Earlier this month, the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy published a collection of essays filled with legal and policy recommendations for the next president. Center for Progressive Reform Member Scholar Lisa Heinzerling closed out the publication with a piece on improving federal environmental policy, which includes recommendations for how the next president can ensure that the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) stays out of the way.
Under the auspices of a series of executive orders, OIRA has been interfering with agency rulemaking and the development of crucial public protections for decades. From closed-door meetings with industry lobbyists to inappropriate substantive changes that overrule the judgment of agency scientists and other experts, OIRA has not done enough to support agency actions in pursuit of cleaner air and water, better protected natural resources, and safer workplaces. Instead, OIRA's record is marred by repeated efforts to weaken rules for the sake of political expediency.
As Heinzerling notes in her essay, this has to stop:
The next president should dismantle this process and start from scratch. The primary method through which the president should exercise control over the executive agencies is the one envisioned in the Constitution: the nomination of "Officers of the United States." The president may, of course, choose these officers based on the conformance between the president's and the officer's views of regulatory policy and priorities. If their paths diverge during the course of the officer's service, the president may fire the officer. In addition, the president may oversee the general progress of the officer in fulfilling the president's overall regulatory mission. But the president and aides in the Executive Office of the President and White House should not veto particular regulations, stall them, change their details, imbue them with their own views of the meaning of the underlying statutes, foist upon them the unwarrantedly narrow criterion of economic efficiency, or subject them to line-by-line editing. The next president should cease those practices and let the agencies do the work Congress has assigned to them.
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Protection of the environment is a matter of chemical, physical, biological, and ecological capacity, not political bandwidth. Restoring the independence of executive agencies would help begin to right a regulatory system that has been too much marked by politics and too little driven by expertise.
Heinzerling also calls on the next president to allow agency experts to speak with members of the media "without agency press office 'minders' or fear of reprisal" and to work with the Department of Justice to protect Americans' right to take agencies to court when they make environmentally damaging policy decisions.
The full set of essays is available on the American Constitution Society's website.
Editor's note: The Center for Progressive Reform has published a memo to the next president on needed reforms to the federal regulatory process. Be sure to visit our website shortly after Election Day for more specific recommendations on OIRA and a variety of environmental, safety, and enforcement policies.