U.S. Chamber complaining about regulation before proposals hit the street

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce likes to claim that regulation stifles the economy and prevents businesses from creating jobs. But it seems like the president of the Chamber, Tom Donohue,  jumped the gun in complaining about regulations after the BP oil catastrophe: no proposed regulatory fixes have taken serious shape.  Donohue said, “I am not too much of an advocate of doing the surgery before the diagnosis.”

Yesterday, Obama announced some recommended steps he and his administration were planning to take in response to a review he ordered. Among them were the sensible steps of suspending planned drilling off the coast of Alaska, canceling lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Virginia, and suspending – for just six months – new deepwater drilling.

Considering the Obama administration’s deference to BP on many aspects of the effort to stop and clean up the spill, Donohue’s comments verge on non sequitur.  At this point, the Obama administration appears to be at no risk of over-regulating.

The real question is whether efforts taken by the administration and Congress will be enough to correct the failure of the agencies to effectively regulate offshore drilling operations.  Public Citizen has previously discussed BP’s flaunting of regulations and recommended reforms needed in response to the spill.

The Bush administration consistently cut funding for the regulatory agencies and put industry-friendly leadership at many of the agencies.  As Public Citizen’s Tyson Slocum pointed out, Obama talked around defanged and demoralized agencies in his remarks yesterday: “Congress mandated that only 30 days could be allocated before a yes or no answer was given. That was by law. So MMS’s hands were tied. And as a consequence, what became the habit, predating my administration, was you just automatically gave the environmental waiver, because you couldn’t complete an environmental study in 30 days.”  Slocum explains that the Minerals Management Service (MMS) has plenty of latitude to disapprove plans that could “cause serious harm or damage to life.”

One contributing factor definitely was wolves were guarding the hen house and granting waivers without giving proper attention to the risks in doing so.

So to talk now about the risk of over-regulating is to completely miss the point of what has just happened. What we need to do is go in and reinvigorate the agencies that protect our workers and our environment, and to make sure that these representatives are serving the American people and not big businesses.

Lena Pons is a policy analyst for Public Citizen.