By Michael Halpern, Union of Concerned Scientists
Today, just four days after hundreds of thousands of people marched for science, the Senate introduced a bill that would substitute politics for scientific judgment in every decision the government makes about public health and the environment. If enacted, the legislation would cripple the government’s ability to effectively carry out laws that protect us, putting everyone at more risk, especially communities of color and low-income communities that are more exposed to threats.
The ill-named Regulatory Accountability Act (House version here with coverage) does nothing more than stack the deck in favor of private companies at the public’s expense. It would paralyze agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, drowning them in red tape and compromising their public service missions. It is way more dangerous than other legislation that grabs headlines (such as the bill to eliminate the EPA) because, in this political environment, it actually has a chance.
Senators who support this legislation will be turning their backs on the role of science in making all kinds of decisions. Safety standards for the food we eat. Rules that protect construction workers on job sites. Limits on work hours of pilots and air traffic controllers. Protections for children from toys laden with harmful chemicals.
“This bill is a weapon aimed right at public health and safety protections,” said UCS’s Andrew Rosenberg in a statement. “This bill doesn’t support accountability—it removes accountability from the industries subject to regulation.”
The Regulatory Accountability Act is a bad idea. It is also not a new idea. The legislation was introduced in the last Congress, and the Congress before that. In 2015, my former colleague Celia Wexler called the Regulatory Accountability Act a “zombie bill,” legislation that has failed repeatedly in the past but keeps getting resurrected. She continued:
This bill is deliberately complicated. You have to be a regulatory lawyer to perceive all the traps, and even then you might miss some. Essentially what the RAA would do is hamstring federal agencies with additional procedural burdens when they try to carry out their mandates using the best available science.
The latest iteration of this legislation is no different. But now, it is more likely to pass and be signed into law by an administration that is committed to the “deconstruction of the administrative state” and the rolling back of public health, consumer, and environmental protections.
We do not live in a world where you can give people forty acres of farmland, wish them luck, and send them on their way. Our world is incredibly and increasingly complex. We must rely on experts to set standards that give us equal ability to pursue our dreams.
Freedom includes protection from products and environmental contaminants that can cause us harm. Freedom includes requiring companies to pay for the pollution they create without passing the burden on to the taxpayer. We empower federal agencies to make decisions based on independent analysis and not political dealmaking precisely because it gives us these freedoms.
The Regulatory Accountability Act was rushed through the House of Representatives before the dozens of newly-elected representatives had hired staff to even read it. The Senate version offers little improvement. The current political reality requires us to fight like hell to defeat legislation that would normally be laughed out of Congress.
But fight like hell we must. A committee hearing is expected soon. So today, and every day, call both of your senators and tell them that the Regulatory Accountability Act is bad for all of us.