Issues & Insights

Regulations? You Don’t Need To Know

Library Of Congress

Swimming quietly in the flood of executive orders that President Joe Biden unleashed in his first days in office is a stealthy little beast that will throw off major constraints for the regulatory state, while neutering existing requirements that the government actually tell you about its regulations; what they’ll mean for you; how they’ll be paid for; and how they’ll prevent the regulations from proliferating like a cancer of red tape. Of course, it’s all for your own good, because, well, COVID-19. And climate. And “racial justice.”

Biden’s Executive Order 13992 revokes “harmful policies and directives that threaten to frustrate the Federal Government’s ability to confront these problems and empowers agencies to use appropriate regulatory tools to achieve these goals.”

That all sounds lovely, except when you realize what it means. The list of prior executive orders that 13992 strikes down were meant to ensure that the regulatory state acts rationally with regard to analyzing and understanding the impacts its regulatory edicts will have on people. This includes ensuring that the benefits of regulations are greater than the costs they inflict on society, red tape doesn’t drown the planet, and that you actually get to be told about regulations before you find out that you’re in trouble for violating them.

Among the prior executive orders Biden revoked are Trump orders that called for:

  • Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs
  • Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda
  • Improving the Utility of Federal Advisory Committees
  • Promoting the Rule of Law Through Improved Agency Guidance Documents
  • Promoting the Rule of Law Through Transparency and Fairness in Civil Administrative Enforcement and Adjudication
  • Increasing Government Accountability for Administrative Actions by Reinvigorating Administrative PAYGO

PAYGO, by the way, is “govspeak” for pay-as-you-go budgeting. You know, the thing you’re supposed to do with your household spending.

Space limitations prohibit detailing all of the prior executive orders killed in Biden’s festival of redactions, but here are key elements of a few of them.

Via executive order, the current president has eliminated a 2019 Trump Executive Order 13891 that would “take public input into account when appropriate in formulating guidance documents, and make guidance documents readily available to the public.” Right, government agencies are supposed to actually treat their regulations as if they are regulations, and tell people what the heck they’re obligated to do. Well, apparently, we can’t have that.

Another rescinded Trump order required that “Agencies shall act transparently and fairly with respect to all affected parties … when engaged in civil administrative enforcement or adjudication. No person should be subjected to a civil administrative enforcement action or adjudication absent prior public notice of both the enforcing agency’s jurisdiction over particular conduct and the legal standards applicable to that conduct.” Wait, the government is supposed to tell you what it’s making illegal so that you can stop doing it and not run into trouble with the law? What a ridiculous idea. Yes, well, to quote Inspector Clousseau, “Not anymore.”

And of course, Biden’s order kills a Trump order which could be described as the “Pay your damn bills” order. That one required that “agencies consider the costs of their administrative actions, take steps to offset those costs, and curtail costly administrative actions.” Wow. So, regulators are actually supposed to consider the cost of their regulations, and figure out how they’re going to be paid for? Ghastly!

With one stroke of the presidential pen, Biden has thrown open the floodgates of government regulation under the expansive rationale of saving us from viruses and saving the Earth herself from the burdens we humans place on it by using energy and building stuff to let us survive on it. Oh, and ending unfairness.

This would be a very good time to buy stock in the ink and paper they use to print up the Federal Register where they tell us about all these great regulations! Oh, wait. They’ve decided that we don’t need to know.

Kenneth P. Green, who has a doctorate in environmental science and engineering, is senior fellow in environmental studies at the Pacific Research Institute.

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