Public Interest Groups Sue Over Trump's '1 In, 2 Out' Plan for Fed. Regulations

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on February 10, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

President Trump campaigned on reducing government regulations and he didn't wait long to start moving in that direction. On January 30th, Trump signed an executive order that would require federal agencies to identify two regulations for elimination for every one new regulation they promulgate. Consider it a "buy one, lose two" deal.

Now, a coalition of consumer, labor, and environmental groups has filed the first suit challenging that order, claiming it oversteps the president's authority and violates administrative law.

Trump's Deregulatory Scheme

The executive order at issue requires that, "or every one new regulation issued, at least two prior regulations be identified for elimination." Thus, if the government want to, say, regulate the logging of national forests pursuant to the requirements of the Endangered Species Act, it would have to find two existing regulations to jettison -- rules about grazing on public lands, perhaps, or regulations on marine fish catch.

In addition, the EO creates a yearly cap on the increased incremental costs new regulations can have. For 2017, that cap is $0, requiring any increased costs to be offset through reductions in other programs. Any changes, the EO notes, must be made in accordance with the Administrative Law Procedure Act, essentially turning every new rulemaking into three.

Groups Claim the EO Oversteps Presidential Authority

The suit, brought by the Public Citizen Litigation Group, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Communication Workers of America in federal court in Washington, D.C., claims that the EO will block or repeal "regulations needed to protect health, safety, and the environment across a broad range of topics -- from automobile safety, to occupational health, to air pollution, to endangered species."

The EO, the suit alleges, violates the separation of powers, by allowing the executive branch to force agencies to act contrary to their governing statutes, which do not authorize the considerations required by the EO. In doing so, the order "exceeds presidential authority and usurps Congress's legislative authority," the suit claims.

"No governing statute authorizes an agency to base its actions on a decisionmaking criterion of zero net cost across multiple regulations," the suit says.

Laws such as the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Toxic Substance Control Act, cannot be correctly implemented while considering the factors demanded by the EO, the plaintiffs claim. TSCA, for example, explicitly forbids the consideration of "costs or other nonrisk factors" in regulating toxic chemicals.

The lawsuit further asserts that the EO violates the Administrative Procedure Act, as a "1 in, 2 out" model of federal regulation is inherently arbitrary and capricious.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer called the suit "wildly inaccurate."

"It makes a ton of assumptions that call for speculation on what may or may not happen in the future," he said.

The EO went in to effect when signed, and the Office of Management and Budget has already issued interim guidance. The suit seeks an injunction against its enforcement, as well as an eventual declaration that the EO is unlawful.

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