By Scott Slesinger, Natural Resources Defense Council
In his speech to Congress, President Trump simultaneously continued his attack on the regulatory system and continued to claim that he supports clean air and water, among other public goods. The problem is that the way we’ve cleaned our air and our water is through federal regulation, and federal regulation is the tool that will make them cleaner still. The alternatives have been tried – relying on the goodwill of companies that instead pay attention solely to their short-term financial interests; relying solely on states, which have no incentive to protect those downstream or to fight companies that threaten to move because of regulation. The alternatives touted by Republican leaders simply don’t work.
So, while no one loves regulation as a good in and of itself, the public understands that regulations are needed if we don’t want polluters to do whatever they please and leave the public to suffer the consequences.
Regulation, it turns out, is just another area where President Trump is trying to sell the public a bill of goods. He and Republican leaders in Congress are feverishly pushing policies that would not only roll back specific safeguards, but would make it extraordinarily difficult if not impossible to move forward with any new safeguards. The result will be dirtier air, dirtier water, ravaged lands, and a food supply that is less safe and reliable. (And with Trump’s comments in his speech about the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), probably medication that is less safe and reliable, as well.)
In his speech, Trump cited his Executive Order that would require the elimination of at least two regulations for each new one that is put into effect.
This reckless directive puts the interests of Wall Street, polluters and big business above the health, safety, and financial security of Americans.
NRDC recently filed a lawsuit challenging the executive order. In addition, 137 groups, including NRDC, sent a letter to the White House strongly opposing the executive order. The groups enumerated the many reasons the Executive Order will leave Americans vulnerable.
The 2-for-1 executive order puts cost to industry above health and safety.
The Executive Order looks only at the cost of rules. It completely ignores the benefits, which are the whole reason that rules are put into place to begin with. Even safeguards that pay for themselves (like energy efficiency rules that reduce electric bills) could be swept away. The Order is rigged to consider costs to industry but to ignore the costs to society of not acting.
For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently finalized a rule protecting workers from exposure to reparable crystalline silica—a toxin that can result in lung cancer, kidney disease, and chronic pulmonary disease. It will cost over $1 billion a year to implement this rule. But its benefits are tremendous: The rule is estimated to save 600 lives and prevent 900 new cases of silicosis each year, saving more than $8 billion dollars a year by reducing medical costs and lost work days.
As bad as the president’s policies are, Congress is trying to do far worse. The most radical proposal is the REINS Act, which would effectively shut down the entire regulatory system. The House passed the bill, with every Republican supporting it, right after coming into session in January.
Almost as bad is the Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA), which would thoroughly skew the regulatory system by fixating on cost and downplaying benefits. The bill, in the form it was introduced in the Senate in the last Congress, would override laws that require agencies to base health standards solely on health information. It would also make it virtually impossible to complete the process of promulgating a new regulation and to have that regulation pass judicial muster.
If Americans want clean air and water, protected lands and safe food – and every poll shows they do, and as even President Trump implicitly acknowledges – then the nation must have a regulatory system equal to the task. Instead of maintaining or enhancing the system, President Trump and Republican Congressional leaders want to tear it down while claiming that they are just engaging in “reform.” It’s not “reform” to impoverish agencies, give industry control over the system, or to look only at industry costs and never at public benefits.