President Obama faces a Congress united by party, but fundamentally at odds with the agenda he intends to pursue. Republican legislators will not advance legislation to effectively address the top public health issues of our time—climate change, air and water pollution, workers’ rights, and food safety.
If the President is to accomplish much of anything on these issues during his final two years in office, it will almost certainly be by means of regulation. He need not strain the bounds of his authority to do so, of course. He simply needs to see to it that the various agencies of his Administration move in a timely way, with an appropriate sense of urgency.
The Center for Progressive Reform’s Issue Alert, Barack Obama’s Path to Progress in 2015-16: Thirteen Essential Regulatory Actions (or here in PDF), by CPR President Rena Steinzor, CPR Senior Policy Analysts James Goodwin and Matthew Shudtz, and CPR Policy Analyst Anne Havemann, identifies 13 essential regulatory actions that agencies are working on right now to address critical public health concerns. All of these actions can and should be completed before the President leaves office. These rules come out of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Department of Labor, and the Department of Transportation. All are now years overdue. Each day, people get ill and too many die because earlier Administrations dragged their feet on these problems.
Because time is short and so much work remains to be done, the Issue Alert recommends that the President appoint a senior White House advisor to be the point person to organize and ride herd over the considerable effort that will be required to make these and other rules final by no later than June 30, 2016. The authors choose that June 2016 date because it effectively immunizes the rules from repeal under the Congressional Review Act, should the Republican Party take control of the White House and hold both houses of Congress in the 2016 elections.
The “Essential 13” regulatory actions highlighted in the issue alert are:
Preventive controls for processed foods. FDA rules that would prevent catastrophic foodborne illness outbreaks caused by processed foods, such as the recent Salmonella-tainted peanut butter outbreak that killed nine people.
Produce safety. An FDA rule that would prevent catastrophic foodborne illness outbreaks caused by tainted fresh produce, such as the recent Listeria-tainted cantaloupe that killed 33 people.
Imported food safety. FDA ruled that would hold imported foods, which comprise 15 percent of all foods consumed in the United States, to the same high standards that apply to foods produced domestically.
Silica standard. An OSHA rule to better protect the 2 million U.S. workers exposed to dangerous levels of silica dust in the workplace.
Child farm-labor safety rules. EPA and Department of Labor safeguards to better protect vulnerable child agriculture workers, one of whom dies in a farming-related incident roughly every three days.
Crude-by-rail safety standards. A Department of Transportation rule that would prevent train derailments and crashes involving the more than 415,000 rail-carloads of flammable crude oil traveling across the United States each year.
Coal ash waste disposal standards. An EPA rule to require power plants to better manage the more than 129 million tons of coal ash they produce annually, in order to prevent contamination of adjacent ground and surface waters, as well as disastrous spills.