Dec. 7, 2011 by Isaac Shapiro

What David Brooks Gets Right -- Regulations Aren't Tanking the Economy -- and What He Misses

Cross-posted from the Economic Policy Institute's Working Economics blog. Isaac Shapiro is EPI's Director of Regulatory Policy Research.

The House of Representatives is poised to vote for the REINS (Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny) bill today; this would come on top of votes on two bills last week that would also upend the regulatory process.  These efforts are premised on assertions that regulations are greatly damaging the economy, and David Brooks’ op-ed Tuesday is another timely reminder that these assertions are inaccurate.  He opens with:

“Republicans have many strong arguments to make against the Obama administration, but one major criticism doesn’t square with the evidence. This is the charge that President Obama is running a virulently antibusiness administration that spews out a steady flow of job- and economy-crushing regulations.”

And closes with:

“They regulations are not tanking the economy.”

In between, he cites a few relevant facts to support his view that “regulations are not a big factor in our short-term economic problems.” These include the Bureau of Labor Statistics data which show that during the first half of 2011, just 0.18 percent of mass layoffs were due to regulations. EPI President Lawrence …

Dec. 6, 2011 by Rena Steinzor

Booth Goodwin, the U.S. Attorney for the southern district of West Virginia, and Attorney General Eric Holder announced today a landmark settlement with Alpha Natural Resources, the coal company that bought out its rival Massey Energy after a catastrophic explosion deep within the Big Branch mine killed 29 miners.  Alpha recently announced that its third quarter 2011 profits had more than doubled in the wake of its purchase of  Massey, up to $66 million in the quarter.  The settlement requires the company to fork over $209 million to pay fines, reimburse families of miners killed and injured, and to fix the chronic safety problems that produced this tragedy.  The announcement had no news on  efforts to hold individuals accountable—most notably, Don Blankenship, the rogue CEO who constantly harassed his employees to “dig coal” faster, and faster, and faster, at the expense of routine safety precautions …

Dec. 6, 2011 by Rena Steinzor

New York Times columnist David Brooks weighs in this morning on CPR’s latest report, Behind Closed Doors at the White House: How Politics Trumps Protection of Health, Worker Safety and the Environment. To his credit, he begins by dismissing one of congressional Republicans’ principal lines of argument for 2011 – that an imagined tsunami of Obama Administration regulatory excess is somehow at the root of the nation’s economic distress. In fact, almost any economist will tell you that we got into this mess because of under-regulation, and that the current challenge is depressed consumer demand, not regulation.

From there, Brooks gets a little lost in the sauce. Most significantly, he displays a sort of man crush on Cass Sunstein, head of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, and the President’s “regulatory czar.” Sunstein’s small office of economists plays an outsized role …

Dec. 2, 2011 by Ben Somberg

The CPR white paper on OIRA earlier this week looked at how this little office within OMB facilitates an industry-dominated process that serves to weaken regulations proposed by federal agencies. Appearances by industry representatives have outnumbered those by public interest lobbyists more than 5-to-1 in meetings at OIRA in the last ten years, the paper found (3,763 to 708, for the record).

Does it have to be this way?

The Obama Administration has said on numerous occasions that it has an “open door” policy at OIRA. But while “open door” sounds good in theory, the hard evidence shows that this very policy facilitates industry’s domination of the process.

The Administration has actually defended the open door policy by going one step further, such as with these words from then-OMB spokesman Tom Gavin:

Gavin said the White House office is required by executive order to meet …

Dec. 1, 2011 by Ben Somberg

The “Regulatory Flexibility Improvements Act” (RFIA) and the “Regulatory Accountability Act” (RAA) are headed for votes on the House floor shortly (today and/or tomorrow). The “Gum Up Public Health and Safety Protections Act” apparently wasn’t going to sell as well.

A quick recap of the Regulatory Accountability Act, via CPR Member Scholar Sidney Shapiro’s Congressional testimony on the bill in October:

  • The regulatory system is already too ossified, and H.R. 3010 would only exacerbate this problem.  It currently takes four to eight years for an agency to promulgate and enforce most significant rules, and the proposed procedures would likely add another two to three years to the process.  In the meantime, thousands of people would die and tens of thousands more would be injured or become ill because of the lack of regulation.
  • H.R. 3010 would block or dilute the critical safeguards …

Dec. 1, 2011 by Matt Shudtz

This week OSHA expanded a two-year-old enforcement program aimed at preventing catastrophic release of highly hazardous chemicals—the type of headline-grabbing event that ruined thousands of lives in Bhopal in 1984 and was narrowly avoided in West Virginia in 2008.  Originally targeted at just three regions (and optional for state-plan states in those regions), the National Emphasis Program for PSM Covered Chemical Facilities (aka “Chem NEP”) has now been expanded nationwide and requires all state-plan states to adopt their own version of the program.  This is a good step toward addressing a serious problem.

In announcing the expansion of the NEP on Wednesday, OSHA chief David Michaels said that “far too many workers are injured and killed in preventable incidents at chemical facilities around the country,” and that inspections during the pilot period “found many of the same safety-related problems that were uncovered during OSHA’s NEP …

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