While President Donald Trump and his cronies continue to wage war on regulations—particularly those that aim to protect the environment and public health from the onslaught of dirty industries—his administration buried a government report that showed how a decade of federal regulatory decisions significantly benefited the American public.
"That is why Republicans hate EPA and its rules... [they] are a living demonstration of the good that government can do."
—David Roberts, Vox
On the last Friday in February, the Trump administration released a cost-benefit analysis for federal regulations from fiscal years 2006 to 2016. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) draft report (pdf) showed that, as David Roberts detailed at Vox on Tuesday, "by even the most conservative estimate, the benefits of Obama's regulations wildly outweighed the costs."
As the OMB report's first graph illustrates, while the regulations during the analyzed decade cost industry at most $128.5 billion—in 2015 U.S. dollars—the estimated benefit for the public was estimated to be $930.3 billion.
The agency whose rules generated the greatest cost to industry but also the most notable benefit, at $705.7 billion, was the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is now headed by Trump-appointed administrator Scott Pruitt.
"Specifically, EPA rules account for over 80 percent of the monetized benefits and over 70 percent of the monetized costs," according to the report. "Of these, rules that have a significant aim to improve air quality account for over 95 percent of the benefits of EPA rules."
Yet, as as Keith Zukowski at the Environmental Defense Fund pointed out Tuesday, on the same day the report was released, Pruitt "gave a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, touting the repeal of 22 environmental and public health regulations he claimed would save the nation $1 billion."
"The EPA chief did not mention the benefits of those rules, nor the role they played keeping people healthy and safe," Zukowski added. "In Pruitt's twisted calculus, the equation is simple: Regulations are bad, without exception."
Roberts provides a compelling take on why Trump, Pruitt, and other Republicans—including current OMB director Mick Mulvaney—have touted this deregulatory ideology, even when, as is clear from the clean air regulations, the benefits to the public hugely outweigh any costs to industry:
Air quality regulations serve as a downward redistribution of wealth, out of the pockets of industrialists and into the pockets of ordinary Americans, particularly the poor and vulnerable Americans (African Americans and Hispanics in particular) who tend to live closest to pollution sources. They shift costs, from the much higher health and social costs of pollution remediation to the comparatively smaller costs of pollution abatement.
And therein lies the source of industry and GOP rage toward EPA. It's why EPA delayed and delayed air rules under Bush. It’s why the GOP Congress worked so furiously to block air rules under Obama. And it’s why EPA is weakening or repealing air rules as fast as possible under Trump.
The GOP is opposed to downward redistribution of wealth. If one policy goal has unified the right above all else, it is upward redistribution. Even as its base drifts further into a fog of xenophobic, reactionary ressentiment, its moneyed interests and policy leaders remain laser-focused on reducing taxes and regulatory burdens on the wealthy. Upward redistribution is what unites GOP health care policy, tax policy, financial sector policy, and environmental policy.
That is why Republicans hate EPA and its rules: They are a burden to industry, but worse, they are a burden to industry that is very obviously worth it. Industry makes a small sacrifice, public health improves, and economic growth continues apace. EPA rules are a living demonstration of the good that government can do.
"Despite the administration's attempts to muddy the waters, the public will not be fooled and the data is clear: Americans will pay a steep price for Trump's deregulatory agenda," concluded Public Citizen's regulatory policy advocate, Amit Narang, who outlined why "it is not surprising that the administration missed the deadline for releasing this report by months and then sought to avoid media and public attention by releasing it late Friday evening."
"This administration has sought to avoid discussing or even acknowledging the benefits of regulatory protections at every turn," Narang explained. "In numerous cost-benefit analyses, the administration has dramatically lowered expected benefits in highly questionable fashion when rolling back regulatory protections. And in other instances, the administration simply has refused to release economic analysis showing the benefits of protections targeted for repeal."
So, what's next for the OMB report? As Zukowski noted, it is "now in the hands of Congress, where some members will likely look at it and maybe use it, while others just pretend it doesn't exist or even question the report's underlying data."