhaps no rule was more controversial than the EPA’s carbon emissions limits for existing power plants.

Power plants will be required to cut emissions by 32 percent by 2030, the EPA announced in August.

This is a significant part of Obama’s climate legacy, but GOP presidential candidates assailed the rule and say his efforts to save the planet will destroy the coal industry and lead to higher energy costs.

Obama used the pocket veto to reject a congressional measure to overturn the carbon rule.

Separately, dozens of states are challenging the rule in federal court.

Ozone limits

The GOP is also up in arms over the EPA’s new ozone limits for air pollution.

The EPA announced in October it is tightening the ozone standard to 70 parts per billion (ppb), imposing tougher restrictions on communities than the previous standard of 75 ppb.

Business groups call it the most expensive regulation in history, with the National Association of Manufacturers suggesting the rule could cost $1.1 trillion to comply with.

But climate activists hoped the EPA would have gone further by lowering the standard to 65 ppb.

The Obama will be forced to defend the ozone rule in court. It is facing lawsuits from industry and a handful of states.

Clean water rule

The EPA is also defending a new water pollution rule from Republican criticism. 

The EPA is already responsible for regulating major bodies of water, but the new rules would give the agency more authority over smaller water sources like streams and ponds.

Farmers are concerned the EPA could misuse the rule to regulate small puddles on their lands.

Republican lawmakers have pushed back against the rule. While dozens of states are challenging the rule in court.

Overtime protections

The Department of Labor (DOL) is pressing ahead with new overtime protections that would raise pay for nearly 5 million workers.

The overtime rules would ensure that blue-collar employees are paid time-and-a-half when they work more than 40 hours in a week.

Most workers do not qualify for overtime pay under the current standards. Anyone who makes more than $23,660 per year is not eligible.

The new overtime standard would raise the cutoff limit so workers who make less than $50,440 qualify for time-and-a-half pay.

Fiduciary rule

The Labor Department’s proposed rules for retirement investment advisers have also generated much controversy in the financial industry.

The so-called fiduciary rule survived a challenge from business groups in the recent government spending bill.

Retirement advisers would be required to act solely in the best interest of their clients under the fiduciary rule.

The Obama administration argues the rule will protect investors from bad retirement advice. But Republicans say it could drive up the price for consumers and keep some from seeking out advice.

These rules play a big role in the Obama administration’s fight against income inequality.

Democrats say they will raise millions of hard-working Americans out of poverty. But Republicans say they are unfeasible.

Union election rules

If the EPA was the most controversial regulatory agency in 2015, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) was a close second.

The GOP’s on-going grudge match with the labor board reached new heights this year.

Congressional Republicans voted to overturn the NLRB’s union election rule, which speeds up the process by which workers can organize.

They referred to it as the “ambush election” rule, because they say it wouldn’t give companies enough time to prepare for union elections.

But President Obama blocked their efforts, arguing that the rule would protect workers from workplace intimidation against organizing.

The union election rule survived multiple court challenges from business groups.

A few months later, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that companies can be held responsible for the labor violations of their business partners and contractors.

The labor board reasoned the move would protect employees, who often times have no one to blame for mistreatment in the workplace.

But critics assailed the joint employer ruling as fundamentally unfair to business.

Housing rules

The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) bid to diversify America’s wealthiest neighborhoods triggered a fight over racism.

The housing rules released in July aim to root out segregation across the country.

The Obama administration reasons the rules will provide more opportunities for minorities and low-income individuals to live in nicer neighborhoods. But Republicans call it “social engineering.”

The HUD also proposed a smoking ban at government-assisted housing facilities in November.

The smoking ban is intended to protect hundreds of thousands of public housing residents from secondhand smoke. It would apply to lit cigarettes, cigars and pipes. 

E-cigarette rules

—The Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) electronic cigarette rules have set off an intense regulatory battle on Capitol Hill.

The FDA faces pressure from Republicans and Democrats, as well as health and industry lobbying groups, over the e-cigarette rules it sent to the White House for final approval this fall.

The Obama administration fears e-cigarettes could attract a new generation of youth smokers. But Republicans and industry groups say they could also help ween smokers off more harmful traditional cigarettes.

The e-cigarette rules could help contribute to President Obama’s legacy on tobacco.

Drone regs

—The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released new drone registration requirements this month that have been a magnate for criticism.

Drone users will be charged $5 to register their unmanned aircraft with the federal government.

But critics say the long-awaited rules amount to a “drone tax.”

Bullet rules

—The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) enraged Republicans and gun rights supporters when it floated the idea of a ban on armor-piercing ammunition.

Republicans said the bullet ban infringed on the Second Amendment, but Democrats argued it only applied to bullets that are used in assault weapons.

In a rare defeat for the Obama administration, the bullet ban was so unpopular the ATF withdrew the proposal a short time later.

That angered gun control advocates in Congress.

A flood of legislation from both sides of the aisle followed.


President Obama is preparing to hand down a number of controversial executive actions on guns.

The White House announced the executive actions in October, but is still working on the final details. The president has limited authority to unilaterally expand background checks, experts say.

But Republicans are looking to block the moves.

Pay gap

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued a controversial rule this summer that will require public companies to disclosure the pay gap between their top executives and other employees.

The CEO pay disclosure rule set off an intense lobbying battle between business and labor groups.