Regulatory Tools to Protect People & the Environment
Middle school civics texts tell us that Congress writes the laws and the executive branch enforces them. In practice, of course, it’s a good deal more complicated than that.
When it comes to health, safety and the environment – the Center for Progressive Reform’s core issue areas – executive branch enforcement of the law has become yet another arena to fight and re-fight policy battles presumably settled in Congress. In particular, regulated entities – including companies that pollute or that make potentially dangerous products – have become especially savvy at leveraging their relationships in Washington to weaken and delay regulations necessary to enforcing laws duly enacted by Congress and the President.
In the view of CPR Member Scholars, the federal regulatory system has fallen – or perhaps more accurately, been pushed – into a state of disrepair. Much needed health and safety regulations have been delayed for years, weakened to the point of ineffectiveness, and then sporadically enforced. Federal agencies charged with protecting Americans from various hazards in our food, consumer products, chemicals in commerce, the air and water, and in the workplace have been drastically underfunded, and until recently, their agendas diverted.
Politicians are convinced that Americans hate regulation. In fact, Americans approve of sensible safeguards to protect health, safety, the environment, the economy and more. CPR Member Scholars are firm believers in well-crafted regulations that help protect Americans from a range of hazards. But the attacks on regulation persist.
As its name suggests, the Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy is there to represent the interests of small businesses. But in many ways, it functions as a tool of large industry, as in the case of its efforts to undermine an OSHA standard to protect workers from deadly silica dust. Read CPR's Issue Alert.
Even before Donald Trump took office, the congressional GOP had drawn up a "hit list" of health, safety and environmental regulations it hoped to erase from the books. Their method: the little-used Congressional Review Act. CPR is tracking Republican efforts to repeal vital safeguards.
The consequences of our failed system of regulation are the stuff of national headlines – the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, the West, Texas, fertilizer plant explosion, as well as poisonous children's jewelry and toys, contaminated cantaloupe and other produce, drugs with fatal side effects, and more. The agencies established to protect Americans from these hazards need to be reinvigorated, and their efforts to protect Americans given higher priority.
The Obama Administration did not create the regulatory mess, but it made little progress fixing it. As the Trump Administration took hold of the regulatory reins, its allies in Congress began working to throw even more hurdles in the path of meaningful regulation.
One source of opposition to sensible safeguards for health, safety and the environment comes from within the Administration itself: the Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy. Established to look out for the interests of small businesses in regulatory and other matters, the Office has morphed into an anti-regulatory beachhead within the federal government, working in concert with special interest lobbyists to delay, water down and defeat sensible safeguards. Moreover, the Advocacy Office often acts on behalf of businesses that no one could accurately describe as "small" -- 1,000-employee chemical plants and 1,500-employee petroleum refineries, for example.
The Office exercises…authority by superintending agency compliance with an expanding universe of analytical and procedural requirements—imposed by a steady stream of statutes and executive orders issued during the past three decades—that purportedly seek to ensure that agencies account for small business interests in their regulatory decision-making. Controversial rules can quickly become mired in this procedural muck, and an agency’s failure to carry out every last required analysis with sufficient detail and documentation can spell doom for even the most important safeguards. This system provides the Office of Advocacy with a powerful lever for slowing down rules or dictating their substance.