White House unveils push to scrap costly rules

Says businesses will save millions

By Alan Fram
Associated Press / May 27, 2011

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WASHINGTON — Oil spill prevention requirements will no longer apply to spilled milk. Gasoline pumps would not need devices to trap vapor pollutants. There would be fewer bureaucratic hurdles for doctors who want to dispense medical advice to a distant patient.

These were among hundreds of existing regulations that the Obama administration said yesterday it wants to revamp or eliminate in a governmentwide effort to ease burdens on business. Overall, the drive would save hundreds of millions of dollars annually for companies, governments, and individuals and eliminate millions of hours of paperwork while maintaining health and safety protections for Americans, White House officials said.

“The president believes we need to be very careful to make sure small businesses have room to grow,’’ said Cass Sunstein, President Obama’s regulatory chief, who described the plans in a speech to the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

The effort was described in hundreds of pages posted online by 30 agencies and departments, at points vague or thick with legalistic references to sections of regulatory codes.

The scope was vast — the Defense Department said it is reviewing limitations on former members of the military wearing uniforms, the Transportation Department described a review of consumer protection guidelines for air travelers, and the Food and Drug Administration said it is revising food-labeling rules.

Republicans in Congress have also announced plans to thin federal regulations. House leaders pledged yesterday to approve legislation to require congressional approval of any government rule that “will have a significant impact on the economy.’’ Representative Cliff Stearns, a Florida Republican who chairs a House investigative subcommittee, said he has summoned Sunstein to testify before his panel next week in a review of the administration’s proposed changes.

Business organizations said they are less concerned with existing rules than with proposed regulations, including Environmental Protection Agency plans to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

“The new, costly burdens often have greater impact and are a greater threat to job creation and competitiveness,’’ said Rosario Palmieri, a vice president at the National Association of Manufacturers.

The changes — some already finalized but mostly proposals that will take about three months to complete — are a follow-up to an executive order Obama issued in January aimed at jettisoning ineffective or burdensome rules.

In one change that’s already taken effect, the EPA tightened oil spill prevention regulations it said were so broad that dairy farmers had to follow the requirements for milk spills. The change will save dairy farmers $140 million a year, the administration said.

Officials said devices trapping vapors at gasoline pumps were unneeded because antipollution technology on today’s vehicles makes the vapor traps “redundant.’’ EPA estimates savings of $67 million a year once that requirement is eased.

The Department of Health and Human Services said it wants to help serve more rural patients by letting doctors credentialed at one hospital use telemedicine — interacting with a patient via interactive video devices — even if they are not credentialed at the hospital where the patient is.

Other proposed changes:

■Health and Human services is studying whether to modernize a rule requiring bar codes on some pharmaceuticals.

■The Occupational Safety and Health Administration will reduce over 1.9 million hours a year of reporting requirements for employers.

■The Transportation Department would apply certain railroad safety rules “only where they are actually needed,’’ saving up to $1 billion over 20 years.