James Goodwin on CPRBlog {Bio}
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Your Up-to-Date 10-Day Forecast for Capitol Hill: A Blizzard of Antiregulatory Bills

While meteorologists’ recent doom-laden predictions of an apocalyptic blizzard hitting the mid-Atlantic may not have exactly panned out, I have a forecast that you can take to the bank:  A large mass of conservative hot air has recently moved into the Washington, DC, region where it is now combining with a high pressure zone of intense industry lobbying.  As a result, we can expect over the next several days a heavy downpour of bills aimed at eviscerating our nation’s regulatory safety net with long-lasting, if not irreversible, damage to the public health, financial security, and the environment.  The powerful corporate interests that find compliance with these safeguards to be inconvenient to their bottom lines, however, stand to reap a windfall from this storm if any of these bills are enacted into law.

I have already highlighted one of these bills—the Small Business Regulatory Flexibility Improvements Act (SBRFIA)—in this space earlier.  As I explained there, the bill—which the House Judiciary Committee marked up today without the benefit of a formal background hearings—would further entrench big businesses’ control over rulemaking institutions and procedures that are ostensibly intended to help small businesses participate more effectively in the development of new regulations.  As it stands now, the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Office of Advocacy already wastes taxpayer money by working on behalf of powerful corporate interests to block or delay regulatory safeguards to the detriment of both small businesses and the general public.

But the antiregulatory members of Congress aren’t stopping there.  They have several other bills teed up that are similarly aimed at weakening the ability of regulatory agencies—such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—from carrying out their statutory missions of protecting the public.

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In Their Rush to Help Big Business, Antiregulatory Members of Congress are Trampling Small Ones Along the Way

Just as The Sixth Sense makes more sense when you realize that Bruce Willis’s character has been dead the whole time, the Small Business Regulatory Flexibility Improvements Act (SBRFIA)—the latest antiregulatory bill being championed by antiregulatory members of the House of Representatives—makes more sense when you realize that it has nothing to do with helping small businesses at all.  Rather, it’s all about helping powerful corporate interests increase their profits at the expense of public health, safety, and the environment.   The twist ending to this nightmare of a bill is that real small businesses—the very entities the bill’s sponsors claim to be helping—are left in a worse position than if the bill were never enacted at all.

Conservative members of Congress have long pretended to care about small businesses—at least, insofar as it helps advance their broader antigovernment campaign.  To this end, these lawmakers have succeeded in building a complex legal apparatus that purports to strengthen the voice of small businesses in the rulemaking process.  Under a series of laws starting with the Regulatory Flexibility Act, agencies must undertake various analyses of their rules’ impacts on small businesses, and their compliance with these requirements is overseen by a powerful agency known as the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Office of Advocacy.  As first detailed in a 2013 CPR white paper, however, the dirty secret behind this Potemkin’s village is that these institutions serve the interests of the large corporations that already dominate the rulemaking process to the exclusion of both small businesses and public interest advocates.

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The Anti-Regulatory Crowd's Small Business Rhetoric Is a Scam

Just as The Sixth Sense makes more sense when you realize that Bruce Willis’s character has been dead the whole time, the Small Business Regulatory Flexibility Improvements Act (SBRFIA)—the latest antiregulatory bill being championed by antiregulatory members of the House of Representatives—makes more sense when you realize that it has nothing to do with helping small businesses at all.  Rather, it’s all about helping powerful corporate interests increase their profits at the expense of public health, safety, and the environment.   The twist ending to this nightmare of a bill is that real small businesses—the very entities the bill’s sponsors claim to be helping—are left in a worse position than if the bill were never enacted at all.

Conservative members of Congress have long pretended to care about small businesses—at least, insofar as it helps advance their broader antigovernment campaign.  To this end, these lawmakers have succeeded in building a complex legal apparatus that purports to strengthen the voice of small businesses in the rulemaking process.  Under a series of laws starting with the Regulatory Flexibility Act, agencies must undertake various analyses of their rules’ impacts on small businesses, and their compliance with these requirements is overseen by a powerful agency known as the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Office of Advocacy.  As first detailed in a 2013 CPR white paper, however, the dirty secret behind this Potemkin’s village is that these institutions serve the interests of the large corporations that already dominate the rulemaking process to the exclusion of both small businesses and public interest advocates.

At the hub of this complex apparatus—making sure that everything continues to operate smoothly—is the SBA Office of Advocacy itself.  This small, under-the-radar bureau effectively functions as the antiregulatory sister to the much better known White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA).  Like OIRA, it works on behalf of powerful corporate interests to attack crucial regulatory safeguards for protecting the public.

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GAO Debunks Republicans' 'Sue and Settle' Myth

Today, Rep. Fred Upton and the rest of his anti-environmental allies on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are probably suffering from a stingingbout of buyers' remorse as the Government Accountability Office report they requested didn't deliver the answer they were seeking.   The Commerce Committee hoped to demonstrate that “In many instances, EPA has entered into settlements or consent decrees committing the agency to undertake significant new rule-makings subject to specific timelines or schedules, including rule-makings that may result in substantial new compliance costs.” Instead, what they got was the truth. Settlement agreements are rarely used.  When they are used, they are simply requiring the Agency to complete a rule it is already mandated to complete by Congress.

The timing of the report is impeccable as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue spent a great deal of time this morning railing against so-called "sue and settle" tactics and calling for Congress to undertake forms to address it.

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Obama’s Path to Progress: Protecting America’s Wetlands and Other Fragile Water Resources

Over the next two weeks, CPR will publish a series of blog posts highlighting several key regulatory safeguards for protecting the integrity and health of U.S. water bodies against damaging pollution—rules that are currently under development by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and included in our recent Issue Alert, Barack Obama’s Path to Progress in 2015-16: Thirteen Essential Regulatory Actions.  Today’s post will examine the clean water safeguard that has attracted perhaps the most vociferous opposition from industrial and agricultural polluters along with their antiregulatory allies in Congress: the EPA’s pending rule to clarify the definition of “Waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act, which seeks to ensure that certain classes of critical water bodies—many of which are smaller and often overlooked—receive the statute’s full protections.

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Obama’s Path to Progress: Protecting Families and Children Against Dangerous Food Imports

As I noted in an earlier post, families and friends all across the United States will gather to observe the Thanksgiving holiday tomorrow.   Compared to many other countries, we are lucky that during such occasions we are able to focus on the celebrations enjoyed in the company of our loved ones—and not have to worry so much about whether the meal might cause a foodborne illness.  This is because, while far from perfect, the United States has one of the best food safety systems in the world.

With the food supply chain becoming increasingly globalized, however, a strong system for ensuring the safety of domestically produced foods is no longer enough.  Already, 15 percent of the food consumed in the United States is imported.  Imports make up 91 percent of our seafood, 60 percent of our fruits and vegetables, and 61 percent of our honey.   Unfortunately, many of these imported foods come from countries—such as China, Vietnam, and Mexico—that lack effective health and safety regulation.

 

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Obama’s Path to Progress: Safeguarding Families Against Tainted Processed Foods and Produce

Later this week, most of us in the United States will gather together for the simple but meaningful act of sharing a meal as a way to celebrate and reflect upon the relationships and blessings that enrich our lives.  The menus will differ from table to table, and family to family, of course.  But very few of us will give much thought to whether the food is safe to eat whether it’s been tainted with bacteria or other pathogens.

All things considered, the United States has a strong food safety system—among the best in the world—something to add to our list of things to be thankful for.  But distressingly, the system relies on a series of programs that are designed to respond to food illness outbreaks after they’ve already started with the objective of limiting their scope and impact as much as possible. It’s far less adept at preventing such outbreaks in the first place, a lesson we’ve been reminded of over the last several years as outbreaks have popped up again and again.

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Reports of the Death of the Obama Administration Are Greatly Exaggerated: The US-Chinese Climate Agreement

The commentary following last week’s elections has largely been a variation on either of two themes:  (1) how strong Republicans are now that they have secured majorities in both houses of Congress or (2) how correspondingly weak the Obama Administration will be for the remainder of its time in office when it comes to advancing its policy goals.  This commentary may be true insofar as it relates to new legislation.  (Even there, nothing will really change as the prospects for new legislation that the President can sign will be not much worse now than they have been in recent Congresses.)  But when it comes to enforcement of laws that already on the books, President Obama holds the undisputed upper hand, and congressional Republicans remain effectively impotent.

Last night’s agreement between the United States and China to undertake significant cuts in greenhouse gas emission by 2030 illustrates that.  Under the agreement, the United States will cut its emissions between 26 percent and 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, while China will reach its peak greenhouse gas emission by 2030 or earlier.  Since the United States and China are far and away the two largest national emitters of greenhouse gases, this agreement marks a huge step in the international effort to avoid the most dangerous impacts of global climate disruption.  It also helps pave the way for the rest of the global community to undertake significant emissions reductions measures of their own as part of future international treaty negotiations.

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Obama’s Path to Progress: Protecting People and the Environment Against Harmful Ozone Pollution

A few months back, President Obama visited several kids receiving treatment for asthma at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC.  Afterwards, he reflected on the critical importance of environmental safeguards, such as those to limit ozone pollution, saying:

[E]very time America has set clear rules and better standards for our air, our water, and our children’s health—the warnings of the cynics have been wrong.  They warned that doing something about the smog choking our cities, and acid rain poisoning our lakes, would kill business.  It didn’t.  Our air got cleaner, acid rain was cut dramatically, and our economy kept growing.

In just a short few weeks, Obama will have his first test of whether he’s prepared to follow through on those words, and frankly, to make good on his legal obligation to do so, when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announces whether or not it will establish a more protective national standard to limit ozone air pollution.  The agency is under a judicial order to complete its review of the current National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for ozone and to propose strengthening it, if necessary, by December 1.  The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set the ozone NAAQS at a level “requisite to protect the public health” with “an adequate margin of safety.” That’s a standard that requires the agency to only consider public health and forbids it from considering polluters’ clean-up costs — not an accident of drafting, by the way, but rather a clear reflection that Congress intended for the EPA to make sure the nation’s air was safe to breathe.

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Obama’s Path to Progress: Reducing Climate Disrupting Emissions from Power Plants

Last week brought a string of bad news as far as global climate disruption goes.  The bummer parade began Sunday with the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Synthesis report, which painted the direst picture yet of the looming global climate disruption threat, finding that “Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”  Before it was possible for anyone to catch their breath, the mid-term election results delivered another punch to the environmental gut, as a wave of anti-environmental candidates emerged victorious, securing Republican control of the U.S. Senate and expanding their control of the U.S. House of Representatives.  The cherry on top came when Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a politician best known for writing an entire book in which he dismissed climate disruption as the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people”—confirmed that he would chair the Senate Committee that will conduct oversight on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) efforts to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Things look grim, but not all hope is lost for making meaningful progress on the issue of climate disruption.  While a comprehensive bill to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is unlikely to emerge from Congress anytime soon, President Obama already has ample authority to tackle the largest emitters using the existing provisions of the Clean Air Act, as the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly confirmed.  Fortunately, Obama is already putting that authority to good use with a pair of pending rules that would establish national performance standards to limit greenhouse gas emissions from future and existing fossil-fueled power plants.  These rules make up one of the 13 essential regulatory actions highlighted in CPR’s recent Issue Alert on safeguards that the Obama Administration can and should implement before its term in office expires.  By finalizing these regulatory actions, Obama can not only deliver significant benefits to the American public; he can also help secure his legacy on important public health, safety, and environmental issues.

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