Fact: It often takes agencies up to 10 years (in some cases even longer) to develop and issue critical regulations needed to protect people and the environment. These delays may save corporations money, but they impose real and preventable costs in terms of lives lost, money wasted, and ecosystems destroyed.
The reasons for this delay are not hard to divine. Before it can issue a rule, agencies must run a highly complex gauntlet of analyses and reviews that have piled up thanks to several decades’ worth of misguided regulatory legislation, executive orders, and OMB memos, letters, and circulars. The result is a mishmash of unnecessary or duplicative analyses and reviews that do little to improve the quality of agency decision-making.
For their part, agencies are hardly in the position to play these games. Over the last few decades, agencies have become overstretched as their budgets and staff have been held constant or even shrank, while the number of imported toys, new chemicals, and job hazards has increased. The result has been a series of catastrophic regulatory failures, such as the BP oil spill, salmonella outbreaks, and the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster.
Under these circumstances, the image of agencies running amok and overregulating that is often invoked by industry and sympathetic members of Congress is absurd.
Nevertheless, this is the premise behind four proposals that will get an airing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which will conduct a hearing tomorrow to consider four plans would weaken public health and safety protections. The proposals from Senators Snowe, Roberts, Vitter, and Warner (all of whom will testify) all share one thing in common: they would delay critical safeguards even more without improving the benefits of current or future regulations.
A brief overview of these proposals:
Sponsors of these proposals, as well as other anti-regulatory legislation, defend them on the unfounded grounds that they will help spur job growth and economic growth, recycling the old yarn that the weak economy is the product of overregulation. In reality, the current downturn is largely a story of under-regulation. It was under-regulation of Wall Street that caused the mortgage crisis that dragged our economy into recession. More recently, it was under-regulation of offshore oil drilling that has completely disrupted the regional economy of the Gulf Coast states following the BP oil spill.
More broadly, regulatory costs usually do not translate into job and other economic losses, despite what regulatory opponents might claim. This result makes sense, since the money spent on regulation spurs economic activity in the form of goods purchased and services rendered. This is why recent studies indicate that regulation does not decrease employment and that it can lead to increases in employment in some cases.
Now is not the time to build more delays into the regulatory process. Rather, both Houses of Congress should consider ways to free up agencies from existing analytical burdens so that they can carry out their mission of protecting people and the environment more effectively and swiftly.