EPA Easily Met Trump Deregulatory Goal, Agency Watchdog Says (1)

Aug. 9, 2019, 4:43 PMUpdated: Aug. 9, 2019, 4:56 PM

The EPA outdid the goals of the Trump administration’s “two-for-one” deregulatory policy by nearly seven times, according to an Aug. 9 report from the agency’s internal watchdog.

In so doing, the Environmental Protection Administration also achieved $96.6 million in regulatory cost savings over fiscal 2017 and 2018, the agency’s Office of Inspector General said.

Under a February 2017 executive order, the White House told agencies to identify and take steps to remove two existing regulations for every new one they issue. Agencies could also comply with the order by striking down old rules without bringing forward new ones.

The EPA undertook 26 deregulatory actions and only rolled out four new regulatory actions in fiscal 2017 and 2018, according to the inspector general.

The biggest-ticket item was the EPA’s decision to postpone compliance dates for effluent limitations guidelines for steam-electric power plants. That action saved $64.5 million, the report found.

The EPA wasn’t the only agency to overperform. The Interior, Labor, and Treasury Departments scrapped old rules without introducing any new ones over fiscal 2017 and 2018, according to the report.

‘A Symbolic Effort’

Cary Coglianese, a regulatory law professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, said the order is largely a “political gimmick” that signals to voters that the administration is freeing up industry and the public by rooting out unneeded, nonsensical regulations.

But the order doesn’t require agencies to take the benefits of the regulations into account, only their costs.

“It’s a bit of a symbolic effort without a real basis in sound public policy decision making,” said Coglianese, who directs the Penn Program on Regulation. “Sound decision-making would want to take both costs and benefits into account.”

Other analysts have also been critical of the bluntness of the two-for-one approach. Unnecessary and overly burdensome regulations do exist in the Federal Register, but they must be surgically excised and not haphazardly torn out, the critics say.

The EPA said it “engaged in a robust stakeholder process to identify potential deregulatory actions,” according to a spokesperson.

California, Oregon, and Minnesota in April sued President Donald Trump and several top cabinet officials over the administration’s requirement, contending that it violates the U.S. Constitution’s separation-of-powers principle.

Several other countries, including the U.K., have also tried the two-for-one approach. The U.K.'s National Audit Office found in 2016 that the effort “misses the point by not truly reducing burdens on businesses where they feel them most.”

Trump has frequently hailed his deregulatory actions as a landmark achievement of his presidency.

“My administration has cut more regulations in a short period of time than any other administration during its entire tenure,” Trump said in his 2019 State of the Union address.

(Adds EPA comment in 11th paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephen Lee in Washington at stephenlee@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Chuck McCutcheon at cmccutcheon@bloombergenvironment.com; Anna Yukhananov at ayukhananov@bloombergenvironment.com

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