May 17, 2017 / 8:32 PM / 2 months ago

U.S. industry seeks faster permits, simpler rules in Trump regulation reset

U.S. President Donald Trump gestures as he walks on the South Lawn of the White House upon his return to Washington, U.S., May 17, 2017.Yuri Gripas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. industry groups have told President Donald Trump's administration that they want two main things from his promised regulatory overhaul: a speedier permit process and simpler environmental rules.

Associations representing the drilling, refining, mining, and building industries have submitted hundreds of pages of documents to the Commerce Department and Environmental Protection Agency in recent weeks, outlining regulations they want to see eliminated or modified.

The comments, many targeting the EPA, come in response to a pair of executive orders Trump signed during his first weeks in office, meant to cut the regulatory burden on companies. Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress have already moved to rescind a slew of Obama-era environmental protections, including some aimed at combating global climate change.

The EPA's regulatory reform office alone has received remarks from more than 65,000 people and groups, many of them criticizing the regulatory rollback plan as a potential threat to public health. But business groups have embraced the plan, calling it the best chance in more than a decade to reshape the regulatory landscape and boost growth, without undermining air and water quality.

"Last time I remember this was 2001. That was the last big opportunity to make some changes," said David Friedman, vice president of regulatory affairs for the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers industry group.

That year, then Vice President Dick Cheney chaired an energy task force that produced a National Energy Policy report, a road map to boosting domestic systems and supplies. Much has changed since: U.S. oil and gas production hit all-time highs during the administration of former President Barack Obama, helped by high crude prices and improved drilling technology.

This time around, industry groups appear focused on easing the permitting process for new facilities and installations, according to a Reuters review of the comments.

A common refrain, for example, is for Trump's administration to reject a planned tightening of ozone rules under the U.S. Clean Air Act's National Ambient Air Quality Standards. Several groups said this would expose them to increased permitting hurdles for operations and new facilities.

Several groups mentioned other permitting requirements under the Clean Air Act that they say are redundant. These include the New Source Performance Standards, the Maximum Achievable Control Technology rules and the National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants.

"We have one proposal to replace eight different regulations with one that achieves the same environmental benefit but substantially reduces the cost of compliance," said Rosario Palmieri, vice president for regulatory policy at the National Association of Manufacturers.

The American Petroleum Institute representing oil and gas companies and the Edison Electric Institute, representing electric utilities, are seeking changes in the way companies must account for greenhouse gas emissions.

Comments from members of the public and environmental groups revealed worries that this process would undermine environmental protections. The EPA's comment period ended on May 15.

Jeff Baker, a military veteran and energy investor from Alabama wrote: "I implore you, as defenders of our nation's health and security, to avoid shortsighted steps that might create prosperity for a few in the short term, at the expense of the many in the long term."

Trump's administration requested the comments from industry as part of two similar and concurrent processes, stemming from his executive orders.

The first order, issued on Jan. 24, directed Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to review which U.S. regulations were burdens for domestic manufacturing. The Commerce Department solicited feedback from industry as a result of that order, with a March 31 deadline.

Ross told Reuters in an interview last week that the department was condensing the comments into a series of recommendations that could be presented to Trump as early as this month. [nL1N1IB240]

The second order was issued Feb. 24, directing all U.S. agency heads to launch a process to identify regulatory burdens. Each agency has its own timetable. The EPA, which is taking the brunt of the feedback, started its public comment period on April 11 and closed it this week.

Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by David Gregorio

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