Lisa Heinzerling Reflects on OIRA-EPA Relationship

by Matthew Freeman

CPR's Lisa Heinzerling has an article in the most recent issue of the Pace Environmental Law Review, Inside EPA: A Former Insider's Reflections on the Relationship between the Obama EPA and the Obama White House, in which she discusses the ways that the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) under Cass Sustein exercised control over EPA's regulatory process. She writes that, using cost-benefit analysis as a point of access, OIRA

departs considerably from the structure created by the executive orders governing OIRA’s process of regulatory review. The distribution of decision-making authority is ad hoc and chaotic rather than predictable and ordered; the rules reviewed are mostly not economically significant but rather, in many cases, are merely of special interest to OIRA staffers; rules fail OIRA review for a variety of reasons, some extra-legal and some simply mysterious; there are no longer any meaningful deadlines for OIRA review; and OIRA does not follow – or allow agencies to follow – most of the transparency requirements of the relevant executive order.

Describing the OIRA process as it actually operates today goes a long way toward previewing the substantive problems with it. The process is utterly opaque. It rests on assertions of decision-making authority that are inconsistent with the statutes the agencies administer. The process diffuses power to such an extent – acceding, depending on the situation, to the views of other Cabinet officers, career staff in other agencies, White House economic offices, members of Congress, the White House Chief of Staff, OIRA career staff, and many more – that at the end of the day no one is accountable for the results it demands (or blocks, in the case of the many rules stalled at OIRA). And, through it all, environmental rules are especially hard hit, from the number of such rules reviewed to the scrutiny they receive to the changes they suffer in the course of the process.

All in all, it is a stinging indictment, offered by a scholar who experienced the relationship between OIRA and the EPA for herself.



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