April 14, 2011 

As Senate Committee Holds Hearing on Advancing Public Interest With Federal Regulation, Report Shows Rulemakings Are Too Slow

Hundreds of Lives Lost While OSHA Met Congressional Prerequisites to Improving Key Safety Rule, Giving Industry Six Opportunities to Weigh in

WASHINGTON, D.C. – While corporate interests have tried to paint federal agency employees as unaccountable autocrats who issue burdensome safety rules with little concern for those affected, the rulemaking process actually takes numerous years and requires significant input from affected industry, a new Public Citizen report shows. Today, as the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affair holds a hearing titled, “Federal Regulation: How Best to Advance the Public Interest?” Public Citizen demonstrates that the current rulemaking process is already cumbersome and lengthy for agencies. 
Researchers took a detailed look at the making of a relatively uncontroversial rule – one to boost safety for cranes and derricks workers – and showed just how many bites at the apple those affected by proposed rules really have.

 Public Citizen’s report depicts the lengthy process of approving the safeguard, which was intended to update an existing rule. The report details the many steps that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) had to take to pass this crucial measure and how many lives were lost while the process took its course.

“If ever there was a rule that seemingly should have breezed to adoption, this was it,” said Taylor Lincoln, director of research for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division and one of the report’s authors. “Problems with the existing standard were widely acknowledged, the urgency of preventing avoidable deaths and injuries was clear, and the regulated industries were among the loudest advocates for a new standard.”

Despite those factors, the process to revise the cranes and derricks rule spanned a dozen years and three presidential administrations – and more than 750 construction workers died from crane-related incidents during that time. It didn’t help that during President George W. Bush’s tenure, rulemaking virtually ground to a halt because of that administration’s ideological opposition to public safeguards. By OSHA’s most conservative estimate, the new rule would have saved about 220 of those lives had it taken effect in 2000 instead of 2010; the delay meanwhile cost more than $600 million.

“The regulatory process repeatedly afforded the concerns of businesses a higher priority than the lives of workers that would be saved by simply completing the rule,” Lincoln said.

 While OSHA struggled to fulfill its obligations through the long rulemaking process, several tragedies focused attention on the dangers of crane operations and on the agency’s struggle to produce a rule.

Six construction workers and a bystander died and 24 suffered injuries when a crane collapsed in New York City on March 15, 2008. Ten days later, a 20-foot crane section in Miami fell 30 stories, killing two construction workers and injuring five. On May 30, another crane fell in New York City, killing two construction workers and injuring a worker and a bystander.

Despite the obvious human impacts of strong public protections and the cost-saving benefits of safety, some lawmakers in Congress are still working to slow the process down further, said David Arkush, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.

“Several bills have been introduced that would burden agencies with even more wasteful, time-consuming analysis and reporting before they can write new rules, no matter how sensible and uncontroversial the proposals might be,” Arkush said. “These bills will impose millions of dollars in new costs and allow thousands of preventable deaths and injuries.”

Added Lincoln, “Members of Congress who sincerely want to streamline government and eliminate duplication should seek to improve the speed and efficiency with which agencies can create worthy rules with the same fervor that they seek to combat purportedly unfair standards.”

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Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org.