April 20, 2024

Federal Review Finds Rules to Live Without

To highlight the effort, the administration announced it had repealed an environmental regulation that classified milk as a kind of oil that required elaborate safeguards to prevent spills that might contaminate waterways.

That change by the Environmental Protection Agency will save $140 million a year, said Cass R. Sunstein, the Harvard Law professor appointed by President Obama to improve the quality of federal rules.

“Large benefits can come from seemingly modest steps,” Mr. Sunstein said in a speech on the results of the review at the American Enterprise Institute.

The review, which has become a presidential tradition, is part of an effort by the Obama administration to show engagement with business concerns. Mr. Sunstein emphasized that the effort also had broader benefits because costs imposed on business ultimately pass to shareholders, employees and customers.

The intended audience, however, was underwhelmed. William L. Kovacs of the United States Chamber of Commerce, the largest lobbying group for the business community, said the changes amounted to “tinkering around the edges.”

“There are 180,000 regulations out there and this doesn’t hit the economically significant regulations,” said Mr. Kovacs, the chamber’s vice president for environmental and regulatory policy. He praised the administration for undertaking the review, but called for much broader and deeper changes.

The business group has pushed in recent years for Congress to create a legislative process for reviewing regulations. It also suggested that the cost and benefits of proposed rules should be evaluated by third parties.

President Obama ordered federal agencies in January, with considerable fanfare, to hunt for rules that were outdated, duplicative or “just plain dumb.”

The White House published responses by 30 federal agencies Thursday online at whitehouse.gov/regulatoryreform, ranging from the Defense Department to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, listing hundreds of proposed changes and a few that had already been made.

Many of the proposals amount to reductions in paperwork, the value of which Mr. Sunstein said should not be discounted because businesses spend considerable time and effort providing the government with required information.

Others are more tangible. The E.P.A no longer will require gas stations in some states to install a particular kind of pollution filter, saving $670 million over the next decade, because the same function is performed by standard equipment on new vehicles.

Milk storage facilities have been subject since the 1970s to federal regulations aimed at preventing spills that can contaminate water supplies. The rules grouped petroleum, animal fats and greases in a single category, and there is evidence that large-scale milk spills can cause environmental harm.

In 1995, Congress passed a law requiring regulatory agencies to distinguish between oil and what the law called “edible oil.” Earlier this year, E.P.A. finally granted milk a complete exemption.

Mr. Sunstein said the milk story highlighted the need for regular review of the federal rulebook, so that necessary changes would be made more quickly.

“The rule that was done very recently makes complete sense. To get people’s attention to focus on whether it makes complete sense was the challenge,” he said. “My hope is that this hard-wiring that this is starting will make problem-solving of that kind much easier.”

Some consumer advocates, however, criticized this new emphasis on constant gardening as a distraction from the need for greater enforcement of existing regulations, and increased government oversight of long-standing problems.

Amy Sinden, a law professor at Temple University, said the administration seemed interested in appealing to people who viewed regulation as burdensome.

“The rhetoric is right out of the playbook that government is bad and industry is good,” said Professor Sinden, who is also a scholar at the Center for Progressive Reform, which advocates for regulators to impose “sensible safeguards.”

“At the same time that they’re crowing about saving industry millions of dollars by repealing regulations, they’re bowing to industry pressure to hold off on new regulations that could be saving thousands of lives each year,” she said.

Mr. Sunstein said such criticism was misplaced, and that the administration’s commitment was to evaluate the merit of individual regulations.

“The view that regulation in the abstract is a terrible or a wonderful thing is hard to defend,” he said. “It depends on what it does.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=4297bf3abc684189766fcb890433f330

Speak Your Mind