Regulatory foot-dragging

There are a number of avenues through which policy change can come about and new regulations governing how a particular industry or activity is conducted can be among the most effective. That is especially true in a political environment that has legislative policymaking at a standstill.

In order for them to work, though, such rules must be reviewed and approved in a timely manner – a requirement the Obama administration is having trouble meeting. That needs to change.

At issue is the White House Office of Management and Budget’s pace in reviewing proposed regulations, namely those governing energy efficiency. The Department of Energy has proposed a number of rules that would boost efficiency requirements for buildings and appliances, but the regulations have languished unimplemented while waiting for review and approval by the White House. That is problematic on a number of fronts, primary among which is the fact that increased efficiency is among the easiest and most effective means of reducing energy consumption and therefore lessening Americans’ contribution to climate change through greenhouse-gas emissions. It is the right thing to do and the Department of Energy has crafted effective means of doing it. The White House should act with equal efficiency in getting those rules on the books.

The foot-dragging is problematic, too, for political reasons. President Barack Obama vowed in his second inaugural address and in the State of the Union speech that followed, to act decisively and expeditiously in addressing climate change. He has since taken his time in proposing definitive means of countering the global problem, and been even less action-oriented in pursuing others’ proposals. There are, of course, some practical reasons for this – namely that vacancies in the review office have slowed the process – but the primary factor seems to be political calculation. Obama has been criticized for overregulating any number of industries and accused of killing jobs and the economy in the process. For that, the president seems to now be overreacting, at a significant cost to his commitment to addressing critical issues.

Proposing an agenda with as much conviction as Obama gave climate change earlier this year requires follow-through that will alienate those who oppose the tenets of that agenda. That is the nature of leadership and decision-making on divisive issues: They will always divide. Obama cannot please everyone and still advance a meaningful set of policies that effectively address climate change, nor can he run a regulatory office that is renowned for its failure to review rules in the timely manner required by an executive order that has been in place for 20 years. It makes a mockery of government efficiency, to say nothing of effectiveness.

There is every reason to reverse this trend of foot-dragging and get down to the business of rule-making.

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