Four months after President Obama called for a government-wide initiative to identify outdated regulations that are stifling the American economy, the first results are in.
As announced today by Obama “regulatory czar” Cass Sunstein, agencies have identified a wide-ranging set of regulations to roll back, promising some welcome savings for consumers and the economy. Among the steps highlighted today by Sunstein:
- Eliminating an EPA requirement that gas stations maintain gas vapor recovery systems, a requirement that is redundant with air pollution controls required on cars today. Estimated savings: $67 million.
- Scaling back Department of Transportation requirements that railroads maintain automated anti-collision systems to areas where it is actually needed. Estimated savings: $400 million per year.
- Eliminating some 1.9 million hours of Occupational Safety and Health Administration paperwork, saving businesses some $40 million annually.
Other steps may ease burdens on airlines, medical device makers, hospitals, exporters, and more. This is good news, raising hopes that this initiative is more than the “phony war” it appeared to be.
However, it’s too soon for Americans to breathe a sigh of regulatory relief. Many of the steps announced today are the low-hanging fruit of regulatory excesses that should have been plucked long ago. For instance, Sunstein touted the repeal of a rule that treated milk as an oil, subjecting spilled milk at dairies to rules designed for oil spills. Pointing out its absurdity, dairy farmers asked as early as 2007 for its repeal. The fact that it took four years to get that accomplished is less a notable achievement than a sign of how broken our regulatory system is.
Many more “actions” are simply suggestions for change at a later date. For instance, only two actual rule changes were touted for the EPA. Of the 31 rules in the EPA’s formal plan, 15 are “longer-term actions” that officials have identified for review, and 16 are “early actions” that could lead to regulatory change.
Moreover, these proposed regulatory rollbacks will be far outweighed by new regulations being proposed by the Administration. Until the spigot of new rules is closed, or at least narrowed, net regulatory burdens will continue to increase.
The initiatives announced today are significant and encouraging. The Administration—and Cass Sunstein—deserve credit for undertaking an apparently serious review of federal rules and identifying regulations that are costly and unnecessary. It is only a small first step, however, on a very long road.