Jobs Council's Shortsighted Report Calls for Gumming up Public Protections

by Rena Steinzor

January 17, 2012

A panel of business leaders comprising President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness today published a “Road Map to Renewal,” including proposals for expanded oil and gas drilling, and, of particular interest, five pages of policy recommendations related to regulation. Among them were procedural proposals aimed at further hamstringing regulatory agencies in their effort to promulgate badly needed safeguards for health, safety, and the environment. 

For example, the Council proposes:

  • lengthening the regulatory process by adding in an additional public-comment period so that commenters can comment on other commenters’ comments,
  • requiring independent regulatory agencies be required by statute to conduct cost-benefit analyses of their regulations, presumably so that regulations that do not sufficiently benefit industry’s bottom line would be rejected, and
  • creating a group of economists within regulatory agencies, separated in some fashion from the legal and scientific issue experts, who would pass judgment on proposed regulations.

It’s worth noting that several of the proposals from the Jobs Council are ideas industry and its Republican allies have been pushing for a while; the cost-benefit requirement for independent agencies, for example, was included in the Regulatory Accountability Act and CURB Act, two bills popular in the GOP. The comments-on-comments concept, meanwhile, has been touted by the anti-regulation Center for Regulatory Effectiveness.

All in all, the recommendations start from a false premise – that environmental, health and safety safeguards are the economy’s problem – and proceed toward an unwise conclusion – building in further layers of review by economists.  In fact, the regulations that industry is most distressed by already undergo a cost-benefit analysis at the agencies and then endure an industry-friendly second review at the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.  As a recent CPR report demonstrates, OIRA’s review is the gateway to a gross politicization of the process, one that commonly results in weaker safeguards. Further review by another team of economists will only serve to slow and weaken needed protections.

Regulations from EPA, OSHA, and the other agencies under the microscope are written to implement and enforce laws duly passed by Congress – the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Occupational Safety and Health Act and others.  Industry finds such laws inconvenient.  But when properly enforced, they keep Americans safe, protect our environment for future generations, and in the end, provide a fair and stable footing for the nation’s economy.  It’s not surprising that a group primarily comprised of business leaders would offer up a series of proposals that would slant policymaking in this area toward industry’s bottom line.  But it’s disappointing that they don’t see the larger picture.

The President and Congress should say thanks, but no thanks, to these anti-regulatory proposals.

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Also from Rena Steinzor

Rena Steinzor is a Professor of Law at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, and a past president of the Center for Progressive Reform. She is the author of Why Not Jail? Industrial Catastrophes, Corporate Malfeasance, and Government Inaction.

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