January 21, 2021
On January 20, 2021, the inaugural day of the new presidency, the Biden administration issued a series of across-the-board regulatory directives. These directives press pause on federal rulemakings, rescind Trump-era executive orders on the regulatory process, and set a framework for “modernizing” review of regulatory actions.
First, the new administration issued a memorandum freezing rulemakings pending review. Covered agencies are not to “propose or issue” any rule “until a department or agency head appointed or designated” by President Biden “approves the rule,” unless the rule falls into an exception “for emergency situations or other urgent circumstances relating to health, safety, environmental, financial, or national security matters,” as permitted by the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”). For rules that have been published in the Federal Register but have not yet taken effect, agencies should consider “postponing the rules’ effective dates for 60 days” and opening a new “30-day comment period” to evaluate the rules further. After the 60-day delay, if a rule raises “substantial questions of fact, law, or policy,” agencies should “take further appropriate action in consultation” with the Director of OMB. This memorandum applies broadly to all “substantive action by an agency” that is anticipated to lead to “a final rule or regulation.” It does not appear to include independent agencies, though there is some ambiguity; while the memorandum is addressed to executive departments and agencies, its definition of “rule” is expansive enough that it could be read to cover actions by independent agencies such as the SEC. Either way, this memorandum will likely cause reconsideration of a wide variety of rules proposed or issued in the final days of the Trump administration.
This memorandum is similar to the regulatory freeze put in place on the first day of the Trump administration four years ago, though there are notable differences. For example, the Trump administration left agencies with no choice but to postpone by 60 days the effective date of any regulations published in the Federal Register that had not yet taken effect. By contrast, and as noted above, the Biden administration’s freeze instructs agencies to “consider” instituting this 60-day delay for such rules, which gives them more flexibility. Even with this added flexibility, it is still expected that many agencies will exercise the option to delay rules.
Second, President Biden issued an Executive Order revoking a number of Trump-era orders on the regulatory process, including:
In sum, this sweeping order undoes many of the reforms implemented by the Trump administration that were designed to reduce regulatory burdens, cut costs, shrink the size of government, and increase agency transparency.
Third, the Biden Administration issued a memorandum on “Modernizing Regulatory Review,” which instructs the Director of OMB to make “recommendations for improving and modernizing” review of regulations. Such recommendations should provide “concrete suggestions” on how to “promote public health and safety, economic growth, social welfare, racial justice, environmental stewardship, human dignity, equity, and the interests of future generations” in the regulatory process. Specifically, these recommendations should ensure that policies “reflect new developments in scientific and economic understanding,” account for “regulatory benefits that are difficult or impossible to quantify,” and do not cause detrimental “deregulatory effects.” OMB is also instructed to evaluate ways that the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (“OIRA”) can partner with agencies to support “regulatory initiatives that are likely to yield significant benefits” and to identify reforms that further the “efficiency” and “transparency” of the interagency review process.
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We will continue to monitor changes to the regulatory and rulemaking process taken by the new administration and keep you apprised of significant developments.
The following Gibson Dunn lawyers assisted in the preparation of this client update: Helgi C. Walker, Lucas Townsend, Michael Bopp, Jessica Wagner, Matt Gregory, Robert Batista, and Matthew Butler.
Gibson Dunn’s lawyers are available to assist in addressing any questions you may have regarding these developments. Please contact the Gibson Dunn lawyer with whom you usually work, any member of the firm’s Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice Group or Congressional Investigations Practice Group, or the following authors:
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