But some Republicans and business groups say new regulations, on top of rules already issued by the administration, could strangle the economy just as it begins to grow.
A new study by the National Association of Manufacturers claims major new EPA rules could cost manufacturers hundreds of billions of dollars and eliminate millions of American jobs.
The report, issued in late November, said compliance costs for six major EPA regulations — including rules limiting air and water pollution from coal- and oil-fired power plants — could total up to $111 billion by government estimates and up to $138 billion by industry estimates. Construction costs could total $500 billion, it said.
Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the manufacturing group, warned of a "devastating ripple effect" that could be felt throughout the U.S. economy if federal rules are not relaxed or delayed. Some manufacturers are likely to "close their doors for good" because of EPA rules, Timmons said.
Susan Dudley, director of the Regulatory Studies Center at George Washington University and the former head of a Bush administration regulatory office, said she has not seen a postelection surge in federal rule-making.
"It doesn't look like the floodgates are opening," she said, adding that with four more years in office, Obama is in no rush to implement rules that could damage a fragile economy.
The slowdown fits a pattern, Dudley said. During his first two years in office, Obama published a "record-setting" average of 63 economically significant final rules per year, she said, a pace that slowed to about 50 major rules in 2011 and fewer than two dozen this year.
Dudley said she expects a second Obama term to be more like his first two years in office than his third and fourth years — in part because so many federal rules that have been started have been put on hold.
One of the most high-profile delays was on a pledge to set stricter limits for lung-damaging smog. President George W. Bush had shunned the advice of independent scientists who said the current ozone standard was too weak. Under Obama, the EPA had promised to change that, only to have the White House put on the brakes in September 2011, explaining it was acting to reduce regulatory burdens and uncertainty in a shaky economy. A new ozone rule is now likely to be finalized next year.
Other environmental regulations, including a rule to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from refineries and to lower the sulfur content in gasoline, are far behind schedule. EPA officials have said not to expect them anytime soon.
In the area of worker safety, the Obama administration said more than two years ago it would fight a resurgence of black lung disease, but a rule to set new standards for lung-damaging coal dust has languished at the Labor Department. A rule to protect workers at construction sites and glass manufacturing operations from cancer-causing silica also has been delayed.
White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs: http://www.reginfo.gov/public
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