Regulations to watch in 2015

With President Obama determined to leave his mark through regulations, administration officials are trying to finalize as many health and consumer safety protections as possible before his term runs out. 


Agencies such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration have a host of final rules on deck for what could be a burst of rulemaking in Obama’s final two years in office.

Rules that agencies are expected to finalize in the next year include safety standards for ATVs and electronic reporting of workplace injuries.

Here's a look at what the Obama administration has on tap.

Tobacco: Health advocacy groups hope 2015 will be the year the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) extends regulatory oversight to cigars, pipe tobacco and e-cigarettes.

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network has requested the administration release the regulation by April, arguing the FDA can assert jurisdiction through what is known as a deeming regulation.

The group notes that in that last two months, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Health both released reports showing a high use of e-cigarettes among teens.  

“FDA doesn’t even know what’s going into these products manufacturer by manufacturer,” said Gregg Haifley, the cancer action network’s director of federal relations.

“The marketplace has become a wild west and time is overdue to get a grip on these products,” he said. 

Waters of the U.S.: The EPA is going have to have a busy year in 2015. The agency is working to define “Waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act in a final rule that is scheduled to be released in April. 

The rule would cover streams and rivers that flow into larger bodies of water already protected under the Clean Water Act. In October, EPA extended the public comment for the second time to Nov. 14. 

Opponents say the administration is trying to regulate puddles in a massive “land grab,” while environmentalists applaud the agency as creating cleaner waterways.

Efforts to mitigate pollution in streams and wetlands could cost anywhere from $162 million to $278 million annually, but the administration says the benefits of reduced flooding and filtering pollution outweigh the cost. 

Power plants: The EPA is also planning to set new limits for existing fossil fuel burning power plants by July. 

The rule aims to cut carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030, a target that industry groups and GOP lawmakers argue will wipe out the coal industry altogether.  

While the EPA is also expected to release standards for new fossil-fueled electric power plants next year, Ronald White, director of regulatory policy at the Center for Effective Government, said the rule for existing power plants is the one getting all the attention. 

“No one is expecting coal fired electronic utility power plants in the foreseeable future,” he said. 

ATVs and off-road vehicles: The Consumer Product Safety Commission (DPSC) is expected to release new safety standards for all-terrain vehicles and recreational off-road vehicles next year. 

The vehicles have been known to roll over and seriously injure or kill the person riding them. In an effort to make them safer, the CPSC rules aim to keep passengers off ATVs with warning labels and require lateral stability measures and speed controls to be installed on recreational off-road vehicles.

Workplace injuries: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) aims to issue a final rule by August that will establish an electronic system for companies reporting workplace injuries and illnesses. 

“It’s the only final rule we’ll see from OSHA next year,” White said. “Things move very slowly in OSHA.” 

The administration wants to create a way to report workplace injuries on a timely basis while making the documents available to the public online.

Ozone pollution: The EPA is expected to issue final standards for ground-level ozone pollution in October, finishing what business groups have warned could be the costliest regulation in history. 

The agency released its proposal to lower the pollution threshold from 75 parts per billion to a level between 65 and 70 parts per billion under the Clean Air Act. 

Health advocates such as the American Heart Association have been lobbying for the strictest standard possible — 60 parts per billion. A byproduct of fossil fuel emissions, health professionals say exposure to ozone pollution can cause decreased lung function, swelling of the airways, increased risk of cardiovascular disease and low birth weights in children.

Though the agency has not released cost estimates for putting in place the standards, compliance costs for a 60 parts per billion threshold were estimated in 2010 to reach $90 billion.

Tank cars: New Department of Transportation regulations for trains carrying crude oil are expected to be ready by March. 

The stricter standards come after a slew of train accidents. An oil train derailed and killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec in July 2013. In November that year, another train derailed, spilling 750,000 gallons of oil in western Alabama, and in April of this year, a train that derailed in downtown Lynchburg, Va., burst into flames and spilled oil into the James River.   

The new federal rules set braking and speed restrictions for trains and phase out older model tank cars, so they can be replaced with cars that have thicker walls and rollover protections.

CEO to employee ratio: Liberal advocacy groups say the Securities and Exchange Commission’s rule on pay ratio, due out in October, is long overdue. 

The rule, which was ordered under the Dodd-Frank law, will force companies to disclose how much more their chief executive officers make than employees.

To comply, companies would have to disclose the median of total compensation for all employees, the total compensation of the CEO and a ratio between the two numbers — figures that businesses say are difficult to figure out.

“I think it’s pretty open and shut,” said Lisa Gilbert, director of Congress Watch, a division of Public Citizen. 

Human and animal food: FDA will spend much of the year finalizing new rules to guard against food borne illnesses. 

Rules coming out in August will force food manufacturers to have safety plans in place, perform hazardous risk analysis and implement safety controls. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48 million Americans get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from food-borne illnesses every year. 

The administration is expected to release similar controls for animal food next year. 

Produce: To further protect human food, the FDA is issuing new standards for how produce is grown, harvested, packaged and stored. 

A final rule, due out in October, will force farmers to test the water they use in irrigating covered produce and prohibit farmers from harvesting fields immediately after livestock have grazed.