Flood of administration regulations will slow to trickle as deadline nears

Flood of administration regulations will slow to trickle as deadline nears
© The Hill

The blizzard of Obama administration regulations appears to be coming to an end.

While legislative days could be added to the lame-duck congressional session, experts say the regulatory cut off is nearing for the administration to finalize controversial new rules without fear of them being overturned under the next administration. 

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Sam Batkins, the director of regulatory policy at the conservative American Action Forum, who originally estimated the deadline to be May 17, is now saying the drop-dead date is closer to May 23.  

“We counted seven more days the House had met compared to the original schedule, but again, the date could change next week,” he said. “The actual date won’t be known until the end of the session, but the administration and Congress generally do recognize it’s going to be sometime in May.”

Though rarely used, lawmakers have 60 legislative days under the Congressional Review Act to rescind a rule by way of resolution – a period that would start all over again under the new administration if the sessions comes up short.

But regulatory proponents argue the deadline is given more weight than is warranted.

“Agencies have their own timelines and they are often too long,” said Amit Narang, regulatory policy advocate for Public Citizen. “Trying to point to any particular date as the date agencies are strategically trying to time their decision making around is a stretch.”

While it’s not yet clear if the administration has released more rules in the past few weeks than have previous administrations nearing their regulatory deadlines, the agencies have certainly been busy.

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finalized a long awaited rule to give it the authority to regulate, for the first time, cigars and electronic cigarettes like other tobacco products under the Tobacco Control Act and this week, the Environmental Protection Agency set stronger standards for methane emissions from oil and gas companies.

The Labor Department last month finalized the controversial “fiduciary rule” that lawmakers are now trying to block, and just this week the agency finished a new rule to force employers in hazardous industries such as construction to report all workplace injuries and illnesses online.

But despite this purported deadline, the administration’s regulatory agenda won’t come grinding to halt. While the administration might want to get its most controversial rules finished in the coming week, it's expected to continue issuing rules through the end of Obama's term. 

Here’s a look at what’s still in the pipeline.  

 -- The Labor Department sent it’s hotly contested rule to expand overtime pay to some 5 million American workers to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review in March and groups were quick to set meetings with administration officials to ask for last minute changes.

Looking at OMB’s calendar, those meetings appear to have wrapped up on Thursday and business groups expect to see a final rule in the coming days.

The FDA’s proposal to update the Nutrition Facts Labels on food products went to the OMB for final rule at the end of April. In addition to a new format for the ingredient information, the agency has proposed adding a percent daily value for added sugar.

-- The U.S. Department of Agriculture has proposed making changes to the food stamp regulations to help low-income people access healthier foods. 

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, however, fear the rule will hurt those in need by prohibiting stores such as 7-Eleven, which mostly sell prepared and cold foods that can be heated up on site, from accepting the benefit. 

“This rule has always been about increasing access and choices of healthier food for low-income Americans,” the USDA said in a statement. “It is disappointing to see some take a position against increasing healthier food options for our low-income Americans.”

The agency said it extended the public comment period and will consider all feedback before moving forward with a final rule.

-- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has yet to finalize a new rule to limit workers exposure to beryllium, a lightweight metal used primarily in the aerospace and defense industries that’s known to cause a deadly lung disease.

The rule proposed in August called for lowering the current eight-hour permissible exposure limit from 2 micrograms per cubic meter of air to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter.

Earlier this month, Public Citizen called on the administration to expand the rule to cover workers in the construction and shipyard industries.