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N.C. Opinions: New York

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The slow road to reforms

From an editorial Sunday in the New York Times:

President Barack Obama’s new regulatory agenda on climate change will face inevitable legal and political challenges. But in all fields – not just energy and the environment but health, safety and labor – one the most formidable obstacles to reform has been the administration’s own resistance to finalizing new rules, even when it has expressed support for the causes those rules would address.

Recently, 136 draft rules from executive agencies were under review at the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, or OIRA, a branch of the Office of Management and Budget. Of them, 72 have been held up for longer than the 90-day limit set by executive order, and of those, 38 have languished for more than a year, including 24 from 2011 and three from 2010.

The backlog has more to do with politics than economics. In 2012, a presidential election year in which Republicans hammered the administration for its allegedly “job killing” regulations, the number of rules receiving final approval hit a historic low (in data going back to 1993), while the time OIRA took to vet proposals hit new highs.

Even though Obama won re-election, delays persist. It is as if the White House is still driven by election-year motives: defuse Republican taunts and placate industry. Or worse, its commitment to new rules is suspect.

The White House can cite completed rules, like important ones on toxic emissions from power plants, fuel economy and sulfur in gasoline. But that does not excuse stranding dozens of others in the purgatory of OIRA, including:

– Food safety: In January 2011, Obama signed a major food-safety law. But three rules to implement the law, submitted to OIRA by the Food and Drug Administration in November 2011, are still not completed. Two of them, on produce safety and food-related illness prevention, got preliminary clearance from OIRA in January, which allows the FDA to resume work on them before resubmitting them to OIRA for final review.

– Labor protections: A Labor Department proposal to grant home care workers basic wage-and-hour protections – lauded by Obama in December 2011 – wasn’t submitted to OIRA until January of this year, and has not been heard of since.

– Energy and environmental standards: Among the Energy Department stalled proposals is one submitted in September 2011 to substantially reduce harmful emissions from industrial freezers.

At the end of the day, what the public needs most is not just a more timely and transparent review process but a president unafraid of Republicans or corporate interests and determined to enact his regulatory agenda.

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