Joan Claybrook, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration during the Carter administration, had an immediate reaction when informed of President Trump’s executive order requiring that federal agencies scrap two existing regulations for every new one adopted.
She burst out laughing.
“That’s a completely illogical way of doing things,” she told the Los Angeles Times, which captured and reported her response. “It’s going to harm the public. People are going to die if you start eliminating safety standards.”
The executive order requires the “savings” from ending the two existing rules to match the cost of implementing the new rule. This is definitely Head Smacker material: costs are defined solely as administrative burden. If a rule reduces air pollution and therefore reduces the rate or severity of asthma, health care costs will decline. Allowing the pollution to worsen will increase asthma and related health costs. But none of the benefit to the public can be counted; only the cost of administering the rule. Although no one knows exactly how Trump’s sweeping executive order will be implemented, or specifically what regulations might be targeted for elimination, it is clear to experts across regulatory fields that the order poses substantial risks in a number of human needs areas.
Examples of these areas include health care, environmental protection, workplace safety, consumer protection, banking practices, and transportation, including airplanes, trains and automobiles.
How might such an order be implemented? For every regulation gained, what regulations might be lost? Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, gave the Washington Post a hypothetical example, and warned that the order would impose a “Sophie’s Choice on federal agencies:”
“If, for example, the Environmental Protection Agency wants to issue a new rule to protect kids from mercury exposure, will it need to get rid of two other science-based rules, such as limiting lead in drinking water and cutting pollution from school buses?”
Trump’s executive order, in addition to threatening the health, safety and well-being of countless Americans, is underlined by an almost perverse irony. It would make things more bureaucratic. Yes; you read that correctly. As the Los Angeles Times notes, getting rid of regulations can be just as difficult as adding new ones – it is “not a matter of simply crossing out rules in some regulatory rule book.”
“To scrap a regulation, a federal department or agency needs to notify the public, business, unions and others of its intentions, explain the rationale for the move, receive comments, and undergo the horse trading that typically surrounds decisions with potentially far-reaching ramifications. This can take years.”
Oh. And it is also almost certainly illegal.
Last week, a number of progressive groups, including Public Citizen, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Communications Workers of America filed suit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., alleging that Trump exceeded his executive authority in issuing the order. The complaint also alleges that the president’s directive violates the Administrative Procedure Act by instructing agencies to act arbitrarily in canceling regulations in order to invoke new ones. We should also note that the order tramples legislation enacted by Congress, telling agencies to stop health, labor, or environmental protections now required by law.
So the executive order threatens public health and safety, would usher in a whole new tangle of bureaucracy, and quite possible violates our system of checks and balances. Why do it?
Public Citizen President Robert Weissman lays out one possible motive. In a statement he provided to Politico, he says it’s about the bottom line – the corporate profit bottom line.
“No one thinking sensibly about how to set rules for health, safety, the environment and the economy would ever adopt the Trump Executive Order approach – unless their only goal was to confer enormous benefits on big business. By irrationally directing agencies to consider costs but not benefits of new rules, it would fundamentally change our government’s role from one of protecting the public to protecting corporate profits.”
The Los Angeles Times reached out to a number of former federal regulators – both Democrats and Republicans – to see what they thought of the executive order. Perhaps not surprisingly, these former regulators found it arbitrary, reckless and irresponsible.
Christine Todd Whitman, head of the EPA under former President George W. Bush, called it “mindless.”
“I can’t think of a single regulation that has no basis in fact,” she said. “It’s going to be hard to find regulations that aren’t important to protecting human health.”