EPA Regulatory Burden Review Fails to Mollify Critics

Date: August 26, 2011

Source: News Room

EPA is expanding its review of key rules to limit unnecessary regulatory burdens, as required by President Obama earlier this year, but industry groups and lawmakers argue that new rules are offsetting any economic gains. On Aug. 23 the agency released its "Final Plan for Periodic Retrospective Reviews of Existing Regulations" in response to Obama's Executive Order 13563, which called on agencies to find rules that should be "modified, streamlined, expanded, or repealed" in order to reduce regulatory burdens. The EPA plan will focus on 35 rules, with 16 actions slated for 2011, while the agency will determine in the future if action is needed for the 19 additional rules undergoing review.

The plan expands the number of measures the agency will develop to reduce regulatory burdens, including streamlining leak detection requirements, revised drinking water and sewer overflow regulations, air quality requirements for grain elevators, streamlined pesticide reviews and clarified waste management rules for pharmaceuticals and other consumer products.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed published Aug. 23, Cass Sunstein, head of the Office of Information & Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), which oversaw development of the plans, says cabinet members have been asked to cut down on red tape in addition to implementing the look-back plans released by the agencies.

"Building on this direction, we are announcing today that Chief of Staff William Daley has given new instructions to the cabinet," Sunstein writes. "He has asked cabinet members to minimize regulatory costs, avoid imposing excessive regulatory burdens, and prioritize regulatory actions that promote economic growth and job creation." It is unclear when or how Daley's instructions were conveyed to the agencies.

Industry, Republican lawmakers and other critics say that while the EPA and other agencies' reviews are welcome, they do not go far enough. "Each of the proposals seems to be efficient, technical changes, but it doesn't make any impact on the overall regulatory burdens that exist on the business community," Bill Kovacs, senior vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told the Wall Street Journal.

Another new action added to the final list is EPA's planned collection of information for potential improvement of the hazardous waste requirements for retail products under the Resource Conservation & Recovery Act, which was sparked by retailer concerns expressed during the comment period, according to the plan.

"Retailers face uncertainty in managing the wide range of retail products that may become wastes if unsold, returned, or removed from shelves for inventory changes," the plan says, including "how to determine when unsold materials and materials returned by consumers become waste, how to make hazardous waste determinations for the many different kinds of materials that may become waste, and how the regulations apply to pharmaceuticals from retail pharmacies."

EPA is considering issuing guidance in the short term on disposal of pharmaceutical packaging and considering a rulemaking on pharmaceutical waste management, as well as more generally looking to define the scope of the issue and what materials may be affected.

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