Five regulations that could come in Obama’s final days

Victoria Sarno Jordan

The Obama administration appears committed to finishing as much of its regulatory agenda as possible before leaving office.

Republican lawmakers have warned the administration against issuing any “midnight” regulations in the waning days, saying they would be overturned.

Yet the Environmental Protection Agency on Dec. 19 defied those warnings, issuing a controversial coal mining regulation that sets new requirements for companies when testing and maintaining streams damaged by mining.

President-elect Donald Trump has already pledged to repeal the rule. 


Here are five other regulations that could be issued before Trump takes office on Jan. 20. 

Occupational safety

The Labor Department’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) is planning to release a rule that would reduce by 10 times the amount of beryllium that workers can be exposed to on the job.

Under the new rule, workers in general industry operations — foundry and smelting operations, machining, beryllium oxide ceramics, composites manufacturing and dental lab work — could only be exposed to 0.2 micrograms of beryllium per cubic meter of air over an 8-hour period.

The rule does not cover general industry workers in coal-burning and aluminum production or workers in the construction and shipyard industries who may also be exposed to the substance.

The lightweight metal is used in a number of industries, including nuclear weapons. Severe health risks, including cancer, are linked to exposure from its dust particles. 

While the new rules would sharply reduce the exposure limit, groups advocating for workers were pushing OSHA to go a step further and reduce the limit to 0.1 micrograms per cubic meter of air. 

OSHA expects the rule to cost companies $37.6 to $39.1 million a year to comply with, but save 96 lives a year and generate anywhere from $225.3 to $538.2 million in benefits annually.

Industry and labor groups have been pushing the rule for years. In 2012, the United Steelworkers (USW) and Materion Corp. — one of the biggest berylliun metal producers — submitted model standards to OSHA that they had created together to better protect workers.

When the rule was finally proposed in 2015, the groups issued a joint release praising the administration.

“We sincerely desire that the final standard be promulgated in the shortest possible time and we stand ready to assist OSHA in this regard,” Richard Hipple, Materion’s chairman and CEO, said in a statement at the time.

The White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) finished its review of the regulation on Dec. 16. The final rule is expected in January.  

Forced arbitration 

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is expected to finalize a rule it proposed in May that would prevent credit card companies from mandating that consumers go to arbitration over disputes.

Often slipped into the fine print, the arbitration clauses prevent consumers from bringing a suit against a company over fees or practices or from joining a class-action lawsuit.

Instead, people are required to resolve the fights through a third-party arbitrator that’s often chosen by the credit card company.

The CFPB said the public comment period closed on the rule in August, and the agency is in the process of reviewing the feedback it received.

The final rule is scheduled to be released in February. That would be after Trump takes office, so it’s possible that action could come sooner.

Incentive-based compensation

Financial regulators are poised to finalize rules that would delay compensation to Wall Street executives that are based on profits made from risky short-term bets.

The joint rule coming from six federal agencies is one of the biggest enforceable actions left to implement under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law.

The National Credit Union Administration said the proposed rule sets up a three-tiered system, based on asset size, that requires increasing levels of internal review of incentive-based compensation policies to ensure that compensation is aligned with the long-term goals of a company. 

Financial regulators said there is evidence that flawed incentive-based compensation practices contributed to the financial crisis that began in 2007. 

“Some compensation arrangements rewarded employees for increasing an institution’s revenue or short-term profit without sufficient recognition of the risks the employees’ activities posed to the institutions, and therefore potentially to the broader financial system,” the agencies said in the proposed rulemaking.


The Department of Energy is expected to finalize new energy efficiency standards for residential gas and electric stove tops and ovens that are designed to reduce energy costs and help with climate change.

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) introduced legislation in April 2015 to stop the Department of Energy from issuing the rules, but the bill never made it out of committee.

The Energy Department said bringing the stovetops and ovens into compliance with the rule — something that would be required within three years — could cost about 11 percent of the industry’s profits. 

Consumers, meanwhile, are collectively expected to save $4.7 to $11 billion over a 30-year period in reduced equipment operating costs under the new standards. The rules are also expected to cut carbon emissions by 41.1 million metric tons, according to the Energy Department. 

Public comments were due Nov. 2. The final rule is scheduled to be finished sometime in December.

Organic meat  

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) is working on new standards for how animals should be treated before meat is sold as “certified organic.”

To qualify for the label, livestock would have to live in an environment that allows for its natural behaviors and be kept in an appropriate shelter. 

Barns, pens, coops and other shelters, for example, would have to be big enough for the animals to lie down, stand up and fully stretch their limbs without touching other animals or the sides of the shelter. 

The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) is urging the USDA to withdraw the rule. The group says it would present serious challenges to livestock producers. 

Because animal welfare is not germane under the Organic Foods Production Act, the NPPC claims the USDA does not have clear authority to promulgate such rules. 

OIRA is now reviewing the final rule.

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