Steinzor in The Hill: Debunking the Anti-Regulatory's Case on Over-Regulation

Matthew Freeman

Dec. 12, 2009

CPR President Rena Steinzor had an op-ed in The Hill yesterday, dismantling right wing arguments about "excessive" regulation, and shaming the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs for sitting on rules long past their required deadlines.

Noting just some of the now-taken-for-granted results of safeguards that were regulated into existence -- things like clean tap water, safe and effective drugs, and safety belts in automobiles, she points out that opponents of regulation are working hard to turn back the clock, producing proposal after proposal to further hamstring enforcement of laws like the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and more. She dismisses the right wing's argument that there's some sort of tsunami of regulation coming from the Obama Administration, noting that fewer regs were adopted in 2012 than in any single year of the Bush Administration.  And this year's pace is even slower. She continues:

Don't get me wrong, I wish it were otherwise. In many cases, rules to implement laws passed by Congress languish for years, pinned down by intense lobbying by industry and its allies. That's the case with a number of rules required under the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments — like the long-overdue revisions to air quality standards for ozone and emissions standards for hazardous air pollutants from oil refineries.  If allowed to proceed on schedule, the annual benefits of Clean Air Act rules by 2020 will include 237,000 adult lives saved and the prevention of 17 million work loss days and 5.4 million school loss days. So what’s stopping the EPA?

Rules must pass through a gauntlet of court challenges, aggressive lobbying by regulated industries, and repeated analysis by the little known but overly powerful White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), which holds onto rules for months or even years before they see the light of day. As it happens, an executive order limits OIRA’s review to 90 days with a possible 30-day extension, but of the 129 draft rules currently under review at OIRA, 58 have been held up for longer than 120 days and 33 have been stalled for more than a year.  My law students would rejoice if I showed that kind of laxness with deadlines.

She concludes:

The simple truth is that cries of "over-regulation" from industry and its allies in Congress are hooey. Having lost pitched battles in Congress over adoption of various environmental, health, and safety laws, they're simply re-litigating their case, hoping to undermine the rules that breathe life into laws they opposed in the first place.  More broadly, they're trying to intimidate the administration from aggressively pursuing the only course that congressional gridlock leaves open to it to address climate change, air pollution, water pollution, unsafe working conditions, and more.  We can only hope the administration doesn't fall for it.

Significantly, the piece comes in the midst of a series of articles on regulation running in The Hill, the first of which gave ample space to anti-regulation advocates bemoaning "over-regulation" in the Obama Administration. The headline on what is offered as a news story gives away the slant of the article: "Obama oversees expansion of the regulatory state." The direct evidence offered of that expansion is page-count comparison between the Code of Federal Regulations in the mid-1970s and today.  We're told that "researchers at George Mason's University's Mercatus Center," collected "data" on the page-count of the CFR, and found that it was twice as long today as it was in the 1970s. Really? Checking out the page numbers counts as research now?

Steinzor's piece serves as a nice counterpoint to such flapdoodle. It's well worth the read.

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