Obama Administration Should Defend and Strengthen Regulatory Safeguards

Process for Reviewing Agency Rules Should Be Transparent and Free of Special Interest Influence, Coalition for Sensible Safeguards Says

May 18, 2011

Contact: Angela Bradbery (202) 588-7741 or abradbery@citizen.org
Brian Gumm (202) 683-4812 or bgumm@ombwatch.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, federal agencies are scheduled to submit preliminary plans for reviewing rules that are already on the books. The “look-back” plans, due to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), were required by President Barack Obama in a Jan. 18 executive order. Big Business and other special interests have been actively lobbying to undermine regulatory protections and will use this opportunity to further erode the rules of the road. The Coalition for Sensible Safeguards will fight on behalf of all Americans to improve – not gut – essential rules and will oppose the elimination of vital protections.

“Over the past few months, Big Business has won concessions from the Obama administration to delay, if not stop, new public protections on important topics, such as the handling of toxic coal ash, standards for reducing smog, reporting musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace and reducing workers’ exposure to noise,” said Gary D. Bass, executive director of OMB Watch and co-chair of the coalition.

These same special interests have lobbied Congress to cut back agency budgets, limiting agencies’ ability to produce new standards or to enforce rules already on the books. They also have advocated legislation that would restrict the government’s ability to protect the public from health, safety, environmental and economic hazards.

Now these corporate powers are aiming to dramatically water down or eliminate existing protections. They want to use the look-back process as a way to gut certain safeguards that have taken years to develop, coalition representatives said.

Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen and the other coalition co-chair, stressed the importance of preventing corporations from unduly influencing the look-back process. “Big Business is spinning a fanciful story that health, safety, environmental, financial and other regulatory protections are damaging the economy. In fact, it’s an out-of-control, deregulated Wall Street that drove our economy into the Great Recession. An evidence-based regulatory review process should focus attention on the need for stronger controls on corporations and expanded protections for the public. Will the public interest be prioritized over special interests in these reviews?”

Even though these reviews are required and will be carried out, agencies must keep their focus on proactively protecting the public by establishing standards and effective enforcement mechanisms to prevent the next massive oil spill, the next mine explosion, and the next food safety crisis. The costs of delay and distraction are too high and do a great disservice to the American people, the coalition maintains.

“Agencies must be able to walk and chew gum at the same time when it comes to conducting these reviews and implementing and enforcing regulatory protections,” Bass said. “Having said that, these reviews could put agencies in a real bind, as both the executive branch and Congress are slashing agency budgets, forcing them to do more with less. Unfortunately, the more you look back, the less you will be able to look forward.”

The agency look-back plans will invite public input on a process for modifying, eliminating or expanding existing regulations. Some agencies are likely to list rules targeted for change, inviting feedback on the targeted regulations.

Though the preliminary look-back plans are due today, they have not yet been released to the public. The plans will likely be rolled out in the coming weeks; agencies have until August to finalize them. The Coalition for Sensible Safeguards urges OMB and the agencies to follow through on their commitment to meaningful public participation during these look-backs. The coalition also calls on the American people to participate in the process to offset the influence of moneyed interests.

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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.