Mr. President, Finish These Rules: CPR Report Identifies 12 Key Environmental, Health, and Safety Initiatives Administration Must Complete

by Ben Somberg

April 20, 2011

So far as regulatory safeguards are concerned, we've come a long way in 27 months. The Obama Administration started with federal agencies that had been devastated by eight years of an explicitly anti-regulatory president. Turning that around is not easy, and no President could do it in a day. So, as much as you see a lot of criticism in this space, you also see praise, because we've seen this Administration make important progress. From new rules on lead paint removal to construction crane safety to regulating greenhouse gases, there's a lot to applaud -- changes that will make real differences in people's lives.

But there are also a lot of rulemakings or other initiatives that fall somewhere in the "pending" category. Delay has a real cost in human health and lives. But the problem's not just that. It's that for many of these important safeguards, the administration runs the risk of not completing them at all, or not during this term. The political pressures against some of these health and safety protections in the name of maintaining industry business as usual can be huge.

A new CPR white paper today, Twelve Crucial Health, Safety, and Environmental Regulations: Will the Obama Administration Finish in Time?, identifies key rules that are critical but unfinished, and urges the administration to adopt a sense of urgency. Nine of the twelve regulations in the report are named as being in danger of not being completed during the President's first term. Those nine rules are:

  • New Source Performance Standards to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Petroleum Refineries and Power Plants (EPA);
  • Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard for light duty vehicles, model years 2017-2025 (EPA and NHTSA);
  • Guidance on the Scope of the Clean Water Act (EPA);
  • National Stormwater Program Rule (EPA);
  • Mountaintop Removal Mining Rules (Guidance for Applying Clean Water Act Permits to Mining Operations and Stream Buffer Rule) (EPA and Interior OSMRE);
  • Coal Ash Disposal Rule (EPA);
  • Injury and Illness Prevention Program (OSHA);
  • Pattern of Violations Policy (MSHA); and
  • Chemicals of Concern List (EPA).

The report says that three factors will play an outsized role in whether the Administration finishes in time:

  • Delays from the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, home to so-called “regulatory czar” Cass Sunstein. OIRA is at this moment exceeding its mandate in its review of three of the 12 rules, by missing legal deadlines, or by reviewing standards it lacks authority to review. The report calls on OIRA to stop delaying, and “either act or get out of the way.”
  • Needlessly protracted deliberations by the agencies themselves. In some cases, agencies are simply missing their own deadlines. The infant formula rule, for example, is more than a decade overdue.
  • Pressure from anti-regulatory interests. Political pressure from industry and its allies in Congress is inevitable. The question is whether regulators and the White House buckle in the face of that pressure.

As CPR President Rena Steinzor said in releasing the report, "We’re now 27 months into the Administration, and the practical window for getting some of these rules done will begin to close next summer. The hard truth is that we’re not seeing the necessary sense of urgency."

The CPR report is written by Member Scholars Amy Sinden and Rena Steinzor, and Policy Analysts Matthew Shudtz, James Goodwin, Yee Huang, and Lena Pons. A number of CPR scholars, acknowledged in the report, also contributed their expertise on particular regulatory issues.

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