WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and his administration are ignoring one side of the ledger when they claim big savings from the federal regulations they’ve been able to roll back over most of this year.
Here’s a look at some of Trump’s statements about regulations and the economy Thursday and how they compare with the facts:
TRUMP: “Instead of adding costs, as so many others have done, and other countries, frankly, are doing in many cases, and it’s hurting them, for the first time in decades, we achieved regulatory savings.”
THE FACTS: There’s incomplete accounting behind that claim. Trump and his administration are adding up savings from the regulations that have been withdrawn through September and omitting the economic benefit that those rules provided.
All federal rules are supposed to have some economic benefit. Rules that are meant to clean up streams have a cost to industry, the government or both but also an anticipated benefit to local businesses from increased tourism, for example. The government has yardsticks to measure such gains. For one, it attaches a value to a human life. The Transportation Department, for example, set that value at $9.6 million in 2016.
So a rule that protects health, the environment or public safety and is projected to save lives as a result can be credited with an economic gain of $9.6 million or so per person saved. It’s an imprecise measure but one baked into cost-benefit calculations that are used in federal rulemaking. Other economic benefits are looked at, too, such as whether a regulation will save consumers money or reduce how much sick leave employees need to take.
The administration contends that it has completed 67 deregulatory actions and three regulatory actions through the end of September that will result in a cost savings of $570 million a year. But that figure does not include the offsetting of benefits that will now be missed because those rules are gone. The White House Office of Management and Budget confirmed that foregone benefits from retracted or modified rules are not part of that calculation.
TRUMP: “You remember how bad we were doing when I first took over. There was a big difference. And we were going down. This country was going economically down.”
THE FACTS: Not really. It’s true that growth cooled in 2016, but other measures showed improvement or held steady in President Barack Obama’s final year. For example, hourly wages perked up in 2016, increasing 2.9 percent in December 2016 from a year earlier. Wage growth has since slipped to a 2.5 percent annual pace.
And according to the Census Bureau, median household income rose at a healthy clip in 2016 for the second year in a row, finally matching its 1999 peak. The economy expanded just 1.5 percent in 2016, down from 2.9 percent in 2015. Consumers and businesses are more optimistic after Trump’s election, and that is probably accelerating growth this year. But the economy was not collapsing or heading to recession in 2016.
TRUMP: “We’re lifting restrictions on American energy, and we’ve ended the war on coal. We have clean coal, beautiful, clean coal, another source of energy.”
THE FACTS: If that implies a dramatic turnaround, it’s misleading. Coal production and jobs have staged a slight comeback under Trump but are still far below levels of just a few years ago.
Trump has lifted some regulations on coal mines implemented by Obama. But the industry is still struggling to compete with natural gas, which has become much cheaper because fracking techniques have greatly increased U.S. gas production. Coal production is on track this year to top last year’s output, according to the Energy Information Administration. But based on current trends, it will probably still be below 2015’s level and as much as 20 percent below 2011’s output.
Coal mining companies have added 1,200 jobs since Trump’s inauguration, but there are still 7,600 fewer such jobs than just two years ago.
Associated Press writers Cal Woodward and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.