How Many Significant Regulations Escape Congress’ Notice?

The Spring 2015 Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions was released in late May, presenting recently completed actions and ongoing priorities of the federal bureaucracy. It covered 3,260 rules and regulations in the pipeline.

Among these, there are 205 “economically significant” rules highlighted; this subset sports economic impacts of $100 million or more annually.

Shortly after the Agenda appeared, the Environmental Protection Agency’s sweeping new Clean Water Rule on nationwide permitting on private property was released and got a lot of attention in the news. It’s known as the Waters of the United States rule, and promises huge burdens on landowners and farmers who have no “navigable waters” on their property. Congress is looking at ways to respond to one of the most notorious current regulations.

Yet, when I glanced at the list of economically significant rules in the Unified Agenda, this heavyweight wasn’t listed among them.

Incredibly, EPA lists the Clean Water Rule as merely “other significant” (a category defined in Executive Order 12866). The agency had received over a million comments on the rule that it apparently played a role itself in soliciting to reinforce this power grab.

There are lots of problems with the way regulations get reported and disclosed; but absence of the EPA water rule from the current Unified Agendas list of economically significant rules means that Congress needs to take a hard look at the category called “other significant,”

Indeed, there are far more of these than there are “economically significant.” In fact, in the new Agenda there are 765 active rules in the “other significant” category; 160 long-term; and 97 just completed.

It’s worth noting that the number of completed rules in this category far surpasses the numbers of completed economically significant rules that get most of the attention (there were 25 of these in the Spring 2015 Agenda.

Such rules may be economically significant in fact, but not get labeled as such by the bureaucracies.

Another example is the Federal Communications Commission’s “open Internet” net neutrality rule rearranging the entire future of the telecommunications and Internet sector. This one also was not listed as economically significant; nor was it even acknowledged to be merely "other significant. It is actually deemed “Nonsignificant.”

All this makes it hard to trust bureaucracies’ judgment with respect to any of their rule designations. It is a wake-up call to Congress.