houseThe 2013 spring agenda published by White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) earlier this month fails to show a strong commitment to advancing public health, safety or environmental protections, according to the Center for Effective Government, a D.C. watchdog group.

The Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions is published semi-annually by OMB in accordance with Executive Order 12866. It includes an agenda prepared by each federal agency listing all regulations currently under development or review. Its purpose is to: (a) improve coordination among various divisions of the federal government and (b) give the public notice of upcoming agency actions.

Many rules remain stalled at OIRA

While the spring agenda indicates forward movement on the EPA's rule to limit greenhouse gas emissions for new fossil fuel-fired power plants and a standard for coal ash, the Center said many rules remain stalled at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). One of those is the EPA’s Chemicals of Concern list rule, which has been under review at OIRA since 2010 – despite a mandated 90-day deadline for the review process.

Silca exposure rule should be completed this month

Of special interest to occupational health and safety experts is OSHA’s rule to protect workers from exposure to silica dust that can lead to fatal respiratory disease.

OSHA's regulatory agenda has featured this rule since 2011, but the agency has been unable to move forward because it has been held up at OIRA for over two years,” notes a statement issued by the Center. “According to the spring agenda, the proposal should be complete this month – two months later than noted in the fall agenda. But it seems unlikely that OIRA will complete its review in time for OSHA to publish it in the Federal Register by the end of this month.

“Even if the administration is able to make headway on each of these proposed rules, the agency will still need to repeat the regulatory procedures and send the rule to OIRA for review at least one more time before the rules would become final.”

The same fate awaits the greenhouse gas emission rule, which will go back to the proposal stage despite that fact that when the last agenda was released in December, the rule was in the "final" stages of development. The rule would reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that is released into the air. President Obama's new climate change plan, announced in June, requires the EPA to complete the proposal by September and also propose standards for existing power plants by June 2014. The agency sent the proposed rule for new power plants to OIRA on July 2 but has not yet submitted a draft rule for existing power plants for review.

Formaldehyde standards pushed back

The EPA’s recently proposed rule setting emissions standards for formaldehyde in composite wood products was also moved to long-term action in the spring agenda. Congress enacted legislation in 2010 that requires EPA to issue national emissions limits equal to those already required by California law. At the same time EPA proposed the emissions limits rule, it also proposed requirements for third-party certifications of products subject to those emissions limits. Congress set a January 2013 deadline for EPA to finalize the new standards, but both proposals were stuck at OIRA under review for over a year until they were finally released this past May.

Even though the notice-and-comment period for these rules remains open until Aug. 6, EPA has already decided not to move forward on completing the emissions limits in the near term. The third-party certification rule, however, is still on the agenda for the spring. The EPA has not commented on why it chose to move forward only on the third-party certification rule or why the agency didn’t provide an opportunity for public comment on the emissions standard.

The Center contends that the agenda does not suggest the administration “will address the pervasive delays or lack of transparency that currently plague the rulemaking process.”