Administration deregulation push gathers steam,
Rules were aimed at Wall Street, gun sellers, miners, more.
Telecommunications WASHINGTON — giants like Verizon and AT&T will not have to take “reasonable measures” to ensure that their customers’ Social Security numbers, web browsing history and other personal information are not stolen or accidentally released.
Wall Street banks like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase will not be punished, at least for now, for not collecting extra money from customers to cover potential losses from certain kinds of high-risk trades that helped unleash the 2008 financial crisis.
And Social Security Administration data will no longer be used to try to block individuals with disabling mental health issues from buying handguns, nor will hunters be banned from using lead-based bullets, which can accidentally poison wildlife, on 150 million acres of federal lands.
These are just a few of the more than 90 regulations that federal agencies and the Republican-controlled Congress have delayed, suspended or reversed in the month and a half since President Donald Trump took office, according to a tally by The New York Times.
The emerging effort — dozens of additional rules could be eliminated in the coming weeks — represents one of the most significant shifts in regulatory policy in recent decades. It is the leading edge of what Stephen Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, described late last month as “the deconstruction of the administrative state.”
In many cases, records show that the changes came after appeals by corporate lobbyists and trade association executives, who see a potentially historic opportunity to lower compliance costs and drive up profits. Slashing regulations, they argue, will unleash economic growth.
On a near daily basis, regulated industries are sending in specific requests to the Trump administration for more rollbacks, including recent appeals from 17 automakers to rescind an agreement to increase mileage standards for their fleets, and another from pharmaceutical industry figures to reverse a new rule that tightens scrutiny over the marketing of prescription drugs for unapproved uses. As of late Friday, word had leaked that the automakers’ request for a rollback was about to be granted, too.
“After a relentless, eightyear regulatory onslaught that loaded unprecedented burdens on businesses and the economy, relief is finally on the way,” Thomas J. Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, wrote in a memo last week.
But dozens of public interest groups — environmentalists, labor unions, consumer watchdogs — have sounded the alarm about the potential threat to Americans’ well-being. “Americans did not vote to be exposed to more health, safety, environmental and financial dangers,” said one letter, signed by leaders of 137 nonprofit groups, that was sent to the White House last week.
In other cases, the Obamaera rules under attack have drawn objections even from some liberal groups that called them examples of overreach, like the American Civil Liberties Union’s protest of a system to block mentally ill people from buying guns.
The regulatory retrenchment is unfolding on multiple fronts.
Congress, with Trump’s approval, has erased three Obama-era rules in the last month, lifting regulations related to coal mining and oil and gas exploration, as well as the sale of guns to the mentally ill. More than 25 additional rules could also be erased in the coming weeks, with the House having voted to eliminate nearly half of them.
Trump has separately signed executive orders directing agencies to pursue the reversal of other rules, including a requirement that financial advisers act in the interest of their clients, and a rule aimed at protecting drinking water from pollution.
New White House appointees at agencies including the Federal Communications Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency have also personally intervened in recent weeks to block, delay or start the process to nullify other rules, such as a requirement that corporations publish tallies comparing chief executive pay with average employee wages.
Presidents wield considerable influence over the rule-making process. They set the agenda and appoint the rule-makers, and, since the Reagan administration, a White House office has reviewed every major regulation to try to ensure that benefits to society exceeded compliance costs. It is not uncommon for new presidents to make quick changes in regulatory policy or try to reverse certain last-minute rules their predecessors enacted.
Barack Obama, shortly after being elected president, pressed the EPA to let the state of California set more stringent limits on auto emissions, a proposal that the Bush administration had rejected.
But the courts have generally held that new administrations need to justify such reversals. The best-known case involved the Reagan administration, which tried to rescind a rule requiring air bags in passenger vehicles. The courts found the move unjustified.
“It is not a relevant or adequate defense to say that the president told us to do it,” said Michael Eric Herz, a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York.
The Trump administration could face similar challenges — the new requirement that agencies must find two regulations to eliminate before enacting any new rules is being challenged in federal court by two liberal groups.
In addition, Democratic attorneys general from New York, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Oregon and Vermont have threatened in recent days to sue the Trump administration to try to block some of the regulatory rollbacks.
This shift in federal regulatory policy is having implications for tens of thousands of citizens nationwide.
Nearly two years ago, the Social Security Administration first moved to set up a new system that would automatically turn over to the Justice Department information it collects on Americans who are receiving federal benefits based on a disabling mental illness for inclusion in a database used for gun background checks.
This would effectively prevent these individuals — an estimated 75,000 per year — from buying guns unless they sought a Justice Department waiver after being rejected, given the long-standing federal limitation on the sale of firearms to individuals with known mental illnesses.
Groups like the National Rifle Association, the ACLU and the National Alliance on Mental Illness objected to the provision, which had been scheduled to go into effect in January. They argued that it unfairly presumed a tendency toward violence by a wide range of people with mental disabilities, including conditions like bulimia and obsessive compulsive disorder.
Trump signed legislation Tuesday revoking that rule under the Congressional Review Act, which gives Congress a limited window to overturn the decisions of regulatory agencies.
A total of 46 such Congressional Review Act resolutions are pending in Congress, on topics including air pollution, unemployment compensation, endangered species listings, debit card fees and oil and gas drilling on federal lands as well as the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf.
The act, first adopted in 1996, had been used only once before to nullify a regulation, at the start of the Bush administration in 2001, when a Clinton-era rule was revoked.
Rules not subject to congressional review may still be at risk. The most radical shift has perhaps come at the Federal Communications Commission, which voted Wednesday to halt new government rules related to data security from taking effect this week, after objections were raised by companies including Comcast, Verizon and AT&T.
Ajit Pai, a Republican whom Trump recently named FCC chairman, has also made clear that he intends to push to roll back or abandon several other major rules, including the landmark net neutrality regulation intended to ensure equal access to content on the internet, as well as efforts to keep prison phone rates down and a proposal to break open the cable box market.
The efforts have been praised by telecommunications giants, like Comcast, but condemned by consumer advocates.
People check out weapons at an NRA convention last year. The NRA and the ACLU were among the groups that objected to using Social Security Administration data to prevent gun sales to people with disabling mental illness.