By Alister Bull
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Thursday announce steps to cut federal red tape it said would save billions of dollars over time, seeking to placate businesses complaining about what they see as an undue regulatory burden.
The reforms follow a request from President Barack Obama in January to review federal agency rules to see if they could be improved, or removed if they were out of date.
The president's decision, as he sought to improve relations with the business community, followed a drubbing for his Democrats in November congressional elections.
"As a result of that review, agencies have identified initiatives with the potential to eliminate tens of millions of hours in reporting burdens, and billions of dollars in regulatory costs," the White House said in a statement.
Obama's re-election hopes in 2012 rest in large part on his ability to get U.S. unemployment levels down from current high levels of 9 percent.
Meanwhile, the president's Republican opponents are fighting him over measures like Obama's reforms of healthcare and the financial services industry, which they say burdens business at the cost of both jobs and growth.
Savings outlined from the red tape review released by the White House on Thursday include a plan being considered by the Transportation Department that would yield an immediate $400 million from "refinements to railroad safety standards, and up to $1 billion over 20 years," the White House said.
In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency will propose savings of $670 million over the next decade by ending the rule for many states requiring vapor recovery systems at some local gas stations.
This was seen as no longer necessary "because modern vehicles already have effective air pollution control technologies," the White House said.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration also said it will remove 1.9 million annual hours of "redundant reporting burdens" on employers, which the Obama administration estimates will save $40 million a year.
The agency was also planning to finalize a proposal to harmonize U.S. hazard classifications and labels with those used by other nations, yielding an "annualized $585 million in estimated savings for employers" the White House said.
(Reporting by Alister Bull; Editing by Vicki Allen)