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. During the Bush years, their efforts helped them secure enfeebled regulatory policy – regulations that often undercut the very laws they were meant to effect, and enforcement approaches that rendered meaningful regulations all but toothless.
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.
In the last two years of his Administration, President Obama faces a Congress united by party and fundamentally at odds with the agenda he intends to pursue. CPR's Issue Alert offers a path to genuine accomplishment for the President: 13 Essential Regulatory Actions.
For many Americans, the term "small business" conjures up images of mom-and-pop grocery stores, garage-based Internet start-ups and the like. They're out there, creating jobs and inventing tomorrow's commerce, but Washington lobbyists have a different idea of "small."
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.
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 falls to the Administration to fix it. But it has not made nearly as much progress as many CPR Member Scholars had hoped or expected, and now it’s facing plenty of opposition from industry allies in Congress and elsewhere.
Bad Facts, Worse 'Solutions'
Much of the opposition to regulatory safeguards for health, safety and the environment relies on trumped-up "data," and the supposed solutions offered by regulatory opponents are thinly veiled efforts to relieve polluters and others from the obligation to clean up the mess they make and the hazards they create. CPR Member Scholars have addressed both the bad facts -- like the much-repeated fabrication that regulation imposes $1.75 trillion in costs to the economy -- and the bad "solutions" like "regulatory pay-go," the REINS Act, and various other pieces of legislation aimed at hampering the enforcement of laws duly enacted by Congress and the President. Read more about the bad facts and worse solutions that drive the anti-regulation campaign on our Attacks on Regulation page.
SBA's Advocacy Office Loses Its Way
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.
Since the day he was inaugurated, the clock has been ticking on President Obama's window of opportunity to reinvigorate the regulatory system protecting health, safety, the environment, the economy, worker safety and more. Regulations take time -- years, often -- and the Administration had much to do, after eight years of industry dominance of the regulatory process. But the necessary sense of urgency never seemed to take root in the Obama Administration.
After the 2014 midterm elections left the President facing a Republican Congress, President Obama's opportunities for progress on domestic issues dwindled. In November 2014, the Center for Progressive Reform offered Barack Obama’s Path to Progress in 2015-16: Thirteen Essential Regulatory Actions. The white paper puts forward an affirmative agenda for the President that could help save thousands of American lives, promote worker safety, combat global climate change, help the environment and more, all without the need to persuade a single Republican Member of Congress to come on board. As the report points out, at least with respect to the regulatory steps cited in this report, the only real challenge to the President's ability to get the rules adopted and in place before his term ends is whether he has the will to push them through.
Twenty Years of 12866
Executive Order 12866 -- the order underpinning OIRA's grip on the regulatory process -- turned 20 in October 2013, and nine CPR Member Scholars marked the occasion with a blog carnival. Here's a summary of who said what with links to each of the individual posts.
Read about the Member Scholars’ efforts on regulatory issues on these pages: