The Trump Administration recently released its “Fall 2018 Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions,” the document laying out a broad picture of how the administration intends to approach regulation – or, more accurately, de-regulation – for the near future.
Released in October, the agenda describes an administration that is committed to its pursuit of aggressive deregulation across the federal government. The administration argues the agenda will “promote economic growth and innovation and protect individual liberty.”
With Democrats seizing control of the House of Representatives in the recent midterm elections, the White House’s path to major legislative accomplishments is blocked. As a result, it is likely to place an even greater emphasis on de-regulation, as the executive branch possesses broad latitude to re-write rules and regulations without Congressional input.
What’s in the Agenda
For more information on the specific proposals for each federal agency, you can visit the agenda document linked above. The agenda lays out what Americans can expect from their federal government agencies.
For example, the Environmental Protection Agency is looking at a number of significant new rules and regulations, as well as revisions to existing rules. One of the most prominent is a rule regulating the presence of lead and copper in the nation’s drinking water.
Obviously, the Trump Administration is not selling this agenda as one that will threaten the health and well-being of the American people. Instead, administration officials are claiming that its agencies will continue to cut “onerous” regulations and save businesses money – the administration calculates that it saved businesses more than $20 billion in the 2018 fiscal year, a product of cutting 176 regulations during that timeframe.
However, The Hill reports the White House released a report at the beginning of the year which found that the benefits of regulations passed between 2006 and 2016 actually outweighed their costs. Conservative critics of government regulations often focus on the easily observable costs of a regulation (new equipment, etc) while ignoring that the regulations can actually save money through reduced hospital visits, for example.
Administration officials merely responded that they don’t intend to cut regulations that “are working.”
Will Aggressive De-Regulation Work?
Regardless of how the administration frames this agenda, however, it’s clear that, in effect, it will amount to an aggressive attack on the existing regulatory state. That has been the Trump Administration’s philosophy since Inauguration Day – on issues as varied as power plant regulation, asbestos, student loans and the Endangered Species Act, the Trump Administration has shown that its priority is slashing regulations on American business.
The Administration has moved quickly to “deconstruct the administrative state,” in the somewhat grandiose words of former White House adviser Steve Bannon. The speed of these actions has, in part, represented an attempt to demonstrate the sort of focus and competence that has been lacking in most other parts of the Administration’s operations, especially as a Republican-controlled Congress failed to accomplish many of its stated goals.
But while both the right and the left have focused on the Administration’s regulatory attacks (though with much different tones), the actual effects of these actions are somewhat more nuanced. The portrayal of the Trump Administration as a lean, mean, regulation-cutting machine is simplistic – in fact, the Administration has often cut with more passion than skill, and that has come back to bite it in court.
Time after time, the Administration attempted to suspend or short-circuit existing regulations, only to have the federal courts rule that such suspensions were not legal. This has forced the various federal agencies to go back to the drawing board and write brand new rules and regulations.
And this is not a simple process. Despite some public misconception, the process for writing new regulations is complicated and time-consuming, and requires a great deal of analysis by agency staffers. Agency heads cannot simply wave a magic wand and erase an existing regulation.
Furthermore, each of these new regulations can be challenged in court by environmental groups and Democratic state attorneys general, of which there are now 27 after the recent midterm elections. In addition, a Democratic House with full oversight capabilities will attempt to shine a spotlight on how agencies are approaching their regulatory responsibilities, introducing a new dynamic to the conversation.
As a result, some of the Administration’s proposed regulatory rollbacks will almost certainly be delayed until after the 2020 election, adding even more urgency to that contest.