President-elect Trump’s selections for top Cabinet posts represent a marked departure from the policies of the Obama administration.
In recent weeks, Trump has nominated Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma attorney general, to the top position at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Rick Perry, former governor of Texas and a vocal critic of the DOE, to serve as energy secretary; Andrew Puzder, an executive at a fast-food company, to be the next Labor secretary; Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) to fill the top post at the Interior Dept.; and Rex Tillerson, Exxon Mobile’s CEO, to serve as secretary of state.
Trump is “signaling smaller government and less government regulation,” says Louis Chodoff, a partner at Ballard Spahr’s Cherry Hill, N.J., office. “You can see with all these picks, [there] is an effort to limit the amount of regulations with the theory that it’s going to … stimulate the economy,” he says.
The result could be a rollback of many of the regulations promulgated during the Obama administration. For industry-aligned construction groups, the change could bring in welcome relief from what they view as regulatory overreach.
For example, the Associated Builders and Contractors is hopeful that Puzder, owner of the company that franchises Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. restaurants, will take steps to reverse the overtime and blacklisting regulations.
Maurice Baskin, chair of the construction practice at Littler Mendelson, Washington, D.C., and general counsel for ABC, calls Puzder “a great choice” and notes that news reports “certainly suggest he would not support the Obama regulations,” such as the overtime rule.
The Labor Dept. appealed the preliminary injunction on the rule requiring, on Dec. 1, employers to pay overtime to any employee who earns less than $47,500 a year—more than twice the current $23,500 threshold. Puzder has said he opposes the policy.
Some observers think Puzder will tilt the agency far to the right.
Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said in a Dec. 8 blog, “Andy Puzder’s nomination is one of many Trump Cabinet appointments that are in direct conflict with the rhetoric of his campaign. The president-elect campaigned on standing up for working people, yet his actions, thus far, have undermined these claims.”
“Puzder is certainly no friend to labor,” Ballard Spahr’s Chodoff adds. Chodoff says Puzder is unlikely to push any major new initiatives. “I think he’s going to slow down rulemaking … and enforcement,” he says.
On the environmental side, several of Trump’s nominees have ties to the fossil-fuel industry or have actively challenged the Obama administration’s stance on climate change. Pruitt, Trump’s choice to lead the EPA, currently is involved in a multistate legal challenge to the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) and has said climate-change science is “not settled.”
Jeff Holmstead, former assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation during the George W. Bush administration and now a partner with the Bracewell Policy Resolution Group, Washington, D.C., says that, although Pruitt would need to go through the necessary notice and comment period to revoke the Clean Power Plan, “I’m pretty confident that that is what he intends to do.”
The CPP, like the DOL overtime rule, has never been enacted because of pending litigation.
Pruitt also opposes the Clean Water Rule, the joint EPA-Army Corps of Engineers regulations that clarify when a federal Clean Water Act construction permit is needed. Many construction groups have said the rule expands, rather than simply clarifies, the EPA’s jurisdiction.
Brian Turmail, a spokesman for the Associated General Contractors of America, says AGC has worked with Republican and Democratic administrations to educate federal agencies about the construction industry. “We stand ready to support him and the [EPA] as they, hopefully, work to identify more effective ways to protect the environment in ways that also protect high-paying jobs in sectors such as construction,” he said in an email to ENR.
Holmstead says Pruitt is “very knowledgeable about EPA rules.” He adds, “I think he is committed to return EPA to its … traditional role,” rather than expanding its authority. But Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, says Pruitt is too close to the fossil-fuel industry. “Scott Pruitt running EPA is like the fox guarding the henhouse,” he said in a statement.