Biden Regulatory Playbook Revives More Active Government


June 11, 2021 9:11 pm

President Joe Biden laid out his first regulatory to-do list Friday, detailing his ambitions to dramatically expand the scope of the federal government’s involvement in education, healthcare, and the environment, among other areas.

Tougher regulation to prevent discrimination in health care, boost wages for tipped workers, and provide relief for student loan borrowers is on the agenda that outlines each federal agency’s regulatory priorities for the coming months. The agenda includes agency plans to revise Trump-era rules on pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and public lands. And it includes proposals that would strengthen protections for immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children alter which asylum-seekers are allowed into the U.S.

The list, typically issued twice per year, marks a stark departure from the Trump administration’s focus on reducing the size, cost and scope of federal regulations. With Congress narrowly divided, it offers a window into how Biden wants to leverage the federal agencies he oversees to advance his ambitious agenda through regulation.

“The last four years offered a clear lesson on what happens when the executive branch fails to uphold its responsibility to protect the American people,” said Sharon Block, acting administrator of the White House regulations office, in a statement. “Our first regulatory agenda demonstrates our commitment to reversing this trend.”

The list of regulations isn’t final. Agencies will have to complete a number of tasks before they become law, including drafting rules and collecting feedback. The White House regulations office, led for now by Block, will sign off on each rule before it is published.

As a private citizen, Block wrote last year that corporations have an “outsized” influence on that office. That won’t happen under her leadership, she said in an interview Thursday.

“We listen to everybody, but we have no confusion about what our priorities are and where the regulations that we work on should end up,” Block said.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who oversaw budget and regulation during the George W. Bush administration, disagreed with the Biden administration’s plan to expand federal involvement in businesses. Portman is now the top Republican on the committee that oversees the White House regulations office, and will help lead a confirmation hearing for that office’s leader if the Biden administration picks a nominee.

“We should be looking for ways to encourage productivity,” Portman said in a statement.

The regulatory list includes more than 2,500 items. Here are some of the key takeaways:

Climate Fight

Much of Biden’s climate agenda is tied up in infrastructure negotiations on Capitol Hill, where discussions have bogged down among competing plans in recent days. The agenda lays out Biden’s strategy to advance his environmental ambitions while those talks continue.

The Environmental Protection Agency is planning a quick turnaround on regulations to phase down hydrofluorocarbons, or “super polluting” greenhouse gases that warm the Earth at a rate hundreds of times more than carbon dioxide.

Democrats and Republicans reached a compromise, as part of a broad energy package signed into law in December, to gradually reduce the powerful greenhouse gases. The EPA plans to issue a final rule on the topic in October.

At the same time, the Energy Department is writing regulations to strengthen conservation standards for dozens of products, including walk-in coolers, furnace fans and clothes dryers.

Federal agencies plan to increase regulation of PFAS, the so-called “forever chemicals,” in drinking water. Some PFAS are linked to increased cholesterol levels, changes in liver enzymes, and lower infant birth weights, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The agencies will also write stricter standards for natural resources development on public lands and revise Trump-era rules to toughen pollution regulations.

The Department of Transportation also plans to enhance pipeline safety, including through new requirements to detect and repair leaks.

Equity Push

Biden promised early in his presidency to tackle racial and social inequities, and the agenda outlines how agencies aim to achieve that.

The Department of Health and Human Services plans to strengthen protections against race, gender and disability discrimination in health care.

Separately, the Department of Housing and Urban Development will write rules designed to give people equal access to federally-funded shelters and facilities, regardless of sexual orientation or gender.

Economic Recovery

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention intends to finish requirements by April 2022 for airlines to collect and provide communicable disease information to the agency.

Both the Trump and Obama administrations failed to create a national aviation preparedness plan for disease outbreaks, making it difficult for the CDC to trace airline passengers infected with the coronavirus during the early days of the pandemic.

The Labor Department will aim to make recently-announced pay increases for federal contractors permanent and adjust wages for tipped workers.

The Education Department will draft proposals to make it easier for borrowers to get relief from their student loans and to cut off aid to poor quality vocational schools in 2022.

The Small Business Administration plans to advance regulations that ease the requirements for refinancing debt and expand other loan programs.

The Food and Drug Administration is planning in October to propose new ways to regulate manufacturing and packaging requirements for tobacco products.

Health Coverage

The Department of Health and Human Services will propose repealing a provision in a Trump administration rule that allows states to use brokers and health insurers to directly enroll consumers in Affordable Care Act health plans. The provision would largely bypass the federal exchange, as Georgia has proposed doing.

Immigration Rules

The Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security plan to propose new criteria for asylum-seekers as part of Biden’s broader goal to retool the nation’s immigration system.

The Department of Homeland Security will draft ways to strengthen protections for undocumented individuals brought to the U.S. illegally as children, under the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). It expects to publish its proposal by August.