OMB Delays Undermining Administration’s Agenda on Environment, Energy, and Public Health
With Congress gridlocked on a host of issues, President Obama has pledged to take action in its stead, particularly on issues related to energy and the environment. Unfortunately, according to a letter sent last night by a group of Senate and House Democrats, critical actions to protect public health, workers safety, the environment, and save money are being delayed.
The letter was signed by U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and U.S. Representatives Henry A. Waxman (D-CA) and Ed Markey (D-MA). In it, the Members urge the Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Sylvia Burwell, to take “prompt action” to expedite the rulemaking process and improve transparency.
In particular, the Members target regulatory review delays in OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). “…key standards to protect public health, worker safety, and the environment have languished at OIRA, in some cases for years,” they wrote.
Under Executive Order 12866, first signed by President Clinton and reaffirmed by President Obama, rules and regulations under review by OIRA are subject to a 90-day deadline. And yet, as the letter notes, “Fourteen of the twenty rules submitted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have been under review at OIRA for more than 90 days; thirteen have been delayed for more than a year… Nine of the ten Department of Energy (DOE) rules under review at OIRA have been there for more than 120 days…”
Delays exceeding 90 days include EPA’s Guidance Identifying Waters Protected by the Clean Water Act; DOE energy efficiency standards for commercial walk-in coolers and freezers, commercial refrigeration equipment, and metal halide lamp fixtures; and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) proposed rule to protect workers from cancer-causing silica dust. OSHA’s preliminary analysis indicates that the silica rule would prevent approximately 60 deaths per year from lung cancer and silicosis.
In addition to the rules listed in the letter, OIRA is also holding up a proposal from EPA to add a series of new substances to their “chemicals of concern” list. Exposure to these chemical substances is widespread, including through personal care products, commodity plastics, furniture, and carpeting. EPA believes they “present or may present an unreasonable risk of injury to human health or the environment,” and yet the list has been delayed at OIRA for more than 1100 days.
The full text of the letter is below.
June 4, 2013
The Honorable Sylvia Matthews Burwell
White House Office of Management and Budget
725 17th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20503
Dear Director Burwell:
Congratulations on your recent unanimous confirmation to serve as Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). We are pleased to have you at the helm of OMB and offer you our support as you work to achieve the organization’s mission.
We appreciate that during your confirmation hearing in the Senate Budget Committee you agreed to address regulatory review delays in OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). As you know, OIRA is responsible for reviewing rules and regulations in a timely and transparent manner. In Executive Order 12866, President Clinton recognized the importance of a timely and transparent regulatory review process and set, among other things, a 90-day deadline for OIRA review. President Obama affirmed his commitment to these standards in Executive Order 13563. However, key standards to protect public health, worker safety, and the environment have languished at OIRA, in some cases for years.
Fourteen of the twenty rules submitted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have been under review at OIRA for more than 90 days; thirteen have been delayed for more than a year. One particularly egregious example of OIRA delays is EPA’s Guidance Identifying Waters Protected by the Clean Water Act. This guidance would clarify regulatory jurisdiction over U.S. waters and wetlands. It is an issue that has come before the U.S. Supreme Court three times and, until the Administration finalizes this guidance, will continue to create confusion, loopholes, and inconsistency for officials at the state and local level. Despite the clear need for regulatory guidance from this Administration, EPA’s final guidance has been under review for 470 days, since February 21, 2012.
Nine of the ten Department of Energy (DOE) rules under review at OIRA have been there for more than 120 days. Important DOE energy efficiency standards, such as those for commercial walk-in coolers and freezers, commercial refrigeration equipment, and metal halide lamp fixtures have been pending at OIRA for more than a year.
Similarly, key worker safety standards have also been delayed for far too long. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) proposed rule to protect workers from cancer-causing silica dust has been at OIRA for over two years, since February 14, 2011. OSHA’s preliminary analysis indicates that the silica rule would prevent approximately 60 deaths per year from lung cancer and silicosis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 1.7 million additional workers are exposed to dangerous levels of silica every year. These workers may also face a lifetime of serious health problems that the completion of this rule could help to prevent.
President Obama has committed OIRA to following important disclosure rules to ensure transparency and accountability in the regulatory process. However, OIRA frequently holds onto rules without explaining its concerns, preventing agencies from taking steps to address them. If there are problems with rules or guidance submitted by any agency, those problems should be aired and addressed, not kept hidden behind closed doors.
The need for expeditious and transparent regulatory review is particularly important in the current political climate. With Congress often paralyzed by gridlock, the public is depending on the federal agencies to protect public health and welfare. OIRA should strive to facilitate efforts by the agencies to respond to urgent priorities being stymied in Congress.
During your confirmation process, you demonstrated a keen understanding of the challenges you face, and the willingness to face them head on. We write today to offer our support, and urge you to take prompt action. Our country cannot meet the public health and environmental challenges it faces without a regulatory system that works. We look forward to working with you to meet these challenges.
Subcommittee on Oversight
Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions
Benjamin L. Cardin
Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife
Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
Subcommittee on Oversight, Federal Rights, and Agency Action
Senate Committee on the Judiciary
Henry A. Waxman
House Committee on Energy and Commerce
Edward J. Markey
House Committee on Natural Resources