Red Tapeworm 2014: Are Environmental Protection Agency Regulations Declining? Don’t Bet on It

This is Part 26 of a series taking a walk through some sections of Ten Thousand Commandments: An Annual Snapshot of the Federal Regulatory State (2014 Edition)

Back when the House Oversight committee in 2010 asked businesses, trade groups and think tanks which regulations they considered most burdensome, there were more than 160 responses filled with recommendations. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) easily dominated the regulatory burden reported by private enterprise.

In the bar chart nearby one can see that EPA rules finalized in the Federal Register during the first term of the Obama administration rose steadily from 441 to 635 between 2009 and 2012 (a 44 percent increase). But then they suddenly dropped 19 percent to 514 in 2013.

In the past year, EPA rules in the Unified Agenda of Federal Regulations pipeline also dropped; 20 percent, from 223 to 179. That’s the lowest level of the decade. And for the second time, the Environmental Protection Agency does not appear among the top-five rulemaking agencies as far as the Unifed Agenda count is concerned. (EPA ranks sixth with 179 rules; refer Table 5 in Ten Thousand Commandments).

EPA also ostensibly doesn’t rank among the agencies with the most rules in the Unified Agenda impacting small business anymore; note the bar chart’s implausible 88 percent drop from 49 EPA rules impacting small business to only six in 2013.

A falloff does not square with the level of regulatory impact driven by the EPA. Earlier editions of “Tapeworm” addressed overall rule delays and reporting delays as well as OMB memos affecting reporting policy for the Unified Agenda that reduced rule counts compared to prior years. Also only one Agenda, not the required two, appeared in 2012.

A Washington Post headline summed up: “White House Delayed Enacting Rules Ahead of 2012 Election To Avoid Controversy.”

Where did all the EPA’s Agenda rules go? A 2013 breakdown of EPA’s 179 Unified Agenda rules by stage of completion is shown below. One can see that “Active” rules are actually higher than in 2012, while chunks of the EPA’s “Active” and “Long-term” rules simply vanished since 2011. The falloff in rules “Completed” in 2013 may reflect the administration holding rules back and delaying rule review. Finally, it simply appears that fewer of the Long-term rules are being talked about or disclosed.

Active, Completed, and Long-Term EPA Rules in the Unified Agenda

  Total Active Completed Long-Term
2011 318 175 82 61
2012 223 117 71 35
2013 179 134 21 24

One suspects a likelihood of EPA reporting less rather than rolling back regulatory pursuits. Regulatory liberalization has not been an Obama administration priority, something reflected in public statements about acting on energy and environmental policy unilaterally.

We know that apart from the 2013 drop, the bar chart shows higher levels of EPA rules actually finalized in the Federal Register. Meanwhile, across agencies, proposed rules are on the high side for the decade.

And EPA costs are up, despite the lower reported levels of rules. The OMB’s 2013 Draft Report to Congress on the Benefits and Costs of Federal Regulations presented a range of costs of $14.8 billion to $19.5 billion (2001 dollars). Well over half of that is attributed to EPA: $8.3 is EPA exclusively, and another $5.3 to $8.8 billion is ascribed to the EPA and Department of Transportation joint fuel economy standardsTotal regulatory costs had been in the $10 billion range in prior years. The 2014 Draft Report did drop, however EPA accounts for most cost: $2 billion out of $2.4 billion reported (2010 dollars). These costs however, only cover rules for which both benefits and costs were assessed.

So it’ll be interesting to watch. A 2012 report from the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works details what it called “Numerous Obama EPA Rules Placed on Hold until After the Election.” These rules include:

  • Greenhouse gas regulations;
  • Ozone rule;
  • Hydraulic fracturing rule;
  • Florida numeric nutrient criteria (water quality rules);
  • Guidance documents for waters covered by the Clean Water Act;
  • Stormwater regulation;
  • Tier 3 gas regulations;
  • Maximum achievable control technologies rules for industrial boilers and for cement;
  • Power plant cooling towers rule;
  • Coal ash rule;
  • Farm dust regulations; and
  • Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure Rule.

Overall, I reckon around $379 billion in annual costs as a placeholder for the EPA’s impact; this figure is lower than what the EPA ascribed to itself as a percentage of the economy in its own reports in the 1990s, prior to the two decades of rulemakings in between.

2014 Red Tapeworm Series:

  • Part 1: Guess Which Is the Largest Government on Earth?
  • Part 2: Tardy Bureaucrats Gone Wild
  • Part 3: Reckoning the Dollar Cost of Federal Regulation
  • Part 4: Regulations Catching Up to Government Spending?
  • Part 5: Regulations Cost More than Federal Income Taxes
  • Part 6: The Federal Government “Eats” 31 Percent Of The U.S. Economy
  • Part 7: U.S. Regulation Compared to the World’s Largest Economies
  • Part 8: The High Cost of Overcriminalization 
  • Part 9: Thousands of Federal Register Pages
  • Part 10: A Record Number of Federal Register Final Rule Pages
  • Part 11: Federal Register Pages Per Decade
  • Part 12: Number of Proposed and Final Rules In the Federal Register
  • Part 13: Cumulative Final Rules in the Federal Register
  • Part 14: The Expanding Code of Federal Regulations
  • Part 15: A Fourth of July Reflection on Presidential Executive Orders and Loss of Liberty
  • Part 16: Over 24,000 Pen and Phone “Public Notices” Annually
  • Part 17: When Regulations Get Delayed
  • Part 18: Federal Regulatory Disclosure Becomes More Confused
  • Part 19: Federal Regulatory Agenda Consistently Tops 3,000 Rules
  • Part 20: Here Are the Federal Agencies that Issue the Most Regulations
  • Part 21: Big Dollar Federal Regulations in the Pipeline Highest Under Obama
  • Part 22: Completed Economically Significant Rules at Record Levels
  • Part 23: Small Businesses Beaten Down By Recordbreaking Federal Regulations
  • Part 24: Tell Us—Which Regulations Hurt Your Business As You Grow?
  • Part 25: The Government Accountability Office Reports More Regulations In Obama Era