Seat belts. Two pilots in every cockpit. Cribs that don’t strangle infants. These federal rules, and many others, have saved a lot of lives over the years. In the process they’ve made American consumer products better and given customers more confidence in their purchases.
But as you may have noticed, these days some Washington politicians don’t like rules of any kind. The Senate is about to consider legislation our friends at the Center for American Progress call the License to Kill Bill, because it would effectively block federal agencies from issuing any new rules, even those that would advance public health and safety.
Consider asbestos, which many people think was banned decades ago, but is still legal and lethal, responsible for up to 15,000 American deaths every year. The reason it’s still legal is that in 1991 a federal appeals court overturned the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed ban because the EPA hadn’t considered “less burdensome” measures.
Last year the Senate voted unanimously for – and President Obama signed into law – legislation that removed the roadblocks that had blocked the EPA’s asbestos ban. The agency is now prioritizing banning asbestos.
But the so-called Regulatory Accountability Act under consideration by the Senate – which already sailed through the House – would restore the very same hurdles Congress tore down last year. This would not just scuttle an attempt to ban asbestos, but any future effort to protect public health and consumers.
The License to Kill Bill would require so many hoops, hurdles and barriers that no rules would ever make it to the finish line. Here’s the gauntlet through which proposed rules would have to run:
- An endless loop of agency studies of potential alternatives;
- Agencies being required to pick the alternative least costly to industry;
- Limits on the science that agencies can use to make decisions;
- Administrative hearings creating more delays;
- Judges being allowed to second-guess agency experts; and
- Congress needing to approve new rules before they go into effect.
Last August the American Chemistry Council, the powerful lobby group for the chemical industry, pleaded with the EPA to let asbestos off the hook, arguing it was essential for the chlor-alkali industry. In President Trump the asbestos industry has a friend in the White House – Trump’s own enthusiasm for asbestos is well-known.
When asked, Americans overwhelmingly want increased enforcement of laws and regulations that keep people safe. But Congress and the president seem hellbent on resurrecting Saturday Night Live’s Irwin Mainway and his cavalier views on consumer protection:
If the Regulatory Accountability Act becomes law, Bag O’ Glass and Johnny Switchblade could seem quaint compared to what is in store for consumer safety.