It doesn’t seem to have made the news yet, but President Obama has just taken a very important step for the health of our water, air, and workplaces. An executive order published in today’s Federal Register revokes EO 13422, by which President Bush gave the White House the power to interfere with regulatory agencies’ activities.

Bush’s order created new requirements for the agencies and allowed the White House to exert control over a wide range of activities, including issuing guidance documents. Public health advocates warned that it would institutionalize an anti-regulatory approach and threaten agencies’ ability to perform their Congressionally mandated duty of safeguarding the public.

When a group of public health advocates (including our own David Michaels) came together under the leadership of the nonprofit OMB Watch to issue recommendations for the new administration, rescission of EO 13422 was one of the seven steps they urged Obama to take during his first 100 days in office:

The president should rescind E.O. 13422 immediately. The executive order, issued in January 2007, places significant rulemaking authority in Regulatory Policy Officers, displacing agency head authority and adding more power to White House rulemaking judgments. The E.O. requires that Regulatory Policy Officers approve the initiation of any rulemaking. Concerns have been raised about the constitutionality of delegating this authority and about placing the authority for initiating a rulemaking, especially in very large agencies, in one person’s hands. In addition, the order is overly broad in its definition of what constitutes guidance from agencies, allowing OIRA to control the substance and timing of disclosure for information clearly not intended to impact rules.

(For more background EO 13422, check out this post and our U.S. Regulation page.)

It could be tempting for a president to retain close control over federal agencies’ activities, but Obama apparently understands that more White House involvement means more delay – and also runs counter to Congress’s intention in creating the agencies. With today’s executive order revoking EO 13422, Obama demonstrates that he wants our regulatory agencies to be able to do their jobs of protecting the public’s health and environment.