Deregulatory Frenzy: How Trump Has Stopped or Delayed More Than 1,500 Rules In Process

By Mike Tanglis

The Trump administration has withdrawn or paused more than 1,500 rulemakings. This total vastly exceeds the number under President Obama at this period of his administration, and roughly parallels the number under President George W. Bush. Trump has blocked more rulemakings deemed “significant” due to their economic impact or other factors than Bush. These findings are the focus of a new Public Citizen report.

The Trump administration has bragged that it has eliminated “nearly 1,000 regulations.” This claim is somewhat misleading. In fact, most of the regulations that the administration claims to have scuttled were rulemakings in progress that had yet to be finalized, as opposed to regulations already on the books that have been eliminated.

The status of ongoing rulemakings is reported by the Office of Management and Budget in a document called the Unified Agenda that is published twice a year. The Unified Agenda tracks a rulemaking’s progress, essentially from the proposed or prerule rule stage to its completion. Rulemakings can be categorized as “long term actions,” which generally means that they are not progressing very rapidly. Rulemakings can also be categorized as “withdrawn,” meaning that they have been cancelled prior to completion. (In a somewhat recent development, rulemakings may be put on an “inactive list,” which the Trump administration publishes separately from the Unified Agenda.)

This report examines nearly 20 years of Unified Agenda data to determine how the number of halted or delayed rulemakings on Trump’s first three agendas compares to the number of delayed or withdrawn rulemakings on the first three agendas of the Obama and George W. Bush administrations. It also examines changes to the list of inactive regulations. Rulemakings that have been halted or delayed make up the bulk of regulations to which Trump Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was referring when she bragged about the administration had “gotten rid of 1,000 regulations.”

We count rulemakings that have been halted as those listed as withdrawn on the Unified Agenda. We count as delayed those rulemakings that are listed for the first time on the “long-term actions” stage or moved to the inactive list.

[Download a PDF of the full report]

These are our findings at a glance:

1 – Withdrawn rulemakings – The Trump administration has withdrawn more than 780 rulemakings. That is an 85 percent increase compared to the Obama administration’s first three agendas and a 3 percent decrease compared to the first three agendas submitted by the George W. Bush administration.

Of Trump’s withdrawn rulemakings, 279 were deemed “significant.” Rulemakings are given the status of “economically significant” if they are projected to have an economic impact of more than $100 million and are given “other significant” status if they meet certain criteria, such as raising novel policy issues or affecting multiple agencies. The Trump administration’s number of significant rulemakings withdrawn by this point in the president’s term was 77 percent more than the Obama administration and 26 percent more than the George W. Bush administration.

2 – Active rulemakings moved to long-term – The Trump administration moved 583 rulemakings to long-term actions over its first three agendas. The total is 28 percent more than the Obama administration but 16 percent less than the Bush administration.

Of these, 209 were significant. That total is 7 percent more than the Obama administration total but 12 percent less than the Bush administration’s.

3 – Rulemakings moved to inactive – The Trump administration moved 328 rulemakings to inactive status. Of these, 41 percent were significant.
Examples of rulemakings that the Trump administration has terminated or postponed include one that would have addressed the hazards that led to the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster, which killed 29 people.

Others would have protected workers from vehicles backing up, which are one of the top causes of workplace fatalities, prevent explosions from combustible dust and reduce emissions of the potent greenhouse gas methane, to name a few.

The data in this report show that Trump has already scuttled hundreds public protections. The data are telling. But what the data do not convey is the human cost. As a result of the administration’s deregulatory fervor, there will be no combustible dust standard anytime soon. The hazards exposed in the Upper Big Branch mine disaster won’t be addressed. Efforts to prevent backover deaths in the workplace, to make trains safer, and to reduce greenhouse gases have all been blocked, for now.

This regulatory inaction will lead to preventable death and disease. While we may not yet know the names of those needlessly killed or injured by the administration’s determined inaction, we do know that people will die and suffer needlessly.