Hearing someone describe a situation as “one step forward, two steps back” is never a good thing. When it involves efforts to protect people’s health or public safety, the consequences can be dire. President Trump doesn’t care. He’s making good on a ludicrous campaign pledge that for every one regulation issued by a federal agency, the agency will have to offset the cost by eliminating two existing regulations.


He issued that order today. The nonsense goes something like this:

FAA: “We need to enhance testing requirements to protect against flocking birds affecting airplane engines. That’s the grave situation that led Capt. Sully Sullenberger to land an Airbus 320 in the Hudson River.”


“You want that rule? OK, let’s get rid of the pesky regulation that requires a 10-hour rest period for pilots. Sleep is for sissies.

“You’ll have to get rid of another one too. How about the rule that requires a minimum number of flight attendants. Flight attendants are over-rated. I hear they don’t even serve meals anymore.

“I’m brilliant. See how easy it is–one in, two out.”

Labor Department: “Mine workers are developing lung disease from breathing too much respirable silica dust. It’s a national embarrassment that U.S. workers are dying from black lung disease and silicosis. We need a regulation to reduce the amount of silica dust mine workers have to breathe on the job.”


“You want that rule?  OK, let’s get rid of the pesky rule requiring a mine operator to check regularly for proper airflow in their underground mine. It’s been more than five years since a coal mine blew-up.

“You’ll have to get rid of another one. How about the rule that requires mine operators to build berms on roadways at surface mines. Mine workers should just be careful not to drive off a cliff.

“I’m amazing. See how easy it is–one in, two out.”

Ken Kimmel, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said this about Trump’s edict:

“This executive order is absurd, imposing a Sophie’s choice on federal agencies. If, for example, the EPA wants to issue a new rule to protect kids from mercury exposure, will it need to get rid of  two other science-based rules, such as limiting lead in drinking water and cutting pollution from school buses?

“It is also likely illegal. Congress has not called upon EPA to choose between clean air and clean water, and the president cannot do this by executive fiat. As is the case with so many other actions we have seen since the inauguration, Mr. Trump is capturing showy headlines while he drives us off a cliff.” (More from UCS here and here.)

Robert Verchick, president of the Center for Progressive Reform, said this about it:

“It seeks to ration the American people’s health and safety by forcing agencies to arbitrarily drop rules, even if those regulations prevent illnesses, reduce exposure to toxic chemicals, or decrease the number of deaths and serious injuries in the workplace.

“By focusing on the often-exaggerated costs of regulations, the order ignores the enormous, life-saving benefits that public safeguards deliver to us all. This is not effective government, it won’t create jobs, and it won’t improve our communities.”

Public Citizen also issued a statement which notes:

“This executive order (EO) is as radical and unworkable as the other ones Trump has signed. It will result in immediate and lasting damage to our government’s ability to save lives, protect our environment, police Wall Street, keep consumers safe and fight discrimination.”

The Washington Post’s story included this quintessential Trump-speak quote from the President about this new executive order:

“This will be the largest ever cut by far in terms of regulations. If you have a regulation you want, number one we’re not going to approve it because it’s already been approved probably in 17 different forms.”

But if we do, the only way you have a chance is we have to knock out two regulations for every new regulation. So if there’s a new regulation, they have to knock out two. But it goes way beyond that.”

I’m sorry to see President Trump’s first awful step toward a regulatory system that is guaranteed to degrade public health protections.

Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH works for the Milken Institute School of Public Health, George Washington University. This column was first posted on The Pump Handle on Jan. 30, 2017.

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  1. Representative Liz Cheney’s and President Donald Trump’s repeated claims that federal regulations cost jobs and damage the economy are simply not true.

    In 2003, the President George W. Bush White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) performed the most extensive analysis of regulations in our nation’s history. The OMB study, Costs and Benefits of Federal Regulations, found that regulations cost America $38-44 billion, but saved $135-218 billion.

    The Costs and Benefits of Government Regulation, including:

    Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy — Benefits: $4.7 billion | Costs: $2.4 billion;

    Food and Drug Administration — Benefits: $2 to $4.5 billion.| Costs: $482 to $651 million;

    Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) — Benefits: $1.8 to $4.2 billion. | Costs: $1 billion;

    National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NTSHA) — Benefits: $4.3 to $7.6 billion. |
 Costs: $2.7 to $5.2 billion;

    EPA: Clean Air Regulations — Benefits: $106 to $163 billion.
| Costs: $18.3 to $20.9 billion;

    EPA Clean Water Regulations — Benefits: $891 million to $8.1 billion. |
 Costs: $2.4 to $2.9 billion.

    The study has been updated almost every year since then. In 2015, OMB found costs at $57-85 billion, benefits at $216-$812 billion.

    Rep. Cheney’s focus on environmental regulations is the most misguided. Clean air regulations were found to be the most cost-effective of all federal regulations — topping the list at an 8-1 benefit to cost. Clean water regulations came in at a solid 3 to 1 benefit to cost.

    What smart business would turn down returns like that?

    Both of the past Republican and Democratic presidential administration use facts, science and data to evaluate regulations. They consistently found that, overall, government regulations are highly cost-effective.

    Certainly we all have examples of carelesslyapplied or foolishly implemented regulations. We should always be trying to streamline regulations and make regulatory implementation as economically efficient as possible. However, a careless approach to deep regulatory cuts by Rep. Cheney and the Trump administrations will not be in the best interest of America’s economy, businesses, or people.

    Paul Hansen is the former executive director of the Izaak Walton League of America, and author of Green in Gridlock: Common Goals, Common Ground and Compromise, 2013, Texas A&M University Press.