Streamlining Regulatory Process Is Fine, but Administration Should Look Forward, Not Back

Statement by the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards

June 3, 2011

Contact: Angela Bradbery (202) 588-7741 or abradbery@citizen.org
Brian Gumm (202) 683-4812 or bgumm@ombwatch.org
Elizabeth Heyd (202) 289-2424 or eheyd@nrdc.org

Note: This statement was originally released on May 26 in response to the so-called “look-back plans” that were released that day by approximately 30 federal agencies in compliance with President Barack Obama’s Jan. 18 executive order requiring federal agencies to conduct reviews of rules already on the books. Because the coalition believes that the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce could discuss the look-back plans during today’s hearing titled “Views of the Administration on Regulatory Reform: An Update,” we are reiterating the key public interest perspectives presented in our May 26 statement.

Also note that David Goldston of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is testifying at today’s hearing; NRDC is a member of the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards.

Looking back is fine, but not at the expense of looking forward.

While we welcome the efficiencies and streamlining that the look-backs may achieve, the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards urges the administration to focus on saving lives and stabilizing the economy. Regulations are part of a system that protects people from harm from dangerous or even fatal products, contaminated food, financial collapse, and polluted air and water. We urge the administration to look forward, especially in a time of scarce resources for regulatory agencies.

Recent events like the Upper Big Branch mine explosion and the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster cost workers their lives. The twin failures of business and government to look out for hardworking Americans has cost the U.S. trillions of dollars and more than eight million jobs.

By conducting these look-back reviews, the Obama administration clearly is focused on achieving substantial cost savings. But when Cass Sunstein, administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), announced the submission of these plans on May 26, he also reinforced the myth that government “paperwork” and regulations affect economic growth, thereby undercutting the legitimacy of regulatory protections.

Indeed, some preliminary plans focus on moving agencies from paper-based systems to electronic reporting and information, and these are welcome changes that should save businesses and government money in coming years. But as the recent reports about the causes of the West Virginia mine disaster indicate, what Sunstein calls “burdens” on companies actually save lives every day. We urge the administration to keep in mind that dismissing all reporting requirements as just so much paperwork to be eliminated can prove disastrous to many workers and their families.

In the coming weeks, the coalition will review these preliminary plans, watch carefully the process for allowing public comment and evaluate the final plans agencies submit. The process has the potential to achieve real improvements in regulatory effectiveness and allow the public to participate in government. We need to make sure that special interests do not abuse this process for their own ends and that this effort does not allow Congress to wage war on the agencies that protect our health, our homes and our families.

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The Coalition for Sensible Safeguards is a coalition of consumer, labor, scientific, research, good government, faith, community, health, environmental, and public interest groups, as well as concerned individuals, joined in the belief that our country’s system of regulatory safeguards provides a stable framework that secures our quality of life and paves the way for a sound economy that benefits us all. For more information about the coalition, go to www.sensiblesafeguards.org.