If you took a break from the news over the holidays, you may have missed some announcements out of the White House. Specifically, rollbacks on certain regulations pertaining to things from oil and gas to migratory birds. James Hohmann, a Washington Post national political correspondent, wrote about the White House holiday news dump and spoke with Marketplace host Lizzie O'Leary about some the key changes that were announced. Below is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Lizzie O'Leary: You wrote in your story that these regulatory changes reveal the president's true priorities. What do you mean by that?
James Hohmann: Donald Trump campaigned like a populist. But for the last year, he's governed like a plutocrat. He made a bunch of policy decisions intended to get as little public attention as possible over the holidays that show that he's pursuing policies that benefit the 1 percent.
O'Leary: Well, I want to unpack some of the regulatory rollbacks that you talked about. One of them affects offshore drilling and really was designed to put in place some different safety checks after the Deepwater Horizon spill. Can you walk me through what the president did?
Hohmann: Absolutely. So, after Barack Obama ordered a presidential commission, a bipartisan commission to come together, there was a lot of deliberations. They consulted industry, and they came up with new regulations designed to prevent another BP oil spill. And those cost money, and oil companies don't want to pay that money. So Trump gets into office, and they went through all the regulations and they changed a lot of "companies should do this" to "companies could do this." And so there's a ton of changes that really take all the teeth out of these regulations and, frankly, could increase the risk of another major oil spill.
O'Leary: You know, another issue is staffing at federal agencies. You mentioned specifically the Occupational Safety and Health Administration dropping 119 permanent workers. You know, you could make the argument that this is a bloated federal bureaucracy and doing this is indeed following through on some of the president's campaign promises. How do you read the scaling back of regulatory agencies?
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Hohmann: They're pretty open about what they're trying to do. They're trying to starve the beast. Trump is trying to demoralize career federal civil servants to get them to quit. And the reason it matters at OSHA is that in order for fines and enforcement actions to be levied against companies that don't have good workplace safety, multiple managers have to sign off on the enforcement action. And because a bunch of managers have left from various field offices, those enforcement actions aren't getting signed off on. And after a certain period of months goes by, then the enforcement action is null and void. And so a lot of companies are hoping that Trump doesn't staff up again at OSHA and so they will get off the hook when they break workplace safety rules.
O'Leary: Let's do one more here, and that is no federal funding directed toward a new Amtrak tunnel that would connect New Jersey to Penn Station. And this seems to fly in the face of the president's promises about infrastructure. At the same time, we're talking about a big project in a very blue area.
Hohmann: Yeah, in this case this is arguably the most important infrastructure project currently underway in the country, connecting Penn Station to New Jersey. The tunnel that exists now has a lot of problems and is way overburdened. And Barack Obama made a deal with Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey, and Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic governor of New York, that the federal government would pick up half the tab for this. And on the Friday night before New Year's Eve when no one was paying attention, the Federal Transit Administration, someone appointed by Trump, said we consider that deal null and void and we're not going to do it. And some of this, I think, is ideological. And it's also part of a pattern that Trump really does act like he's the president of the Red States of America not the United States. We've seen that with a lot of other policies, including the health care bill earlier last year, and he's helping places where he thinks they support him.
Marketplace reached out to the White House for comment about the president's infrastructure policy and did not hear back by deadline. The administration has said that its changes to the oil drilling policy will "reduce industry compliance burdens by at least $228 million over 10 years."