As congressional Republicans headed to Philadelphia earlier this week to set goals for the new year, President Trump announced one of his own: erasing 75 percent of government regulations affecting businesses.
This is either hyperbole, intended to grab attention, or it’s aspirational — anticipation that the new administration can achieve a lot in four years. In any event, 75 percent of anything is a big chunk. Especially if it’s three-quarters of the roughly 3,300 new regulations that are promulgated each year, according to a recent survey by the National Association of Manufacturers.
The stream rule is a pure expression of all that ordinary Americans loathe about rule by bureaucracy.
But even though the president has set an ambitious plan, the Obama administration left behind a target-rich environment in which to pursue it. And it’s a goal that job-hungry voters will approve. They understand that whatever the presumed benefits, regulations do not create jobs. In truth, jobs only come from investment and economic growth.
The new president’s deregulation goal is ideal for a GOP eager to deliver the goods to restive voters — and a smart effort for Democrats who’ll face them in two years. But an administration and Congress bent on deregulation face an ironic quandary. With a plethora of bad regulations to choose from, where to begin?
There’s no better starting point than the “stream rule,” a massive regulation finalized in the waning days of the Obama administration by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM).
The stream rule is a pure expression of all that ordinary Americans loathe about rule by bureaucracy. The full regulatory framework runs to more than 2,600 pages, and was drafted without the input of key mining states — despite the OSM's legal obligation to consult with them.
The Obama administration clearly wanted to impose a grievous burden on coal producers, though, and it did so by transferring to federal bureaucrats the traditional authority held by state agencies. But it also duplicated regulatory responsibilities already held by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers. It's a redundant effort, however, since OSM's own reports from mining states already show virtually no off-site impacts from U.S. coal mine reclamation activity.
The result is a regulatory shell game that adds no environmental improvements to those already in place. More troubling, however, is the finding of an independent analysis suggesting the new rule could jeopardize 42,000 direct jobs and cost tens of thousands of additional jobs supported by coal mining.
Fortunately, Congress has provided a way to oppose last-minute regulations developed behind closed doors. The Congressional Review Act (CRA) provides that, with a simple majority vote in both houses, Congress can send the president a gift-wrapped pledge of allegiance to the larger goal of creating good jobs while voiding a serious threat to America's industrial economy.
With President Trump's signature, the resolution can spare thousands of livelihoods and show that Washington is finally listening to voters — not just to environmental activists.
Luke Popovich is vice president for external relations at the National Mining Association (NMA).