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Bush Administration Rollback of Key Health, Safety and Environmental Regulations Unfairly Imposes Costs on the Public

June 28, 2005

Bush Administration Rollback of Key Health, Safety and Environmental Regulations Unfairly Imposes Costs on the Public

The Agency Slated to Be Fair Broker in Coordinating Rules Is More Intent on Guarding Corporate Bottom Line, Public Citizen President Tells Lawmakers

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The federal agency that is supposed to act as a fair broker by coordinating all government agency rules appears more intent on guarding the corporate bottom line by constructing a “hit list” of government regulations disliked by industry while disregarding their impact on human health and well-being, Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook told a congressional panel today.

In 2004, the Bush administration’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) delivered a “hit list” of 74 government regulations opposed by industry to the Departments of Transportation and Labor that the agency says are unneeded. Two rules Public Citizen says should be enacted are also on the list. The agency said the regulations on the list were there because industry claimed they would cause lost profits and job losses. But the agency ignored the economic consequences that arise from rolling back well-justified health, safety and environmental rules, Claybrook said, refuting claims by industry in testimony today before the House Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs. Overall, the OMB acknowledges in its 2005 draft report to Congress on costs and benefits that the benefits of regulation substantially exceed costs, with benefits at $68-$259 billion and costs at $34-39 billion.

While regulations may end up being far from perfect, the point is that the regulatory process involves a carefully designed balance, embedded in the separation of powers, and OMB’s interference is overstepping its boundaries, Claybrook said. Claybrook further explained that regulation enhances competition and shields industry from the often dire consequences of short-term, profit-driven decision-making. For example, the fuel economy standards put in place while Claybrook was administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) helped shield the domestic auto industry from an economic disaster during the late 1970s domestic oil crisis and created jobs based on more sustainable technologies.

“OMB should not be a political gatekeeper or provide an appeal of last resort to derail rules for corporate interests,” said Claybrook. On OMB’s hit list are:

  • The long-neglected issue of vehicle compatibility. The design of large SUVs and pickup trucks with high bumpers, steel bars and a high center of gravity make these vehicles highly aggressive in crashes. Car drivers are twice as likely to die if their vehicle is struck on the driver’s side by an SUV than by another car. A vehicle compatibility standard and incompatibility ratings are needed for consumers to mitigate harm done by aggressive vehicle design. Rather than pushing for the needed items, OMB appears content with NHTSA’s promise to publish a report on the issue.
  • A rule governing worker exposure to hexavalent chromium. All reputable scientists agree that hexavalent chromium is a lung carcinogen. A 2002 court case concluded that delaying a lower permissible exposure limit for workers would mean a grave risk to health. But the industry has made full use of numerous opportunities to influence rulemaking, including by meeting with the OMB, to delay rules that would save hundreds of lives.
  • Trucker hours-of-service rule. OMB’s interference in trucker hours-of-service rules is also inappropriate. The agency endorses a proposal to extend driving time for truckers from 10 to 11 hours per day and overall to increase driving time by 20 percent. Motor vehicle crashes involving commercial trucks kill nearly 5,000 American each year, and many of these crashes are fatigue-related.

“OMB’s endorsement of a nomination to extend maximum driving time from 10 to 11 hours is totally without basis in science and would greatly jeopardize the safety of both the public and commercial drivers,” Claybrook testified.

Claybrook presented lawmakers with examples of OMB’s lack of objectivity and anti-regulatory bias:

  • OMB is arbitrary. OMB’s decision to limit analysis of costs and benefits to a 10-year window is arbitrary. A regulation does not arbitrarily stop producing costs and benefits when it falls out of the temporal scope of OMB’s analysis. For example, benefits in the range of $433 million to $4.4 billion and costs of $297 million flowing from a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule on acid rain (NOx) reductions were excluded from the 2005 draft as untimely.
  • Costs and benefits of deregulatory actions omitted. OMB’s single-edged sword fails to count lost benefits suffered by the public when safeguards are weakened or blocked, such as the EPA’s crippling of the New Source Review program under the Clean Air Act. The neglect of these costs to the public in OMB’s report misrepresents the true costs of the failure to regulate effectively.
  • Ethical problems invalidate attempts to put dollar amount on human life. OMB’s random assignment of a $6.1 million value to a human life is grounded in dubious and discredited research on willingness-to-pay for risk reduction by outdated studies of workers in high-risk jobs. This practice and the discounting of life that accompanies it are both morally offensive and intellectually bankrupt.

“The expression of values and moral judgments enacted by government safeguards are completely neglected in OMB’s econometric accounting of what government is or does,” Claybrook said.  “Corporations, like people, should clean up after themselves and be required to act to prevent the foreseeable harm of actions and choices.”

To read Claybrook’s testimony, click here.