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CPR President to Testify at Senate Hearing on the Costs of Regulatory Delay

Today, Center for Progressive Reform President Rena Steinzor will testify at a Senate Hearing hosted by the Judiciary Committee entitled “Justice Delayed: the  Human Cost of Regulatory Paralysis.

Steinzor’s testimony can be read in full here.

According to her testimony:

The subcommittee deserves tremendous credit for airing the truth about the public health regulations that agencies are writing as directed by Congress. The costs of delay are as real as they should be unnecessary, given the clear mandates of the law. Unfortunately, the overwhelming clout of Fortune 100 companies and their relentless, self-serving effort to ignore the great benefits provided by these essential protections has dominated the airwaves.

One does not need to look far to see how essential regulations are. Just ask anyone whose life was saved by a seat belt, whose children escaped brain damage because the EPA took lead out of gas, who turns on the faucet knowing the water will be clean, who takes drugs for a chronic illness confident the medicine will make them better, who avoided having their hand mangled in machinery on the job because an emergency switch was there to cut off the motor, who has taken their kids on a trip to a heritage national park to see a bald eagle that was saved from the brink of extinction—the list goes on and on.

The EPA’s regulations are among the most beneficial safeguards the U.S. regulatory system has ever produced.  For example, a 2011 EPA analysis assessing Clean Air Act regulations found that in 2010 these rules saved 164,300 adult lives and prevented 13 million days of work loss and 3.2 million days of school loss due to pollution-related illnesses such as asthma. By 2020, if the rules are issued promptly and Congress resists shrill demands that it derail them yet again, the annual benefits of these rules will include 237,000 adult lives saved as well as the prevention of 17 million work loss days and 5.4 million school loss days. Even the most conservative practitioners of cost-benefit analysis, including John Graham, President Bush’s regulatory czar, acknowledge what an amazing bang for the buck these regulations deliver in relationship to the costs they impose.

Conversely, because Clean Air Act regulations have been so long delayed—after all, Congress passed the Clean Air Act Amendments in 1990 and we sit here 23 years later—thousands of additional lives have been lost, hundreds of thousands of people have had heart attacks and visited the hospital because of respiratory illness, and people have lost millions of days off work and out of school.

The testimony highlights several EPA rules that have been delayed and the human costs of these delays:

  • Tier III Standards for Motor Vehicles. Originally scheduled to be completed in 2012, this long-delayed rule would significantly reduce automobile emissions of harmful air pollutants, including nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, and carbon monoxide.   According to agency estimates, this rule will eventually prevent up to 2,400 premature deaths, 3,200 emergency room visits, and 1.8 million lost school days, work days and minor-restricted activities every year.  
  • New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) to Control Greenhouse Gas Emissions from New and Existing Power Plants. Power plants account for roughly 40 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from these sources will be essential for averting the worst consequences of climate change. For the past few years, the EPA has been working on separate rules to limit greenhouse gas emission from future and existing power plants, respectively. President Obama recently made these rules the centerpiece of his comprehensive climate change plan. If implemented, these rules will go a long way toward reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, leading to significant public health and environmental benefits.  
  • Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). In September of 2011, the EPA was set to strengthen the health-based standard for ozone pollution, when the Obama Administration stepped in to block the effort at the last minute. (Prior to then, the ozone standard had not been updated since 1997, though the Clean Air Act requires reviews and updates to take place at least once every five years.) The Obama Administration justified blocking the 2011 update on the grounds that another update was set to be completed by 2014; however, the EPA’s slow progress on the rule makes it more likely that the update will not be completed until 2015 or perhaps even later. The agency projects that a stronger ozone standard would annually prevent up to 12,000 premature deaths, 5,300 non-fatal heart attacks, 2,200 cases of chronic bronchitis, 420,000 lost work days, and 2,100,000 missed school days.  
  • Coal Ash Disposal Rule. Three long years have elapsed since the EPA proposed a rule to protect communities from coal ash—a byproduct of coal-power generation that’s filled with toxic chemicals like arsenic, lead, and mercury—and still a final rule is still nowhere in sight. Meanwhile, power plants are dumping an additional 94 million tons of it every year into wet-ash ponds and dry landfills that are already filled to capacity. A strong rule is necessary to prevent improperly stored waste from leaking hazardous pollutants into ground and surface waters located near coal ash dump sites, potentially contaminating drinking water supplies and destroying affected aquatic ecosystems. In addition, a strong rule would help prevent future spill catastrophes, such as the one that occurred in Kingston, Tennessee, in December of 2008, when a surface impoundment collapsed, ultimately spilling 1.1 billion gallons of inky sludge across 300 acres of a nearby town at depths of three feet—a spill larger in quantity than the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico this past summer. According to agency records, the EPA will likely not complete this rule until sometime in 2014 or even later. Even then, the EPA might issue a weak version of their originally proposed rule, which would be inadequate to protect against water pollution and spill contamination.  
  • Power Plant Cooling Water Intake Rule. When implemented, this rule will help protect delicate aquatic ecosystems by preventing harm to fish and other animal and plant species. Even though the EPA was only able to put a dollar figure on a small slice of the benefits this rule would generate, the agency still found that these limited benefits outweighed the rule’s costs by a ratio of up to 14 to 1. Nevertheless, it has been subjected to a series of ongoing delays for several years.  
  • Scope of the Clean Water Act Guidance/Rulemaking. Thanks to a couple of muddled Supreme Court decisions, the scope of waters subject to jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act has been thrown into hopeless confusion, effectively handcuffing efforts by the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to protect wetlands and other ecologically significant waterbodies. The EPA has been working for more than three years on an effort to issue updated guidance that would clarify the scope of the Clean Water Act’s protective authority, which would provide greater regulatory certainty to landowners, farmers, and businesses. This effort has been stymied by a series of troublesome delays. Currently, the draft final guidance remains stuck in White House review, where it has languished for nearly a year and a half—well beyond the time limit allowed. Agency records also suggest that the EPA anticipates formally codifying this guidance in a rulemaking, though whether and when this rulemaking will ever see the light of day is anybody’s guess.


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