Politics & Policy

Mailbag: Trump’s Deregulatory Record

Jerry Taylor, president of the Niskanen Center, emailed a comment on my recent article on Trump’s policy record so far:

Good piece, and I generally agree. For all of Trump’s alt-right talk, he’s governing as a hyper-conservative in the Ted Cruz vein (at least in the domestic arena). If you’re a Heritage conservative, there is nothing not to like. If you want a steady diet of that sort of take, follow Matt Grossmann’s twitter feed (a political scientist at Michigan State).

That said, since you entered my arena to some extent (climate policy), a few quibbles on that front ….

First, I don’t agree with you that the reversal of the Obama Clean Power Plan was particularly (economically) consequential. I reviewed the literature on CPP costs in a lengthy blog post last year. After I wrote that piece, the American Petroleum Institute (no friend of EPA climate regulation) issued an analysis arguing that natural gas prices would likely be the lower end of the forecasted range and that, if that were so, the CPP would have zero economic costs and, likewise, zero climate benefits (business-as-usual, in short, would meet CPP targets).

Second, Pruitt’s order to end EPA’s policy of settling lawsuits was profoundly silly. It was premised on conservative mythology about an agency practice that did not exist. David Bookbinder (perhaps the top Clean Air Act attorney in the country) put that order under a microscope for our blog

Third and finally, Trump’s regulatory rollbacks on the whole may not prove as impactful as is commonly believed. Given that everything has been done by executive order, if a Democrat finds himself (or herself) in the White House in 2020, everything Trump has done could be (and almost certainly, would be) administratively reversed. It will take some time, of course, but the bigger point is that deregulation must be achieved through Congressional action if it is to have lasting effect (if we assume that parties will not hold on to the White House forever). All the regulatory levers and buttons that Obama used will be there—fully operational—if / when Democrats come back to the executive branch. Accordingly, Trump’s regulatory policies are on as shaky a ground as Obama’s were.

I appreciate the thoughtful feedback. I am not, however, completely convinced by the Bookbinder analysis of “sue and settle.” He writes that settlement agreements can’t impose any requirement on EPA that it didn’t already have the authority to implement, and concludes that it’s “nonsense” to suppose that the EPA ever uses agreements to achieve policies it wants but can’t otherwise get. I’m sure he, like Taylor, knows a lot more about environmental regulation than I do. But couldn’t the EPA, or factions within it, use a settlement to reduce the political costs of pursuing a desired course of action, to bind future agency leaders who might have different ideas, or both?

I agree, on the other hand, with the point that deregulation will not be successful if it does not put down deep institutional roots. Andrew Rudalevige elaborates on that point in an essay for the new National Affairs.

Ramesh Ponnuru — Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg View, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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