The plaintiffs, including Public Citizen, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and the Communications Workers of America (CWA), are asking the U.S. District Court for D.C. to issue a declaration that the order—which requires a $0 net cost for new rules this fiscal year—is not lawful and bar the agencies from putting it into effect.
"No one thinking sensibly about how to set rules for health, safety, the environment, and the economy would ever adopt the Trump executive order approach—unless their only goal was to confer enormous benefits on big business," Public Citizen president Robert Weissman said. "If implemented, the order would result in lasting damage to our government's ability to save lives, protect our environment, police Wall Street, keep consumers safe, and fight discrimination."
The lawsuit (pdf) names Trump, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and the chiefs of more than a dozen executive departments as defendants. It charges that the agencies cannot lawfully implement the order because it violates the Administrative Procedure Act—which governs how they operate internally and interact with the public—among other statutes.
"By irrationally directing agencies to consider costs but not benefits of new rules, it would fundamentally change our government's role from one of protecting the public to protecting corporate profits."
—Robert Weissman, Public Citizen
Trump's mandate "will block or force the repeal of 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 lawsuit states.
The order also instructs federal departments to look only at the cost of regulations and ignore their benefits, which will "force agencies to take regulatory actions that harm the people of this nation," the lawsuit continues.
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"By irrationally directing agencies to consider costs but not benefits of new rules, it would fundamentally change our government's role from one of protecting the public to protecting corporate profits," Weissman said.
In a draft 2016 report (pdf) to Congress, the White House OMB estimated that the annual benefits from all major regulations over the past 10 years, taking both cost and benefit into account, were between $269 billion and $872 billion in 2014 dollars—while the costs were between $74 billion and $110 billion.
Trump's order would "deny Americans the basic protections they rightly expect," said NRDC president Rhea Suh.
"New efforts to stop pollution don't automatically make old ones unnecessary," Suh said. "When you make policy by tweet, it yields irrational rules. This order imposes a false choice between clean air, clean water, safe food, and other environmental safeguards."
Patti Goldman, an attorney for Earthjustice, which is representing the plaintiffs, added, "When presidents overreach, it is up to the courts to remind them no one is above the law and hold them to the U.S. Constitution. This is one of those times."