U.S. House Republicans prodded President Barack Obama’s top regulatory official on proposed environmental rules and whether they are in conflict with the administration’s pledge to scrap unnecessary regulations.
Lawmakers told Cass Sunstein, head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, that the Environmental Protection Agency plans to limit carbon emissions, crack down on polluting boilers and set automobile emission standards may stunt economic growth and force companies out of business.
“There has been an explosion of regulation and regulations issued in the first years of the Obama administration,” Representative Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, said today at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing. “I don’t see that you have done anything to slow that down.”
Sunstein, 56, testified before Republicans who are questioning the administration’s regulatory overreach as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce complains of a “tsunami” of regulations they say hinder growth and discourage companies from new investments.
“Any rule that imposes significant costs, we have significant concerns about,” Sunstein told the panel. “We will be focusing very closely on the job impacts of new regulations.”
Obama on Jan. 18 ordered a review of U.S. regulations to remove or overhaul those that stifle economic expansion without helping consumers. The initiative is part of an executive order that he said would codify a balanced approach to regulation.
Balancing Costs, Rules
Federal proposals to safeguard health or protect the environment should be weighed against the economic costs of the rules, said Cliff Stearns, a Florida Republican and chairman of the Oversight and Investigations subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce panel.
“I am concerned that this balance has not properly been struck during the apparent rush to regulate over the past two years,” Stearns said.
Sunstein said the number of rules and economic costs haven’t increased in the two years Obama has been in office. In 2009, the economic impact of regulations exceeded the record of Bush and Clinton administrations, and total economic benefit of new rules increased in 2010, he said.
While the American recession ended in June 2009, employers have yet to step up hiring enough to reduce unemployment below 9.4 percent.
Rein In Rules
Thomas Donohue, the Chamber’s president, this month called on officials to “rein in excessive regulation and reform the regulatory process.” Federal rules cost the economy $1.7 trillion a year, Donohue said. An “explosion” of regulation has occurred in the past few years, he said.
At the hearing, Republicans said two administration proposals have caused concern for business and may hurt the environment.
The EPA’s first phase of greenhouse-gas regulations took effect this year, applying mainly to power plants and oil refineries. The agency has said it will propose a second wave of standards later this year.
The EPA faces a court-ordered mid-February deadline to issue emission standards for boilers and incinerators.
“We are working closely with EPA to put it in the best shape possible, and that work will be in line with the president’s executive order,” Sunstein said, when asked about the boiler rules. “We are going to do the best we can to get it right and keep the costs down.”
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