May 9, 2017 / 11:18 PM / 3 years ago

U.S. Commerce chief says EPA permits top regulatory 'hit list'

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Tuesday that burdensome Environmental Protection Agency permit requirements were at the top of a “hit-list” of regulations on manufacturers that he will soon present to President Donald Trump.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross sits for a portrait after an interview in his office in Washington, U.S. May 9, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Ross told Reuters in an interview that some of the federal regulations could be eliminated or modified through executive actions, and some through directives to agencies to reinterpret statutes and rules.

The list is part of a Trump cabinet-wide effort to survey U.S. company chief executives to uncover regulatory burdens that are keeping their businesses from growing.

Ross said he had sought “the most depressive permitting factors, rules and regulations. We are now condensing all of that into a recommendation series to the president and will probably make the recommendations sometime during the month of May.”

Asked what parts of the list were the most onerous, he said: “On permitting, there are a lot of things. Mostly EPA-related issues.”

Ross said that EPA permit requirements for portable toilets on oil and gas drilling sites was an example of too much regulation.

“Well, if you can imagine that if they (EPA) torture you with getting a permit for a porta potty, how about a permit to actually drill a well? That whole mindset has got to change,” he said.

The Commerce Department in March invited companies to submit comments on the type and number of permits required to build, expand or operate a factory, the most onerous part of the permitting process and ways that regulatory compliance could be simplified. It also asked for opinions on the federal, state and local agencies with the best permitting practices.

Ross said the easing of regulatory burdens on businesses was among several elements of Trump’s economic agenda that needed to be in place before the U.S. economy could reach the administration’s 3 percent growth target, along with reforms to taxes, trade policies and energy production.

Ross said conservative estimates on regulatory burdens on manufacturing run into the hundreds of billions of dollars in added costs for U.S. manufacturers, but he said the bigger problems were delays in investment decisions.

He said he recently spoke with representatives from Australian mining giant Rio Tinto Plc (RIO.AX) (RIO.L) about the firm’s long delayed efforts to gain necessary permits for the Resolution Copper mine in Arizona that it is developing with BHP Billiton Plc (BHP.AX) BLT.L

“They’ve been eight years trying to get permits to do it. There’s been hundreds of millions of dollars (spent), and they still don’t even have the assurance that they will get it,” Ross said.

“A company shouldn’t have to be hundreds of millions of dollars into risk money without knowing whether there is a real chance it is going to get approved,” he said. “So one of the problems is the regulation itself. And some of those regulatory problems are at the state and local level.”

Reporting by David Lawder, Kevin Krolicki, Jennifer Ablan, David Chance, Howard Schneider; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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