Obama administration moves to cut unneeded regulations

The Obama administration has identified dozens of unneeded regulations — from handling spilled milk to requiring warm-air hand dryers — that should be eliminated to save hundreds of millions of hours a year in filling out forms and, over time, billions of dollars in costs.

The proposed changes, a few of which already have been enacted or are in their final stages, came in a report Thursday from a government-wide review ordered by President Obama in January to weed out overly burdensome rules and stimulate job growth.

Obama has been under fire from Republicans and business groups for expanding government regulations, particularly after the enactment last year of the sweeping healthcare and financial reform laws.

The proposed rule reductions were applauded by administration critics as a good first step to easing burdens on businesses and local governments. But an environmental group warned that the White House needed to be careful not to eliminate rules that protect the public.


White House officials said they were committed to getting rid of regulations “that are out-of-date, unnecessary, excessively burdensome or in conflict with other rules.”

“The objective was to … be sure that the regulations on the books do what they were intended to do and they do it at the lowest possible costs,” said Jacob Lew, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.

“This is not a one-time project,” he said. “This is the beginning of what will become a new way of doing business” for federal agencies.

Detailed plans to reduce regulations came from 30 federal agencies and departments. The Commerce Department, for example, proposed to simplify government rules on exports.

The White House posted the plans on its website,, and asked the public for comments. Most of the changes must go through formal rule-writing procedures that also require public comment periods.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Thursday that it already had made final a new rule to streamline and simplify several requirements as part of the broader regulatory review.

Among them were updating a definition of potable water to be consistent with Environmental Protection Agency standards, removing outdated standards that require warm-air hand dryers to allow for new technology that uses room-temperature air and eliminating requirements for employers to send records to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health because the records “don’t serve a useful research purpose.”

The White House said those changes alone would eliminate more than 1.9 million annual hours of “redundant reporting requirements” for employers, saving more than $40 million a year in costs.


In another example, the EPA will propose the elimination of air pollution vapor recovery systems at gas stations because of improved air pollution control technology in newer vehicles. The move, if approved, would save stations about $67 million a year, the White House said.

At the urging of dairy farmers, the EPA in April changed rules that had included milk in oil spill regulations that required special containment facilities and other measures. The rule change will save the dairy industry $146 million a year.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said he supported “any effort on the part of the president to make the regulatory system more predictable, more transparent and less onerous for job creators.”

But he said that “flawed” proposed regulations in the pipeline were just as much a threat as existing ones.


Before Obama announced the regulatory review, Issa had sent letters to more than 150 business leaders soliciting suggestions for regulations to eliminate.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has battled the Obama administration over regulatory issues, echoed Issa’s concerns. The chamber said the recommendations to remove some regulations represented progress but didn’t go far enough.

“What we need is a plan to make our flawed regulatory system smarter, less intrusive and more accountable,” said Bill Kovacs, the group’s senior vice president of environment, technology and regulatory affairs.

The chamber called for greater congressional oversight of regulations that have a major economic impact, cost-benefit analyses and scientific reviews conducted by independent third parties and changes to make it easier to challenge rules in court.


But the Natural Resources Defense Council said it would examine the proposed rule reductions to make sure they didn’t go too far.

“The purpose of the regulatory system is to protect the health and well-being of the American public,” said Scott Slesinger, the group’s legislative director. “Any proposed changes should be closely evaluated to ensure they protect the public, first and foremost.”