The White House is forming the country’s regulatory system, announcing a new executive order and guidance that experts say could be used to justify both more and stronger regulations.
On Thursday, the White House released an executive order reducing the number of regulations that undergo a more rigorous White House review and promoting public participation from previously underrepresented groups at its Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.
It also released a new draft guidance document that changes how agencies calculate rules’ costs and benefits, with more emphasis placed on future costs and benefits.
Billy Pizer, vice president for research and policy engagement at Resources for the Future — an energy and environment focused research organization — described the changes as a “pretty major overhaul.”
“It’s the most significant update for the U.S. government’s broad regulatory analysis policy since we’ve been doing regulatory analysis policy,” Pizer said.
In particular, this could lead to both more regulations and regulations that are more protective.
“It brings an entirely different way of thinking about the regulatory system,” said James Goodwin, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Progressive Reform — adding that it breaks away from a prior philosophy geared toward doing the least amount of regulating possible.
“It does create more space for agencies to regulate more and…to [make] more protective regulations,” he added.
However, the Chamber of Commerce, which represents various industries around the country, lamented the changes — saying they could lead to more aggressive rules.
“They’re huge shifts in how agencies will do regulatory cost-benefit analysis and it appears to be an effort to accelerate an already very aggressive regulatory agenda,” said Chad Whiteman, the Chamber’s vice president of environment and regulatory affairs.
Broadly, Democrats and the left tend to favor more regulations — arguing that regulations provide safeguards for people who may be subject to negative impacts of industry.
However, Republicans and the right tend to oppose many regulations, saying they curb economic growth.
Pizer said that the provision that gives more weight to events that happen in the future is particularly important for climate change regulations.
“This is a huge issue for climate change because we have to reduce emissions now but the consequence of those reduced emissions are spread over centuries,” he said.
But Whiteman said this also risks being more “speculative” about what impacts will or won’t happen in the future.
The guidance also says that there are cases where policymakers should not only consider benefits for U.S. citizens, but should also weigh international impacts of a regulation.
Goodwin said that the ultimate effectiveness of this week’s changes will be determined by how the Biden administration decides to use them.
“They’ve sort of laid the groundwork to make it a big deal,” he said. “Do you ever play with Legos? You sort of dump out the pieces. They’ve sort of dumped out the pieces. The question is: what are they going to build with it, if anything.”