White House regulatory czar Cass Sunstein has been working to change the Obama Administration’s stance on various regulations. The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that Sunstein teamed up with Obama Chief of Staff Bill Daley to squash the long-delayed and much-needed ozone standard.
So if Sunstein thinks a regulatory moratorium would be catastrophic, that’s saying something. Republicans, of course, have stepped up their attacks on regulations to unprecedented levels. Congressional Republicans and presidential hopefuls have made repeated calls for a moratorium on all regulations, and threaten to close the EPA on a daily basis.
Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that the White House was also considering a full moratorium on EPA regulations. But PoliticoPro reported today that Cass Sunstein, head of the Administration’s office of regulatory affairs, is denying those reports.
For one thing, “A moratorium would not be a scalpel or a machete, it would be more like a nuclear bomb, in the sense that it would prevent regulations that, let’s say, cost very little, and have very significant economic or public health benefits,” he said.
A moratorium would also block the executive branch from its duty to carry out laws passed by Congress, he added. “A moratorium would violate the requirement of laws to be faithfully executed, so it would have to be a highly qualified moratorium.” A time out on rules would also prevent some deregulatory efforts because they are considered regulatory actions, Sunstein said.
It must be said, however, that Sunstein’s own efforts have undermined the ability of the president to make the case for regulations. National Journal recently conducted a poll of energy industry insiders, who expressed concern that the smog decision will open up the door to more delays of Environmental Protection Agency standards:
Over half of Insiders responding said that Obama is likely to delay imposition of other new environmental regulations, with 15 percent calling the prospect “very likely” and 39 percent deeming it “somewhat likely.” “The only decision metric that matters for the next 14 months is, ‘Will this help us get reelected?’ ” said one Insider. “If a regulatory decision is a liability, we should fully expect the administration to delay until Nov. 7” of 2012—the day after the presidential election.
When Obama announced he would delay the ozone rule until 2013, he talked about such rules creating uncertainty in the market. (As if pushing for a standard so aggressively and then pulling back at the last minute provides certainty.) So even though White House officials are denying they’ll put a halt on other environmental regulations, the President has severely weakened his ability to talk proactively about the economic benefits of EPA rules that could create more than 250,000 jobs through installation of scrubber technologies and build-out of new, cleaner energy facilities. Experts polled by National Journal said the Administration had effectively killed its own messaging efforts:
“It is disturbing that he used the ‘regulatory uncertainty’ point when backing off the ozone rules, and that might be a sign that he’s willing to back off other rules as well,” another Insider said. On Sept. 2, when Obama announced the decision to delay tighter ground-level ozone standards for at least two years, he cited the “importance of reducing regulatory burdens.” In contrast, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and EPA air chief Gina McCarthy have repeatedly told Congress that regulations actually could help a struggling economy, citing studies that say environmental spending creates jobs. One Insider said that Obama “can no longer claim the regulations help the economy,” now that he has identified regulatory burdens as a potential issue for employers.
After speculation that EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson would leave the agency after having the smog rule tabled, she now says “I’m staying.” But her ability to sell these regulations as a job creator may have gotten harder.