By Louise Radnofsky of the Wall Street Journal
The Environmental Protection Agency, which enforces rules that affect the U.S. economy from factories to farms, is the No. 1 target of complaints from business groups collected by House Republican leaders.
EPA rules were cited more than those from any other agency in more than 100 letters sent by trade associations, businesses and some conservative groups to House oversight committee chairman Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) in response to his call for businesses to identify regulations they deemed burdensome, according to documents reviewed by the Wall Street Journal. The letters are scheduled for release today.
The letters will become fuel for a running debate between Republican lawmakers and the Obama Administration over what role, if any, increased federal regulation is playing in the sluggish pace of job creation. The Labor Department reported Friday that non-farm employers added just 36,000 jobs in January, far lower than most economists had expected.
The EPA’s rules to curb emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases were cited as an impediment to growth by at least 30 organizations writing to Mr. Issa, including representatives of the agriculture, business, chemicals, energy, paper, manufacturing and steel and iron sectors.
Groups complained about dozens of other proposed and existing EPA regulations in letters viewed by the Journal, including the agency’s plans to tighten limits on emissions of some pollutants from industrial boilers, ground-level ozone, mountain-top mining, cooling water intake structures, the level of nutrients in Florida waters, and pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay.
“The problem is not simply that EPA is issuing a lot of regulations. Rather, it is that it has significantly increased the number of major rules,” wrote William Kovacs, vice president of regulatory affairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The Financial Services Roundtable warned against aggressive implementation of the so-called Volcker rule, intended to restrict financial firms from trading with their own money.
The Department of Labor and Occupational Safety and Health Administration drew heat from construction and manufacturing industries, which criticized a 2009 executive order requiring contractors on large federal construction projects to allow union representation for workers and a planned policy which would encourage agencies to take into account the record of firms getting government contracts.
Plans to tighten the management of combustible dust were attacked by paper, iron and steel, wire, wood and oilseed producers.
Some industry groups took the opportunity to highlight issues of specific concern. The National Marine Manufacturers Association said it’s worried about the Army Corps of Engineers making more adult boaters wear life-jackets. Plumbing Manufacturers International said that the Energy Department’s proposed changes to the definition of “showerhead” would eliminate many commonly-used showering systems.
Occasionally, the trade associations were at odds with each other, including over Mexican truckers’ access to U.S. highways, which was supported by grocers and opposed by at least one drivers’ association.
President Barack Obama launched last month a review of all regulations to eliminate those which are outdated or place “unreasonable burdens on businesses.” Since then, the Labor Department has shelved rules that could have forced manufacturers to install noise-reducing equipment and gather more data on workplace injuries—both targets in the letters to Mr. Issa. The EPA has said it is reworking a proposal to limit emissions from industrial boilers to address industry concerns about costs.
But the Obama administration has so far defended the EPA’s efforts to regulate emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases which business groups fear could ultimately require costly new technology for power plants, factories, refineries and drive up energy costs for all businesses.
The White House has said its review will focus on older regulations which could be obsolete because of changes in behavior or technology, not its own greenhouse gas proposals.
“While all significant regulations are subject to this process, it would stand to reason that any regulations promulgated by this administration are current and already reflect the principles outlined by the president,” said Meg Reilly, a spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Budget.
House Republicans have questioned whether the administration’s review will go far enough, and will likely use the business letters to bolster their case.
Congressional Democrats say Mr. Issa’s initiative reflects Republicans’ unwillingness to hold businesses to account. The top Democrat on the oversight committee, Elijah Cummings of Maryland, has protested that Mr. Issa has not sent him copies of all the letters, and said he will demand tougher scrutiny of the industry groups’ gripes.
Mr. Issa has said that he has simply tried to listen to businesses.
“These aren’t judgments or recommendations from a congressional committee, but rather information from job creators about regulations they see as flawed and harmful to job creation and economic recovery,” he said.