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Trump Team To Discover Rolling Back Regulations Isn't Easy

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President-elect Donald Trump is offering a way to cut down on federal regulations.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: On regulation, I will formulate a rule which says that for every one new regulation, two old regulations must be eliminated - so important.

INSKEEP: And so appealing - I mean, who likes regulations? - in the abstract. As NPR's Brian Naylor reports, though, Trump has his work cut out for him.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: There are some 80,000 pages in the Federal Register, where all regulations are published. So you'd think it would be a simple task to pare back some of them.

SUSAN DUDLEY: It's generally not easy to do that.

NAYLOR: That's Susan Dudley, who heads the Regulatory Studies Center at George Washington University. Undoing regulations, she says, is neither quick nor simple to accomplish.

DUDLEY: To repeal the regulation, agencies would have to go through the notice-and-comment rule-making process - the same process that's used to develop a new regulation. And that would take at least a year.

NAYLOR: So basically, everything an agency does to create a rule it has to do to repeal one. There is a workaround, at least for the most recent regulations - the Congressional Review Act. Under that, lawmakers can repeal rules, but only those adopted during the last 60 working days of the current congressional session. So in other words, it would only affect regulations that for this Congress, which spent a lot of time in recess, takes us back to last May.

And from that stretch, there are a number of rules Congress could overturn - for example, emissions limits on big trucks, efficiency standards for appliances, restrictions on payday lending. Sam Batkins of the American Action Forum says the problem is that Congress will already have a lot on its plate early next year, passing spending bills and voting on about a thousand Trump-administration nominations. So it comes down to how much time lawmakers want to spend on regulations.

SAM BATKINS: The House and Senate are going to be really busy next spring. So to the extent they want to work in repealing past regulations is up to them. And it's a question of whether or not they don't want to go back and revisit this area any more.

NAYLOR: That's because once a rule has been repealed by Congress, that's it. It can't be modified. So if lawmakers, for instance, vote to repeal the truck emissions rule but the Trump administration wanted to replace it with a less restrictive one, it couldn't. There are other things President-elect Trump could do to change Obama-administration policies. Those initiated through executive actions could be undone by Trump executive actions. For some rules, including the EPA's Clean Power Plan, that are being challenged in court, the new administration could tell the judge it will no longer defend them. Batkins believes the answer for so many regulations, though, is a more thorough reform of the process.

BATKINS: For those who believe in regulatory reform and that the accumulation of thousands of rules every year has an effect on economic growth, I think we all realize that five or six rules during early spring is not going to change that calculus a great deal. I think we're far more interested in comprehensive reform in terms of how agencies regulate.

NAYLOR: And while Trump promises to put America first, this is one area where he may be taking a cue from other countries. Canada and Britain both have policies that require old regulations be eliminated each time a new one is enacted. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.