U.S. Chamber of Commerce Bringing Its Regulatory Snake Oil Tour to Wisconsin

Political Celebrities Bayh, Card Selling Wrong Message on Public Safeguards

August 5, 2011

Contact: Rich Robinson, Public Citizen, (202) 588-7773 or rrobinson@citizen.org
Brian Gumm, OMB Watch, (202) 683-4812 or bgumm@ombwatch.org

(KIMBERLY, WI) – When the U.S. Chamber of Commerce brings its 21st century snake oil tour to Kimberly, Wis., on August 8, local business leaders will hear an anti-regulatory gospel preached by Evan Bayh, a former U.S. senator from Indiana, and Andy Card, White House Chief of Staff under George W. Bush. They will offer up a false choice between job growth and protecting families and communities from harm. The Coalition for Sensible Safeguards urges Wisconsinites to reject this message with the understanding that common sense standards and protections benefit us all.

With its “road show,” the Chamber is harkening back to the era of snake oil peddlers, trying to sell the dangerous notion that regulatory protections are bad for America. But these days, people are too smart to buy what they are hawking. Regulatory safeguards are critical to ensure clean water, safe work places, a secure financial system, safer consumer products and much more.

Unfortunately for the citizens of Wisconsin, the Chamber has eagerly advanced its pro-Big Business agenda in the state. It infamously backed Gov. Scott Walker’s budget bill and the push to strip state workers of their collective bargaining rights, contributed millions of dollars to defeat civic-minded elected officials and supported huge tax breaks for corporations.

“The unilateral removal of rights for 175,000 Wisconsin workers, massive deregulation and $2.3 billion in tax breaks for corporations and the rich by Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-controlled legislature is an agenda bought and paid for by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and corporate special interests dumping millions of dollars in propaganda into Wisconsin,” said One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross.

“Gov. Walker and the Republicans have starved public schools by $1.6 billion, gutted medical assistance by $500 million, slashed the University of Wisconsin by $250 million, stolen $70 million from technical colleges and even raised taxes by $70 million on seniors and the working poor — and it’s all to pay off the corporate special interests that bought their keys to Wisconsin’s treasury,” Ross said.

The Chamber’s campaign to draw back regulatory oversight of business has life-threatening consequences. Rules are vital to protecting the public’s safety in the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. Lapses in oversight can cause serious illness and even death.

In 2006, Madison resident Jillian Castro was living in Milwaukee and was in perfect health. She was training for her third marathon race and always ate a healthy diet. After eating a salad she made with bagged spinach from the store, Castro got very sick and was ultimately diagnosed with E. coli. While she was suffering a life-threatening illness in the hospital, the media began to report the possibility that there was a contamination outbreak in spinach, and the health department had begun to record a high number of cases of the same E. coli bacterial strain associated with the leafy green.

“I remember wondering if I was going to die,” said Castro, who is a member of STOP Foodborne Illness (formerly Safe Tables Our Priority). “It certainly has changed me. I no longer assume the food I buy in the stores is safe. If the government weakens the laws that watch over our food supply, many more will get sick and maybe die. That almost was me.”

Wisconsin’s air and water quality is being threatened by deregulation as well. Most recently, the governor has proposed dramatic rollbacks in regulations that control the amount of weed-growing phosphorus going into its lakes, as well as requirements for cities and villages to control polluted runoff from areas such as parking lots, streets and construction sites.

In July, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pinpointed numerous deficiencies in Wisconsin’s management of water pollution and has directed the state Department of Natural Resources to fix the problems. The EPA’s regional administrator in Chicago detailed 75 “apparent omissions and deviations” from federal law in the state’s water permit program. The list of deficiencies ranged from long-standing state practices to measures advanced this year by Gov. Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature – a legislature the Chamber helped to get elected.

Recent analysis shows Wisconsin already suffers a considerable human and financial toll of asthma cases, a situation likely to get worse if Congress acts to stop crucial updates to Clean Air Act rules. More than 500,000 Wisconsin residents, including 124,000 children, suffer from asthma, with direct costs of treating the state’s worsening asthma epidemic already exceeding $1 billion. Several members of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation – Sen. Ron Johnson (R) and Reps. Paul Ryan (R), Ron Kind (R), Jim Sensenbrenner (R), Tom Petri (R), Sean Duffy (R), and Reid Ribble (R) (who is expected to appear at the August 8 event with Bayh and Card) – have signed on as co‐sponsors or voted for legislation to block needed updates to the Clean Air Act.

“Wisconsin families deserve clean air to breathe and clean water to drink.  By standing in the way of vital public health protections, the Chamber is threatening the health of all Wisconsinites,” said Megan Severson, State Advocate with Wisconsin Environment.  “These rules are vital in protecting our health and environment and they must be not only maintained, but strengthened.”

The BP oil spill disaster, outbreaks of E. coli and the Great Recession are serious examples of the need for strong public protections, and the snake oil Bayh and Card are selling doesn’t change that fact.

“Evan Bayh and Andy Card both know from their years of government service that the propaganda from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on regulation has no basis in reality,” said Public Citizen President Robert Weissman. “They should immediately end a project that aims to undermine the environmental, health and economic protections vital to the well-being of Wisconsinites and all Americans.”

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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.