Menu labeling rules (finally) coming soon?

Business groups are bracing for an onslaught of regulations, with the Obama administration bent on completing a host of the president’s unfinished policy goals and the midterm elections now in the rearview mirror.

Agencies across federal government are expected to drop a host of major rules over the next few months, with regulations running the gamut from calorie label requirements on restaurant menus to new rules for hydraulic fracturing and air pollution.

There are at roughly two dozen major rules that are scheduled to drop between now and late January, according to a review of the administration’s official regulatory agenda and rules now awaiting approval at the White House.
Groups including the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Petroleum Institute said they are most concerned by expected costs associated with a slate of rules now in the pipeline at the Environmental Protection Agency.

“The EPA’s regulatory march is very concerning to the business community,” said Matt Letourneau, spokesman for the Chamber’s energy institute. "We’re fighting these regulations,” he added. "We’re trying to encourage EPA to listen to our concerns. We’re hoping EPA backs off or changes course.”

Environmental and public health groups are urging the administration on, arguing that the public’s wellbeing should come ahead of industry concerns.

“We need to cut back on smog to protect people’s health,” said David Goldston, director of government affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Critics from both the left and the right suggest the White House might have timed some of these rules to drop after the midterm elections because of election-year politics.

“It’s not surprising that the Obama administration would hold back some of these big regulations for political reasons,” said Sam Batkins, regulatory director at the conservative American Action Forum. “There’s more than one instance of this happening over the past few years.”

The White House Office of Management and Budget, where the rules are reviewed said Tuesday stressed that regulatory decisions are based on an assessment of several variables.

"The Administration is committed to a regulatory strategy that maintains a balance between protecting the health, welfare, and safety of Americans and promoting economic growth, job creation, competitiveness, and innovation. Our goal is to maximize the effectiveness and benefit of the rules we complete."

Ahead of the 2012 presidential election, critics accused Obama of twisting then-EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s arm into dropping a controversial ozone rule that would have established stronger air quality standards but could have also been a drag on his reelection campaign.

This time around, with Senate Democrats in the hot seat, the administration elected to hold off on issuing the rule until after the election, despite a pressing Dec. 1 court-ordered deadline.

Environmental and public health organizations say the ozone standards are long overdue, but business groups warn the forthcoming rule would reflect the “most expensive regulation in history” coming in at a $270 billion per year in industry compliance industry cost, according to a study from the manufacturers group.

Currently, the ozone standards are set at 75 parts per billion, but the EPA is expected to lower the level of permissible air pollution to between 60 ppb and 70 ppb, which business groups say would be nearly impossible for communities to reach.

“Even in some national parks they can’t meet the ozone standards,” said Heath Knakmuhs, senior director of policy at the Chamber’s energy institute.

The ozone standards are just one of several controversial rules the EPA is scheduled to release in the coming months.

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