The Craziest Regulations in the Obama Era

Regulations on Christmas lights, cow farts, pigs on airplanes

January 22, 2017

The Obama administration set a record by issuing 97,110 pages of regulations for nearly 4,000 new federal rules, at an estimated cost of nearly $350 billion.

Rules such as the Obamacare employer mandate and the Environmental Protection Agency's regulations over power plants and rivers, streams, and ponds are well known, and reflect the expansion of the federal bureaucracy. But lesser known rules shed light on the size and scope of the government, as well. Here are the craziest federal regulatory moves in the Obama era:

Removing 'He' and 'She' From Regs to Avoid Gender Norms

The pronouns "he" and "she" were too heteronormative for the Department of Labor when it introduced a new anti-discrimination regulation last year.

The agency proposed removing the terms "he" and "she" from a regulation in an effort to "avoid the gender binary." The rule also added "sex stereotyping, transgender status, and gender identity" to the list of types of discriminatory behavior prohibited under a federal job training program.

The rule was finalized in December, and "gender-specific terminology" from the law was removed, including any reference to "he or she," "him or her," and "his or her."

Pigs on Airplanes 

The Department of Transportation authorized pigs to fly as "emotional support" animals in 2012.

The rules were intended to eliminate discrimination against disabled persons when they fly, and official guidance OK'd pot-bellied pigs, which can weigh as much as 300 pounds.

"[I]f you determine that the pot-bellied pig is a service animal, you must permit the service animal to accompany the passenger to her seat provided the animal does not obstruct the aisle or present any safety issues and the animal is behaving appropriately in a public setting," the manual stated.

Not Being Able to Define 'Menu' in Less Than 170 Words

One major regulation from Obamacare was adding calorie requirements to menus in restaurant chains across the nation. But defining what constitutes a menu was not easy.

The rules, which were blasted as "impossible to comply" with and carried criminal penalties for not labeling a food correctly, are estimated to cost the industry $1.7 billion.

The regulation was so specific that it announced that seasonal pumpkin spice muffins would have to be labeled, but not crushed dried peppers, which are "considered a condiment that is exempt."

The definition for menu reached 171 words, and the final regulation applied to things that are not menus, such as advertisements and coupons.

Mandating Businesses Allow Miniature Horses as Guide Animals

The 2010 guidelines for the Americans with Disabilities Act were not finalized until two years later, and the government included a provision that store owners should let miniature horses in if they are used as guide animals.

The guidelines also regulated everything from limiting the height of slopes on miniature golf courses, and other various requirements at shooting ranges and saunas to accommodate the disabled.

Public accommodation was extended to mini-horses "if the miniature horse has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of the individual with a disability."

However, "Ponies and full-size horses are not covered."

Feds Weighing Kids in Daycare Because of Michelle Obama's School Lunch Rules

Another unintended consequence of the healthy school lunch law pushed by First Lady Michelle Obama was that thousands of kids were weighed in daycare.

Section 223 of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act mandated a study of food in daycare, which included measuring the height and weight of 3,000 kids.

"Children will be asked to cooperate with study staff who will weigh and measure them for the Standing Height and Weight Form," according to a notice of a regulation that codified the section of the law.

Regulating Christmas Lights 

Federal regulators extended their hand to Christmas lights at the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

A regulation posted in 2015 deemed certain Christmas decorations a "substantial product hazard" if they did not meet the government's standards for wire size, overcurrent protection, and strain relief.

The final rule applied to "stars, wreathes, candles without shades, light sculptures, blow-molded (plastic) figures, and animated figures," but not "solar-powered products."

Navy Inspected Bathrooms for 'Degrading' Images of Women

The military was not exempt from bizarre rules. Under orders from then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, the Navy searched sailors' workspaces to make sure they did not have any pin up calendars that could be "degrading or offensive" to women.

In an attempt to curb sexual assault, Secretary of the Navy Ray Maybus sent a memo in June 2013 that more than once a year commanding officers would inspect workplaces to "ensure they are free from materials that create a degrading, hostile, or offensive work environment."

Even bathrooms were inspected, and any "unprofessional" calendars or posters were taken away as "contraband."

Regulating Cow Farts

In 2014, the Obama administration received headlines for plans to regulate cow flatulence. The goal of cutting methane emissions from the dairy industry by 25 percent would have to target cow flatulence, since the EPA considers beef and dairy cattle as the largest domestic animal emitters of methane "by far."

California followed suit last year. Comparing himself to Noah from the Bible, Gov. Jerry Brown announced new legislation that regulates cow farts, and dramatically reduces methane emissions by 2030.