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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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With State of the Union Address, Obama Begins Sketching Out a Positive View of Government

There were many highlights in President Obama’s recent State of the Union address, but one passage in particular stuck out for us.  In this passage, Obama laid out his clear vision of the positive role that government can and must play in our society—and sharing this vision with the American public will be essential for successfully repelling the oncoming Republican onslaught against regulatory safeguards.  He cast his positive vision of government in the following terms:

But here’s the thing—those of us here tonight, we need to set our sights higher than just making sure government doesn’t halt the progress we’re making.  We need to do more than just do no harm.  Tonight, together, let’s do more to restore the link between hard work and growing opportunity for every American.

In other words, we as a society benefit when everyone has the opportunity to achieve his or her full potential.  The government is uniquely positioned to ensure that everyone is afforded opportunity; and, when the government is permitted to function effectively, it can and will fulfill this task successfully.  Individuals win.  Society wins.  And the government has a critical role to play in achieving these results.

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Killer Coal

Black lung has been the underlying or contributing cause of death for more than 75,000 coal miners since 1968, according to NIOSH, the federal agency responsible for conducting research on work-related diseases and injuries. Since 1970, the Department of Labor has paid over $44 billion in benefits to miners totally disabled by respiratory diseases (or their survivors). The annual death rate from mining accidents is 20-25 per 100,000, about six times the average industry. If you do the math, that means comes out to about six deaths per thousand workers over the course of a thirty-year career as a miner. This is actually an underestimate because the government figures include office workers employed in the industry.

Miners aren’t the only victims. There’s also air pollution. Even with the pollution controls in place in developed countries, coal remains deadly. According to a 2011 report of the American lung association, particulate pollution from coal-fired power plants causes about thirteen thousand deaths per year. Indeed, according to the report: “Coal-fired power plants that sell electricity to the grid produce more hazardous air pollution in the U.S. than any other industrial pollution sources.”

Of course, things would be much worse if it weren’t for EPA. Just look at China, which has done very little to control pollution from power plants. According to a recent study:

Air pollution causes people in northern China to live an average of 5.5 years shorter than their southern counterparts. . . .

High levels of air pollution in northern China – much of it caused by an over-reliance on burning coal for heat – will cause 500 million people to lose an aggregate 2.5 billion years from their lives, the authors predict in the study, published in the journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

To put it in as few words as possible: coal kills.

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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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Maryland Governor Larry Hogan Should Reverse his Opposition to the PMT

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan was sworn in earlier today and legislators, farmers, environmentalists, state agency staff, and scientists are waiting with bated breath to see whether he will act on his post-election promise to fight the proposed Phosphorous Management Tool (PMT). The desperately needed regulation would limit the amount of phosphorus-laded chicken manure farmers can spread on their fields.  

Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for healthy waterways, provided it is present in the right quantity. Too much phosphorus, however, and algae growth explodes, devouring all the oxygen in the water and leading to “dead zones” that cannot support aquatic life. This past summer, the Chesapeake Bay dead zone was the eighth largest since record keeping began. Algae can also be toxic. Phosphorus fueled an outbreak of poisonous algae in Lake Erie last year that forced half a million people in Toledo and the surrounding Ohio communities to temporarily shut off their tap water.

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Winning Safer Workplaces with Simple Changes

Last week on The Pump Handle, Kim Krisberg highlighted an interesting pilot program in Rockaway Township, New Jersey that puts an extra set of eyes on the lookout for workplace safety concerns that might otherwise have gone unnoticed by government inspectors. As she explains here, restaurant inspectors in Rockaway are pilot testing a simple modification to their inspection responsibilities—while they check refrigerator temperatures and cleanliness for food safety concerns, they’re now also looking for good practices that ensure workers are safe. Inspectors have a checklist of basic worker safety issues and they’re keeping tabs on which restaurants are making the grade.

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Government Files Petition for Certiorari in FERC Demand Response Case

As expected, yesterday the Solicitor General filed a petition for certiorari to the Supreme Court in FERC v. Electric Power Supply Association, asking the Supreme Court to review a May 23, 2014 decision from a divided panel of the D.C. Circuit that invalidated FERC’s Order 745.

Order 745 directs Regional Transmission Organizations (RTOs) and Independent System Operators (ISOs) to establish rules that compensate demand response resources at the wholesale market price—the same rate that electric power suppliers receive for selling electricity.  A group of organizations affiliated with generators of electricity sued FERC, alleging that Order 745 had overstepped the agency’s authority.  A majority of the D.C. Circuit panel (Brown, Silberman) agreed, holding that Order 745 exceeds FERC’s jurisdiction over wholesale electricity markets under the Federal Power Act, 16 U.S.C. § 824.  The panel majority reasoned that, because demand response involves decisions by end users regarding their energy use, it is inherently “part of the retail market.”  Judge Edwards dissented.

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Keystone XL Pipeline Route through Nebraska Upheld on Constitutional Technicality – for Now

In almost any other appellate court, winning over a simple majority of the justices means that you win the case.  Not so in Nebraska. 

Last Friday, in Thompson v. Heineman, a majority of the Nebraska Supreme Court found the Keystone XL Pipeline routing law, LB 1161, which granted the Governor the power to approve Keystone’s route through the state, unconstitutional.  The catch?  Nebraska’s rarely invoked Const. Art. V, § 2, or “supermajority clause.”  Under this clause, “no legislative act shall be held unconstitutional except by the concurrence of five judges.”  Therefore, five out of seven justices must agree in order to strike down a law as unconstitutional—and since only four justices found the Keystone law unconstitutional, the court was forced to vacate the lower court’s ruling.  (See my previous blog on the subject here.)

 

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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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