A Regulatory Rush by Federal Agencies to Secure Trump’s Legacy

WASHINGTON — Facing the prospect that President Trump could lose his re-election bid, his cabinet is scrambling to enact regulatory changes affecting millions of Americans in a blitz so rushed it may leave some changes vulnerable to court challenges.

The effort is evident in a broad range of federal agencies and encompasses proposals like easing limits on how many hours some truckers can spend behind the wheel, giving the government more freedom to collect biometric data and setting federal standards for when workers can be classified as independent contractors rather than employees.

In the bid to lock in new rules before Jan. 20, Mr. Trump’s team is limiting or sidestepping requirements for public comment on some of the changes and swatting aside critics who say the administration has failed to carry out sufficiently rigorous analysis.

Some cases, like a new rule to allow railroads to move highly flammable liquefied natural gas on freight trains, have led to warnings of public safety threats.

Every administration pushes to complete as much of its agenda as possible when a president’s term is coming to an end, seeking not just to secure its own legacy but also to tie the hands of any successor who tries to undo its work.

But as Mr. Trump completes four years marked by an extensive deregulatory push, the administration’s accelerated effort to put a further stamp on federal rules is drawing questions even from some former top officials who served under Republican presidents.

“Two main hallmarks of a good regulation is sound analysis to support the alternatives chosen and extensive public comment to get broader opinion,” said Susan E. Dudley, who served as the top White House regulatory official during the George W. Bush administration. “It is a concern if you are bypassing both of those.”

Administration officials said they were simply completing work on issues they have targeted since Mr. Trump took office in 2017 promising to curtail the reach of federal regulation.

“President Trump has worked quickly from the beginning of his term to grow the economy by removing the mountain of Obama-Biden job-killing regulations,” Russell Vought, the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, which oversees regulatory policy, said in a statement.

If Democrats take control of Congress, they will have the power to reconsider some of these last-minute regulations, through a law last used at the start of Mr. Trump’s tenure by Republicans to repeal certain rules enacted at the end of the Obama administration.

But it is nonetheless pushing to have the rule finished before the end of Mr. Trump’s first term, limiting the period of public comment to 30 days, half the amount of time that agencies are supposed to offer.

That has generated letters of protest from Senate Democrats and 22 state attorneys general.

“Workers across the country deserve a chance to fully examine and properly respond to these potentially radical changes,” said a letter organized by Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, and signed by 16 other Democratic senators.

The Departments of Labor and Homeland Security are using a tactic known as an interim final rule, more typically reserved for emergencies, to skip the public comment period entirely and to immediately enact two regulations that put much tougher restrictions on work visas for immigrants with special skills. The rule change is part of the administration’s longstanding goal of limiting immigration.

The Homeland Security Department is also moving, again with an unusually short 30-day comment period, to adopt a rule that will allow it to collect much more extensive biometric data from individuals applying for citizenship, including voice, iris and facial recognition scans, instead of just the traditional fingerprint scan. The measure, which the agency said was needed to curb fraud, would also allow it for the first time to collect DNA or DNA test results to verify a relationship between an application for citizenship and someone already in the United States.

A third proposed new Homeland Security rule would require sponsors of immigrants to do more to prove they have the financial means to support the individual they are backing, including three years’ worth of credit reports, credit scores, income tax returns and bank records. Anyone who accepted welfare benefits during the previous three years would be unable to sponsor an immigrant unless a second person agrees to do so.

The agency is limiting public comment on that change to 30 days as well.

Unlike most of the efforts the administration has pushed, the rules intended to tighten immigration standards would expand federal regulations, instead of narrowing them. They also come at a considerable cost, estimated to be more than $6 billion just for the new demands related to immigrants’ biometric data and proof of financial capacity for those sponsoring immigrants.

But the proposal provoked an intense backlash from a diverse array of prominent public safety officials. Among them were groups representing thousands of mayors, firefighters and fire marshals nationwide and even the federal government’s own National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates fatal transportation accidents.

The gas is stored in 30,000-gallon rail tanks at minus 260 degrees to keep it compressed. But if accidentally released during an accident, it would rapidly expand by nearly 600 times as the temperature rises and cause what is known as a “boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion” that if ignited could not be quickly extinguished, potentially resulting in widespread injury or death if it occurs in a populated area, the firefighters warned.

“It is nearly certain any accident involving a train consisting of multiple rail cars loaded with L.N.G. will place vast numbers of the public at risk while fully depleting all local emergency response forces,” Harold A. Schaitberger, the president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, wrote in a letter opposing the proposal.

The Transportation Department still adopted the rule and rejected proposed speed limits for the trains, generating a petition for a court review by 14 states and the District of Columbia.

“Studies on how to safely transport liquefied natural gas by rail are still ongoing, and this administration has rushed to implement a rule that will needlessly endanger people’s lives and threaten our environment,” Michigan’s attorney general, Dana Nessel, said.

Even while the challenge is underway, the Transportation Department has moved to enact another rule easing safety standards, in this case removing a requirement intended to limit the number of hours truck drivers are allowed behind the wheel and to mandate rest periods.

Certain drivers who carry agricultural products would now be exempt from this federal mandate in a standard that would again be adopted as an “interim final rule,” meaning it would be put in place before any public comment is accepted, under the plan announced by the agency.

“Fatigued truck drivers remain a stubbornly high cause of fatal highway accidents,” said James Goodwin, a lawyer at the Center for Progressive Reform, a nonprofit group that tracks regulatory actions. “The law permits agencies to take short cuts when there are extraordinary circumstances that call for them. That is not present here.”

Source link Most Shared

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.