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George W. Bush is no Ronald Reagan. When Reagan came to Washington, the first few years of his administration were marked by a concerted effort to dismantle the power and reach of federal agencies. But since Bush won the election standoff a year ago, he has not been moving so forcefully in a single direction. Instead, the Bush track record on regulations and regulatory reform has been more of a complicated waltz, with steps forward and back, tearing down some old regulations while promoting others. This despite the fact that business interests had routinely chafed under the regulatory efforts of the Clinton administration. “It has not been quite the same full-bore assault on everything that Reagan tried in the first few years,” says Frank O’Donnell, executive director of the Clean Air Trust. “Clearly, the Reagan administration was staffed with people from the Heritage Foundation, people really gung-ho for a revolution. Most of the people [under Bush] are a little more sophisticated and realize you can do better in the court of public opinion if you try and keep it under the table.” A focal point of the struggle over reform is the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, a unit of the Office of Management and Budget, headed by John Graham. His appointment was opposed by environmental, labor, and other left-wing groups that portrayed him as a shill for business. Graham has laid out a tough-on-regulations program, but he has also shown a willingness to support some intervention. He put the agencies on notice: He would do the thorough analysis he was already known for, comparing economic costs and benefits for new regulations and maybe even some of those on the books. Graham’s office has the power to block rules by sending them back to agencies in what is dubbed a “return letter.” Graham has already returned more regulations in his first few months in office than the Clinton OIRA did in eight years. Graham, however, has also created the “prompt letter.” Instead of sending back a regulation Graham doesn’t like, the prompt requests that the agency create a new rule or regulation. In September, Graham sent a letter to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the Labor Department stating, “The purpose of this letter is to draw your attention to a promising lifesaving technology, automatic external defibrillators (AEDs), and request that you consider whether promotion of AEDs should be elevated to a priority.” Graham also asked the Department of Health and Human Services to speed up a rule in the works on trans-fatty acid in food. “It was clear the Reagan goal was to halt unjustified regulation. The Bush goal is much more even-handed,” says Cass Sunstein, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School. “What the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs is doing is both halting regulations and trying to get in place regulations that do make sense. It’s pretty amazing.” In other areas, the Bush administration has been walking a fine line, a phenomenon perhaps best illustrated by the arsenic uproar in the spring. In March, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman said the agency was withdrawing a regulation, put out on Clinton’s last day in office, that lowered the acceptable level of arsenic in drinking water. She said the agency would seek independent reviews of the science and costs involved. Whitman, the EPA, and Bush were criticized for the decision, and environmentalists battled it heavily. This fall Whitman announced the Clinton arsenic limits would stay. In fact, environmentalists and other forces that often encourage regulation like some Bush administration decisions. Early in her term, Whitman announced that the EPA would move forward on a significant pollution reduction for diesel trucks. Whitman also praised a February ruling by the Supreme Court upholding clean air restrictions that business had fought. But other regulations have not fared so well. The administration lobbied successfully for Congress to overturn Clinton’s OSHA regulations on ergonomics. The EPA and the Energy Department are now in the process of revisiting the issue of “new source review,” or the rules that determine when power plants must improve pollution controls as part of a major repair or upgrade to the plant. The new interpretation of new source review is expected to be much more business friendly. “They have finally put the traffic cop back into the regulatory process,” says William Kovacs, vice president for environment, technology, and regulatory affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “At least in the Bush administration we have someone who will listen to us. The Clinton administration, they wouldn’t listen to us at all. That is what the difference is.”

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