By Matt Kent, Public Citizen
In mid-October, the Trump administration released its annual report detailing deregulatory actions taken under the ill-conceived 2-for-1 executive order, which requires agencies to eliminate two regulations for any single new regulatory action.
Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, a noted deregulation devotee with an open ear for contribution-giving bank lobbyists, described the report’s release as delivering on President Trump’s promise to “[get] rid of Washington’s unnecessary, outdated, and duplicative regulatory burdens.” Neomi Rao, Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and Trump’s deregulation point person, lauded the purported $23 billion dollars in regulatory costs to corporations saved in 2018. Mulvaney and Rao conveniently did not mention that the $23 billion cost savings represent projections over a “perpetual time horizon” rather than an annual estimate, making that number look much bigger than it is in reality. With all the time they spent patting themselves on the back for giving corporations even more handouts, neither official mentioned the extremely significant regulatory benefits that have been axed as part of the deregulatory frenzy of the past year.
Administration officials and anti-regulatory zealots justify wholesale deregulation by arguing that it serves to cut useless, outdated or burdensome regulations. The reality is starkly different; regulations serve to protect the public and set the legal framework to ensure basic liberties. Americans are harmed when safeguards are gutted. Here are just a few of the proposed or existing public safeguards included in Trump’s self-congratulatory deregulation report that have now been terminated:
- Fracking regulations. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is an industrial process used to extract natural gas from deep in the earth that involves pumping millions of gallons of chemicals into the ground. Not surprisingly, scientific evidence suggests that the practice has serious negative environmental and public health consequences. In 2015, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued regulations requiring companies fracking on public lands to comply with a series of planning and review requirements – including disclosure of the types of chemicals that were being pumped into the ground. The rule was repealed by the Trump administration because it supposedly “imposes burdensome reporting requirements and other unjustified costs on the oil and gas industry.” The withdrawal notice paid little heed to action’s effect on the land, water or people around fracking sites.
- Airline baggage fee transparency. It’s hard to plan affordable travel when your flight’s checked bag fees aren’t revealed until your final click. To address the problem, the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) undertook regulation to require airlines to disclosure ancillary fees, including charges for checked bags, at all points of sale. The proposal would have required airlines to disclose exactly how much checked bags would cost before customers selected a fare. The Trump administration withdrew the proposal on the grounds that “existing regulations already provide consumers some information regarding fees for ancillary services.” Unfortunately for the flying public, the hidden fee status quo remains.
- Online accessibility for people with disabilities. The internet is not one size fits all, especially for hearing or vision impaired Americans. Although the internet has become an integral aspect of everyday life, there is still no defined legal framework in place that governs website accessibility for people with disabilities. In 2010, the Justice Department proposed regulations defining the scope of the Americans with Disabilities Act as applied to the internet. The action was “withdrawn for further review” in October 2017.
- Workplace injury recordkeeping. Federal law requires employers to keep a record of employee injuries. These records can be used to protect workers by discerning injury trends and ultimately prevent accidents. In 2016, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) established a rule that required large employers (over 250 employees) to electronically submit their injury records to OSHA each year. Trump’s OSHA justified a repeal of the requirement by claiming the reporting would jeopardize worker privacy and burden employers. Ensuring that workers return home to their loved ones was apparently not a pressing priority.
- Protections against unsafe imported food. Foreign food imported into the United States must meet safety standards; otherwise it must be exported or destroyed. Sometimes, shady food importers engage in a practice known as port shopping, which is moving rejected food from one port to another in hopes of avoiding inspection. In the late 1990’s, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and a U.S. Senate subcommittee identified the problem and then-President Clinton ordered the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take action. The FDA’s proposal was simple; the shipping container and accompanying documents for unsafe food imports should be labelled “UNITED STATES: REFUSED ENTRY.” Despite the common-sense nature of the regulation, Trump’s FDA withdrew the proposal without explanation.
The loss of these important regulations is just the tip of the iceberg. The lost protections span across a huge spectrum of American life and will have long-lasting impacts on the public. Disturbingly, the pace is likely to quicken. In the words of Administrator Rao, “we’re projecting even more reform in 2019.” That might please corporations looking to increase their bottom lines, but should worry Americans and their families who will be left paying the price.