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Administration to End or Cut Back Business Regulations

Source: WSJ - Laura Meckler


Posted on 23 Aug 2011

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In an effort to reduce the burden on business and counter criticism that the White House is tone-deaf to business concerns, the Obama administration will release final plans Tuesday for ending or cutting back hundreds of regulations.

Certain railroad cars won't have to install expensive technology, hospitals will be able to skip a round of federal paperwork and low-risk travelers to the U.S. will enjoy expedited entry, officials said. Some businesses will be allowed to file federal forms electronically.

The administration estimates that about a dozen of the changes will save businesses some $10 billion over five years, with other smaller initiatives adding to the total.

But the changes don't affect the broad thrust of major administration initiatives that have drawn criticism from businesses, such as proposed rules to reduce carbon emissions and laws passed last year that aim to protect consumers from financial and health-insurance abuses.

The White House said it sought to eliminate "dumb" rules without undermining the underlying goals. "We are going to implement statutes that have been enacted in the last few years, but we're trying to do it in a way that is as careful with respect to cost and as attuned with the economic situation as possible," said Cass Sunstein, administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, who oversaw the regulatory review.

The changes are welcome, but don't appear to go far enough, said Bill Kovacs, a senior vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "Each of the proposals seems to be efficient, technical changes, but it doesn't make any impact on the overall regulatory burdens that exist on the business community," he said.

Mr. Kovacs said he'd like to make it easier for businesses to obtain environmental clearances and harder for environmental lawsuits to delay projects.

But he praised the administration for encouraging more electronic filing of official paperwork, and for doing the review in the first place. Congress directed successive administrations to review regulations on the books since 1980, but this is the first White House to do it, he said.

President Barack Obama encountered frustration about federal regulations at two town-hall meetings last week in Illinois, with questioners expressing concern about farming rules.

Mr. Sunstein said the administration is also applying a stricter standard for new regulations. He pointed to a rule governing noise in the workplace that the Labor Department is revising after concerns were raised about its costs exceeding the benefits, and a similar move by the Environmental Protection Agency to set a national construction site standard for sediment emissions.

The announcement was the culmination of a process begun in January with an executive order calling for the review by federal agencies. In May, agencies released preliminary plans. On Tuesday, they are putting forth final plans.

Last month, White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley instructed Cabinet secretaries to be sensitive to the cost of new regulations given the bad economy.

Many of the proposed changes will still need to go through a formal review, but that process is expected to be quick because many ideas have been discussed publicly for months.

In some cases, the savings are small. The Department of Homeland Security's international "trusted traveler" program to expedite clearance of preapproved, low-risk air travelers will save 7.6 minutes per person, valued at $3.62 per trip. Total yearly savings would be $2.8 million, the White House said.

In other changes, the EPA won't require air pollution vapor recovery systems at gas stations, because modern vehicles have technologies that already control these emissions; the EPA and the Agriculture Department are providing farmers more flexibility in meeting water-quality standards. Also, the Small Business Administration is looking to create a single application for several loan programs.


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