The Corner

The Obama Administration Is Hiding the Scale of Its Regulatory Agenda. Why Might That Be?

It has become a tradition for the Obama administration to release its federal unified agenda, i.e., the menu of all the thousands of regulations that will soon be ruling your lives, right before a major holiday. It is as if the most transparent administration in history doesn’t want you to know what it is doing and what regulations are being finalized. The Daily Caller noticed the trend: 

Under President Barack Obama, there has been a tradition of releasing the agenda late on Friday– and right before a major holiday.

“It’s become an unfortunate tradition of this administration and others to drop these regulatory agendas late on a Friday and right before a holiday,” Matt Shudtz, executive director of the Center for Progressive Reform, told The Hill newspaper.

The White House’s regulatory agenda for spring 2014 was released on the eve of the Memorial Day weekend, when millions of people set out on weekend getaways or family vacations.

This time around, the agenda includes “some 3,415 regulations – more than the last regulatory agenda, and one that includes 189 rules that cost more than $100 million.” Here is a sample of what we have to look forward to:

One of the most contentious rules is the Environmental Protection Agency rules to limit greenhouse gas emissions from new and existing power plants. According to the agenda, these rules will be finalized in 2015. …

A more pressing EPA rule set to be finalized is the so-called coal ash rule for coal-fired power plants. A final rule will be issued by Dec. 19, and could be bad news for the power sector, which will bear the brunt of $20.3 billion in compliance costs.

But probably the most fought-over rules to be finalized by the EPA next year will be its redefining of the “Waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act. The EPA will issue its redefinition next year, according to the agenda.

The whole thing is here.

It goes without saying that if the administration thought Americans were totally comfortable with its regulatory ambitions, it would be more transparent about the announcement. But, of course, the lack of transparency starts much further back in the regulatory process: The bureaucrats who come up with all these new rules are unelected and for the most part totally unaccountable.  In addition, agencies often fail to follow basic decision-making principles and assume that more regulation is always necessary. While there is a broad-based consensus on what regulatory analysis should involve and what its role in agency decision-making should be (as I described in a prior post), academic research shows that, more often than not, agencies do not produce or use thorough regulatory analysis. 

One step in the direction of changing this sad state of affairs is to make Congress take responsibility for the regulatory results of the legislation it passes. That’s what the House tried to do when it passed the REINS Act a few years back, in an attempt to require congressional approval for major regulations. Unfortunately, it never got anywhere in the Senate, but now that Republicans are in control of Congress, maybe things could be different.

Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

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