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Benefits Lost: The Blueprint for the Trump Administration’s Assault on Our Safeguards

Responsive Government

Early this morning, the Trump administration released its Spring 2017 Regulatory Agenda, which outlines the regulatory and deregulatory actions the administration expects to take over the next 12 months. Because it is the first of the Trump administration, this document is particularly significant. By comparing it with the last Regulatory Agenda of the Obama administration, which was released in fall of 2016, we are able to see what pending regulatory actions the Trump administration has abandoned or delayed. Only a preliminary review is necessary to confirm the harm the outlined policies would do to the nation’s hard-working families and communities and how they would exacerbate social inequality throughout our country. 

Strikingly, the Spring 2017 Regulatory Agenda  also offers the first concrete evidence of how the Trump administration intends to implement its harmful “one-in, two-out” executive order, which calls upon agencies to eliminate or weaken two existing regulations for every new one they wish to put into place. Further, that order requires that the cost savings achieved by weakening or eliminating existing regulations be large enough to fully offset any new costs that the new regulation might impose. 

In a March 2017 memorandum to agencies, the acting administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) directed the agencies to include in their agency-specific agendas the existing regulations they have identified for elimination or weakening in order to comply with the one-in, two-out order’s requirements. It further asks agencies to begin tallying the costs of new planned regulations, as well as the cost savings of planned actions to weaken or eliminate existing regulations, in order to demonstrate that the cost savings are sufficient to offset any new costs. 

All of this may seem like technical “inside baseball,” but the Regulatory Agenda, if carried out as planned, would have significant real-world impacts on workers, consumers, families, and communities. It would place an especially heavy burden on the backs of the most vulnerable among us, including low-income and working-class families and communities, children, and workers in dangerous industries, while benefiting well-connected corporate special interests. 

The following is just a sampling of pending public protections that the administration plans to delay or abandon: 

  • One of the new items that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has added to its list of “long-term” actions is its rulemaking to replace the Obama administration’s rule to limit methane, volatile organic compounds, and other toxic air pollutants from new oil and gas drilling activities. From the Marcellus Shale fields of Pennsylvania to the Four Corners region of the American Southwest, the breakneck pace of oil and gas development, particularly through fracking, is putting nearby rural communities – which often lack access to adequate medical facilities and are among the poorest in the United States – directly in harm’s way. Remarkably, the Trump administration itself admitted that its efforts to weaken or delay this rule would disproportionately harm children in those in communities. The EPA does not offer any hints of when this rule will be completed or what it will entail substantively, but the early indications are that it will yield a massive wealth transfer to the oil and gas industry underwritten by increased incidence of childhood asthma and cancer.   
  • In 2010, the Obama EPA began the long process of writing new stormwater regulations in response to a scathing report by the National Academy of Sciences. The Academy’s assessment of the inability of existing Clean Water Act regulations to control polluted urban runoff confirmed what EPA already knew: Stormwater is a primary contributor to the nation’s water quality problems, particularly in the urban and suburban watersheds where the vast majority of Americans live. Today, the Trump administration pulled the plug on this long-stalled effort to finally update the outdated regulations that continue to allow toxins, pathogens, carcinogens, and dead-zone-producing nutrient pollution to be channeled untreated into our local streams. This now-defunct rule would have not only protected Americans where they live, work, play, and drink, but it would have also resulted in an enormous and much needed boost to our nation’s water infrastructure investment and the good-paying jobs that go along with it.   
  • After decades of stasis, the Obama administration made a push to update rules to better protect farmworkers and their families from the pesticides they apply to many of the crops that eventually end up on our dinner tables. Widespread pesticide use has increased crop yields and kept food prices in check, but it comes at a cost to the environment and the people who apply those pesticides. Many of them (including teenagers), who work long hours in tough conditions for substandard pay, suffer from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, prostate cancer, Parkinson’s disease, lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, and asthma as a result of their work. Obama’s EPA issued new certification standards to ensure that people applying pesticides have good education and training, and prohibited kids younger than 18 from doing much of the dangerous work. Those rules would keep people healthier and prevent environmental contamination. But Scott Pruitt’s EPA has put the standards on ice and is actively reconsidering them altogether.   
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has abandoned over a dozen pending actions to address significant workplace hazards, such as protecting workers from combustible dust, which can result in fires and explosions, and styrene, an industrial chemical that can harm the nervous system and may cause cancer.  
  • The Trump administration punted on several of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) rules, including one that required the agency to set up a program for testing and reporting on “constituents, ingredients, and additives” used in tobacco products. This program would be especially important with the advent of electronic cigarettes, which have been shown to contain harmful additives such as benzene and diethylene glycol, and the use of which remains stubbornly high among teenagers even as their use of traditional tobacco products continues to drop. Despite the strides that have been made in curbing U.S. tobacco use in recent decades in general, progress has been more limited among the poor and those with lower levels of education. Thus, by seeking to further limit tobacco use, the FDA’s testing and reporting rule would have been particularly beneficial for these individuals.   
  • Flooding kills more Americans than any other natural hazard and causes billions in damages each year. Despite this, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has delayed a rule implementing the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard. The rule would require all future federal housing funds be spent on housing that is protected from exposure to flooding. The standard would also require consideration of the best-available data for future flood risk from climate change and would ensure that new federally funded housing be constructed above or outside the 100-year floodplain. The rule would ensure that the most vulnerable – including low-income families and homeless Americans – are housed out of harm’s way. HUD joins the Small Business Administration, which earlier this year withdrew its rule implementing the federal flood standard, in rejecting the hard-learned lessons of Superstorm Sandy, closing its ears to climate consensus, and turning its back on our vulnerable communities. 

During the campaign, candidate Trump was never shy about using ordinary Americans as a stump speech prop and sanctimoniously invoking their concerns for a cheap applause line. If he became president, he promised, those Americans would no longer get left behind. This regulatory agenda illustrates how hollow this rhetoric was. It could have been his first chance to spell out how he would use his congressionally granted authorities to build a more resilient society. Instead, what it provides is a veritable litany of all the steps he plans to take to enrich corporate America at the expense of our health, safety, financial security, and natural environment. 

Executive Director Matthew Shudtz and Policy Analysts David Flores, Evan Isaacson, and Katie Tracy contributed to this post.

Responsive Government

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