- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 8, 2019

President Trump will sign an executive order Wednesday that requires agencies to seek public input before issuing regulations, saying the prior administration used “off-the-book” guidance to crush small businesses and families.

He will sign an accompanying order that gives families and businesses a chance to give their side of the story before being hit with harsh fines based on secretive or unlawful interpretations of existing regulations.

“President Trump is returning control over the government to the American people,” said Russ Vought, acting administrator of the White House Office of Management and Budget. “These executive orders give this administration the tools to defend Americans’ freedom and liberty against off-the-book regulations and prevent unfair penalties from being levied on American families and businesses by rogue agencies.”

Mr. Trump has taken pride in rolling back regulations, saying the Obama administration, in particular, placed undue burdens on American firms and families.

His first order, titled “Bringing Guidance out of the Darkness,” takes aim at “thousands of costly and burdensome mandates” that were issued in publications such as blogs, letters or brochures.

The administration says these guidance documents tend to bypass cost-benefit analyses and rob the public of its chance to weigh in.

It cited a 2015 blog post from the Labor Department that said independent contractors should be classified as employees. The posting sparked widespread confusion among small employers, according to the administration.

Mr. Trump’s new order says agencies must seek public input on important rules moving forward, to increase transparency.

The president wants to avoid a rerun of the ordeal faced by Richard Schok, who operates Tin Cup LLC, a family-owned pipe-fabrication business in Alaska.

He purchased land near Fairbanks that contained wetlands, forcing him to seek a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers before expanding his business.

Yet the corps said they found 200 acres of permafrost that qualified as wetlands, too, according to its interpretation of an “Alaska Supplement” to the Corps’ 1987 Wetlands Manual. The Trump administration says the supplement was never delivered to Congress and, therefore, shouldn’t have been considered lawful.

A second, “Transparency and Fairness” order will shield Americans from “unlawful interpretations” of regulations or unfair penalties.

It requires agencies to proactively educate the public about regulations and give people a chance to comply with the rules, instead of slapping fines on them through “rogue” agency action.

The administration cited the 2013 case of Andy Johnson of Wyoming, who dammed a stream on his property to build a pond for his four daughters’ horses.

The pond had environmental benefits for a variety of fish and bird species, yet the Environmental Protection Agency said he failed to seek permission for the construction, so he could either rip out the pond or face $20 million in fines.

Mr. Johnson’s lawyers said stock ponds were exempt from EPA reach, but that agency officials used a narrow interpretation from guidance documents to crack down. A front-page story from The New York Times forced the EPA to back off and settle the case. Mr. Johnson kept his pond without paying fines, and the episode inspired Mr. Trump’s push to reform the EPA’s interpretation of the Waters of the United States rule.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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