How Will The Trump Administration Impact OSHA and EPA Regulations As They Apply to Manufacturing?

(Although this blog post discusses the impacts on manufacturing, the content is also applicable to other industries including construction, industrial services, warehousing, etc..)

Anyone who followed the recently completed Presidential election knows that one of Donald Trump’s major campaign platforms was/is his promise to improve the economy, jobs, and specifically US manufacturing. As President Elect Trump begins planning his transition into office, it’s worthwhile to get a better understanding of his proposed policies aimed towards achieving this goal. I’ve taken the liberty of reviewing his new website to get a better understanding of his intentions.  Under the heading of “Making America Great Again,” his website has a sub-heading called “Getting America Back to Work Again.” Under this section, there are several sub-sections including “Regulatory Reform.”  A quick review of this section reveals the following summary points:

  • Temporary moratorium on ALL new regulations
  • Canceling of overarching executive orders
  • Review of all current regulations to eliminate unnecessary ones that kill jobs and bloat government

The section includes an interesting summary statement: “While reasonable regulations are needed to address issues ranging from ensuring public safety to ensuring proper stewardship of our National Parks’ crown jewels, this can be accomplished without the profound damage to our economy and our freedoms that is currently inflicted by the regulatory bureaucracy.  The Trump administration is committed to regulatory reform that will produce sensible regulations that allow America to be great.” For example, does “ensuring public safety..” include ensuring the safety of private sector manufacturing workers?

What does it all mean in regards to OSHA and environmental regulations as they apply to manufacturing?

Here are my summary $0.02 thoughts and opinions:

It’s important to begin by pointing out that government regulations are vast and include a wide variety of topics including financial/banking, pricing practices, wages, discrimination, etc, and that environmental, health and safety laws make up only a small fraction of overall Federal regulations. This blog post will only address EHS regulations.

It’s also important to understand that small businesses are the “engine of the US economy” and account for the vast majority of existing employment and future employment growth opportunity in our country, and that Trump often refers to “small business” during his speeches and is well aware of their importance to the overall economy.   These same small businesses incur costs when trying to meet their OSHA and environmental compliance requirements, especially when being fined and penalized for failing to do so.  Many, including the Obama administration, would argue that EHS compliance is not only their legal obligation (OSHA and EPA have long standing Federal laws that all impacted employers must meet, regardless of size), but also their moral and civic obligation in order to protect their employees, local communities and the environment. In other words, EHS is a “cost of doing business” and must be included in a manufacturer’s budgeting plans.  Obviously, not everyone one agrees, and it will be interesting to see exactly where Trump stands on this.

According to the National Association of Manufacturers, over 99% of US manufacturers have less than 500 employees, and 75% have less than 20 employees.  The vast majority of US manufactures are small, and will there bear the greatest impact from his decisions, an will, again, likely factor into Trump’s calculus on this issue.

Back to Trump’s “Regulatory Reform” agenda….

What about his planned “Temporary moratorium on ALL new regulations?”:

  • Does this mean, no new OSHA standards and rule implementation until the “moratorium” is over? OSHA is currently in the process of implementing several new rules, for example Walking and Working Surfaces, and Reporting Requirements. Does the Donald plan on blocking these, or will he be too late?
  • Does this mean no new EPA, or corresponding state environmental regulations, until the “moratorium” is over? It appears that Trump is much more concerned about EPA rules as they apply to energy production and major air emissions, particularly the burning of coal, natural gas and oil to produce electricity. These issues don’t really impact manufacturers, other than potential resulting electricity costs. In other words, these are major Federal and even global issues and will require major focus and resources, so will Trump really have time to dig into the weeds of environmental regulations as they apply to manufacturers? I’m talking about things like storm water permitting and Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plans, Hazardous Waste Management, Air Permitting and Authorizations, and the various Hazardous Materials regulations like DOT, SPCC, TRI Reporting, EPCRA, etc.? These are the regulations that impact manufacturing and have nothing to do with the larger agenda that Trump appears to be pursuing. Moreover, these sorts of environmental compliance regulations aren’t particularly expensive to manage, and appear to fall into the “common sense” category of regulations designed to protect local communities and public, etc..  It’s hard to imagine that Trump would attack these “micro” level environmental regulations.

What about his plan to “Canceling of overarching executive orders?”

  • Could this role back the recent 78% OSHA fine increases that went into effect in August?
  • Could this role back the recent 50-100% environmental fine increases that went into effect in August?

Given that these fine increases were part of the much larger “Bi-Partisan Balanced Budget Act” aimed at reducing the Federal Deficit, this might be hard to do. It’s important to note that OSHA fine’s are payable to the US Treasury, not directly to OSHA.  The US Treasury manages the deficit, among other things.  Also note the “Bi-Partisan” portion of the title of the overall law (ie: Republicans agreed to it). To be honest, I’m not even sure if this law qualifies as an “Executive Order,” however these fine increases were major developments last year and it’s worth asking whether or not Trump plans on repealing them.

Finally, how about his plan to “Review of all current regulations to eliminate unnecessary ones that kill jobs and bloat government?”:

This is a fairly broad agenda, and from a common sense perspective, is probably aimed at much larger regulations that have farther reaching effects than EHS regulations. In other words, things like trying to raise the minimum wage to $15.00 per hour, or Obama Care. The common environmental and hazardous materials regulations impacting manufacturers, like the ones listed above, don’t “kill jobs” or “bloat government.”

It’s still very early in the Trump transition process, so all of this is pure speculation at this point. The next major clue will be who he appoints to lead the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Labor (OSHA being part of DOL). Those appointees, and their respective attitudes and record as they apply to EHS regulation will be very telling as to Trump’s overall intentions.  Stay tuned and check back, as I will post my opinions at that time.