Regulations We Might Miss If Trump Has His Way

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President Donald Trump, accompanied by small-business leaders, signs an executive order cutting federal regulations on January 30. Carlos Barria/Reuters

President Donald Trump on Monday signed an executive order aimed at forbidding federal regulations that cost anything more than “zero” and requiring two regulations to be repealed for every one that is enacted. The order goes well beyond the wildest dreams of most conservatives, Tea Party types, libertarians and even the Koch brothers. Few to no regulations are entirely free.

“There will be regulation, there will be control, but it will be a normalized control," Trump told reporters at the White House as the order was announced.

Related: Michael Dorf: Trump’s toxic mix of incompetence and malevolence

The order synchronizes with a congressional effort—launched by Republicans and thus likely to succeed in some fashion—to apply the rarely used Congressional Review Act to legislatively roll back regulations that the Obama administration put in place. After Trump signed the order, Freedom Partners, a Koch-funded advocacy group, released a celebratory statement, contending that under Obama, federal agencies “issued more than 600 major regulations with a total cost exceeding $700 billion.”  

Among the regulations Freedom Partners would like to see defunded immediately are the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan, an Obama administration climate change mitigation effort that will cost the power industry up to an estimated $8.8 billion per year but which officials believe will provide health and climate benefits worth between $55 billion and $93 billion a year by 2030.

Other regulations on the conservative advocates’ hit list include the Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rules the Department of Labor’s overtime rule (which requires employers to pay overtime to those working over 40 hours a week) and an Agriculture Department regulation called Calorie Labeling for Vending Machines.

As with Trump’s other executive orders of the past few days, it is not at all clear how this new one will be implemented. Most regulations come with a cost-benefit analysis that compares the net benefit in terms of health and welfare with the cost to the regulated industry and employer. The order says nothing about whether that calculus will be applicable going forward.

According to Derek Sylvan, strategy director for the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University’s School of Law, the executive order “creates a new, irrational way” of evaluating all past and present regulations. “Every regulation will be judged on its costs alone, ignoring the benefits it was designed to create,” he says. “If we scrap a regulation that imposes $10 of costs on industry in exchange for $500 of avoided hospital visits, we haven’t “saved” society $10; we’ve thrown away $490. But this order would ignore the $500 in benefits.”  

It’s impossible to predict when bosses could start to make Americans work more than 40 hours a week without paying overtime, or when Americans might safely return to vending machines without being forced to take notice of how much fat a bag of chips can add to their bodies.

While we wait to see what Trump’s “normalized control” regulatory scheme looks like, here are some of the regulations that cost more than zero and thus are technically covered by the executive order and could be jettisoned under the “two out for one in” order.

The Food Quality Protection Act: Administered by the Agriculture Department, it requires measures to prevent pathogens in our meat, poultry and produce that cause diseases.

The Lead and Copper Rule: Administered by the EPA (of all the agencies, probably the most hated in Trumpland both for its involvement in climate change science and its supposedly onerous requirements on polluting industries), this regulation monitors and sets limits on lead in drinking water. This rule is already considered a bit too weak. See: Flint, Michigan.

The Safe Drinking Water Act: Also administered by the EPA, this monitors and enforces levels of cancer-causing volatile organic compounds/TCE (otherwise known as trichloroethylene, methylene chloride and vinyl chloride) in drinking water. The most infamous case involving this was at North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune, where between the 1950s and 1985, tens of thousands of Marines and civilians drank toxic water. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry is keeping track of the cancers.

The Toxic Substance Control Act: Also administered by the EPA (see why some hate this agency?), this calls for the monitoring and prevention of unhealthy levels of arsenic in drinking water and keeping toxic pesticides out of the food chain and out of people’s homes.

The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act: Administered by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, its regulations make sure that, for example, your kid doesn’t get a lead-contaminated toy; your wife doesn’t get sold shampoo that makes her hair fall out; and your kitchen stove doesn’t have a design flaw that makes it spontaneously combust.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: Its mission statement: "Save lives, prevent injuries, reduce vehicle-related crashes.” There is perhaps an argument to be made that it is not regulating enough: More than 35,000 people died in traffic accidents in 2015. While we’re on the highway, state laws require children to wear seat belts, so Trump’s order won’t immediately affect that regulation.

The Clean Air Act: Also administered by the EPA, this is one of the most despised regulations among the industrial powers. Among other things, it keeps American urban air from turning poisonous yellow, like the air around China’s cities.

Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act: This is also administered by the EPA, and one of its aims is to save the bees from mass die-offs and possible extinction. Without their services, humans would have to live without many fruits and vegetables, not to mention many flowers.