WASHINGTON — In December, President Donald Trump posed beside 6-foot-tall stacks of paper meant to represent bureaucratic paperwork, declaring that his administration had eliminated 22 regulations for every new one introduced.
In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, Trump again touted his administration’s aggressive approach to deregulation as a major accomplishment in his first year in office. "In our drive to make Washington accountable, we have eliminated more regulations in our first year than any administration in the history of our country," the president said.
Some of the administration’s 2017 regulatory changes, such as those rescinding the Clean Power Plan and net neutrality, have already featured prominently in the headlines. But other more obscure changes have garnered less attention, even though they could have major consequences for everyday Americans.
Susan Dudley of George Washington University’s Regulatory Studies Center said the deregulation numbers boasted by the administration should be viewed with some skepticism. For example, a more inclusive standard is being used to count existing regulations that are being rolled back, while a more stringent one is being used to define new rules being introduced.
Still, those changes could be significant, even though people may not notice their impact right away. “They may or may not feel it,” Robert Weissman, of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, said of these decisions, “but even if they do, they might not necessarily connect it” to specific rules made at the federal level.
While Dudley described most of the regulations addressed so far as “low-hanging fruit,” there also could be far more sweeping changes to come. Adam J. White of the Center for the Study of the Administrative State at George Mason University said what he has seen from the administration this year is “a lot of the beginnings of things” and that the biggest changes could arrive in the coming years as regulatory processes move forward.
But for now, here are some changes you may have missed in 2017:
Credit card disputes
Shortly after it was issued in July 2017, Congress wiped out a rule by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that would have made it easier for credit card and bank account users to sue companies for issues like overcharging.
The rescinded rule banned clauses from consumer credit card and checking account contracts that would have forced aggrieved customers to use arbitration instead of allowing them to bring claims together through class-action lawsuits.
Critics of the rule said it was ineffective and mostly benefited class-action attorneys, but advocates said that without the ability to join in class-action suits, most consumers would find it too expensive to pursue grievances against financial firms in court.
Restaurant tip pooling
The Department of Labor has proposed rescinding regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act that make it illegal for restaurant owners to force servers to pool and share their tips with other non-tipped employees such as line cooks and dishwashers.
Proponents of the change say it addresses inequities between the payment of servers and other restaurant staff, but critics say the change could give restaurant owners the power to distribute the money unfairly or even pocket it themselves.
Mining waste in streams
Congress nixed a Stream Protection Rule that required that no land within 100 feet of a stream be disturbed by surface mining activities, particularly from coal mines.
The rule was eliminated through the Congressional Review Act, a previously little-known law that allows Congress to disapprove regulatory actions within 60 days. The rule was used by the GOP-controlled Congress to remove 15 Obama-era rules in 2017.
While the move was cheered by the coal industry, environmental advocates said that the newly permitted dumping of mining waste in or near streams will cause significant damage to drinking water and local aquatic life, and that areas affected by the dumping are rarely restored as the coal industry promised.
Congress also rolled back a 2016 rule by the Federal Communications Commission that forced telecommunications companies to specifically obtain customer’s approval before using, sharing or selling their sensitive data, including information like browsing history, location, and financial and medical information.
The move, which was backed by internet providers, angered consumer privacy advocates who said the regulations prevented companies from spying on customers and selling their data for profit.
The Trump administration slowed down the implementation of the Fiduciary Rule, passed by the Department of Labor during the Obama administration, which required financial advisors to act in the best interest of their clients when overseeing retirement accounts rather than as salespeople for financial products.
Consumer advocates were largely in favor of the rule, which they said reduced conflicts of interest. But the financial industry, which is funded in large part through commissions such as those from mutual funds, opposed it.
Now, the rule won’t totally go into effect until at least 2019, though the Department of Labor is studying possible revisions.
The Borrower Defense Rule, published by the Department of Education in November 2016, expanded the rights of borrowers seeking student debt relief under claims of fraud. The rule was passed in the wake of the closure of several for-profit higher education groups, including Corinthian Colleges.
The Department of Education delayed the rule after a trade association representing for-profit schools filed suit alleging that the expansion of borrower rights was unfair.