Dec 28, 2018 - Energy & Environment

Yes, some companies actually want to be regulated

Illustration of a person holding a tangled ball of red tape

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Regulation is a dirty word in most Republican administrations, and President Trump has taken a hatchet to federal rules that he says kill jobs, cost money and give Washington bureaucrats too much power.

The catch: While this may be music to some large industries' ears, there are a number of sectors that are pleading with the feds to impose new rules. Without them, they say, their industries can't grow — and what's bad for business is bad for the economy.

Here's a sampling of industries — both fledgling and established — that want the government to slap some regulations on them, in some cases to provide some certainty, and in others to get rid of headaches.

Drones: The Gatwick Airport drone incident this month underscores why drone companies want the Federal Aviation Administration to write rules governing how drones can operate in the skies.

  • To help appease mounting security concerns, drone makers support remote identification standards so officials can spot rogue devices. And for their business needs, they want the FAA to establish rules that allow operators to fly drones beyond their line of sight and over people. Without those rules, companies like Amazon can't use drones to deliver packages to your door.

Autonomous vehicles: Current federal law prohibits the deployment of self-driving vehicles without steering wheels and other conventional driver controls, and other rules for self-driving cars vary from state to state, as Axios' Joann Muller points out.

  • Congress failed to pass a law revising standards in order to deploy more cars (some Democrats wanted tighter safety measures). As GM CEO Mary Barra wrote for Axios, federal legislation is needed to "provide a path for manufacturers to put self-driving vehicles on the roads safely."

Electric vehicles: In October, GM urged the Trump administration to create what amounts to a national electric vehicle sales mandate. GM says its proposal for a national zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV) program could lead to addition of 7 million "long-range" EVs on U.S. roads by 2030.

  • It’s in the company’s financial interest to help drive the EV market; GM plans to launch at least 20 all-electric models by 2023. Environmentalists, however, said GM is just trying to distract from its support for weakening Obama-era mileage and emissions rules, notes Axios' Ben Geman.

Facial recognition: Microsoft wants the U.S. government to set limits on the use of facial recognition technology that is increasingly being used in surveillance and other law enforcement tools, raising the risk of bias, discrimination and privacy breaches.

  • Microsoft suggests that those employing facial recognition should have to provide notice, and that ongoing surveillance should only be allowed with a court order, reports Axios' Ina Fried.

Digital currencies: 2017 ushered in a boom in so-called “initial coin offerings,” but so far the Securities and Exchange Commission has only issued one no-action report and a string of charges against fraudsters.

  • The cryptocurrency industry is clamoring for regulators to finally declare what qualifies as securities (among other questions). And it would also like some further guidance from the Internal Revenue Service, which has kept mum since a short 2014 memo, notes Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva.

Online privacy: Early in the Trump administration, Congress overturned the FCC's privacy rules for internet service providers such as AT&T, Verizon, Charter and Comcast. The rules didn't apply to web giants like Google or Facebook, who supported their repeal.

  • In the wake of high-profile data scandals and an increased interest in reining in Big Tech's power, policymakers from both parties are revisiting the need for federal privacy rules. This time, the telecom and tech companies are on board with rules — partly because they're inevitable, and partly to pre-empt state regulations are are cropping up all over the country.

Financial advisers: Brokerage firms want more clarity about an Obama-era fiduciary rule that was overturned this year. The rule required financial advisers to work in their client's best interest — and not push products with higher fees, even if they produce less-than-stellar returns.

  • But firms have already shifted investment products and altered structures of broker fees in preparation for the regulation's full implementation. The question is what's coming back and when. The SEC has since taken up the issue, proposed "Regulation Best Interest" and put it high on its 2019 agenda, Axios' Courtenay Brown reports.

Oil: Most fossil-fuel companies have supported Trump’s aggressive efforts rolling back most of Barack Obama’s environmental regulations. But some of the biggest oil and gas companies want the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that’s the primary component of natural gas.

  • This is because it gives them a competitive advantage over smaller companies and a social license to operate a fuel that’s cleaner than coal but still a fossil fuel. Some automakers also don’t want Trump to freeze auto-efficiency standards issued under Obama, though that is likely the route the administration is set to take, reports Axios' Amy Harder.

The bottom line: Companies may feel safer handing government the hot potato of figuring out where to draw lines around potentially controversial technologies to help limit their own liabilities. But government may not be inclined to limit its own freedom to use the new tools, as may be the case with facial recognition and drones, notes Axios' Ina Fried.

Go deeper:

Why privacy regulations are no longer a pipe dream

Industry doesn't always fight regulations. Here's why

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