If Big Business Wrote a Letter to Santa Claus this is What It Would Say

If Big Business wrote a bill to help itself get rid of regulations it didn’t like, what would that bill look like?

We don’t have to guess anymore. This week, a group of legislators introduced the Regulatory Improvement Act, a bill designed to “improve” our nation’s regulatory system, remove “government bureaucracy and red tape,” and help businesses avoid the “burden” of complying with safeguards and standards that protect our health, safety, environment and workers. Their solution? Have politicians appoint a panel to recommend regulations for Congress to ax in a rushed process.

The bill sets up a so-called “Regulatory Improvement Commission” tasked with an already predetermined outcome. That outcome is deregulation, plain and simple. Deregulation, you probably remember, led to the financial crisis of 2008. In a time when we’ve seen so many instances of industry bad actors — including at least 13 deaths due to faulty GM ignition switches that company officials knew had problems, years of toxic air pollution and water pollution from giant companies, and financial service companies like Sallie Mae taking advantage of our veterans — should we really be thinking about how to remove vital public protections for our health, safety, environment and financial security?

The commission’s mandate would be to modify, consolidate or repeal existing regulations to reduce compliance costs for business, completely ignoring the tremendous societal benefits that standards and safeguards give to the American people.

While it takes years for a federal agency to get a final rule out the door after numerous periods of public comment and review, this commission could erase this beneficial work within months. The review process is blatantly tilted toward benefitting corporate interests rather than the public interest. The procedure for how public comments on the commission’s reports are received, and even the way the commission is tasked with writing its reports on regulations are all slanted to examining the burden on businesses, never the benefits to the public. For instance, even the “costs” associated with doing taxes counts as a burden!

Supporters argue that the commission can review only those regulations finalized more than 10 years ago. Just think of how much progress we have made in the past four decades from the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Occupational Safety and Health Act, Americans with Disabilities Act and much, much more. Regulations created from these and other laws would now be at stake.

And if there is an outdated regulation that could be removed, would it be worth all of this effort? There may well be a regulation pertaining to floppy disks, fax machines or pagers—but no one uses them anymore, and those regulations aren’t costing us anything to have written down somewhere. Is it worth setting up a new commission to remove superfluous regulations like that? Besides, most agencies already look back at existing rules – in a process that is far more careful and less politicized than the one this bill proposes.

And after all this, the commission is completely unaccountable to the public. The bill expressly states that the commission is exempt from the requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (which requires public accessibility to meetings, open meetings and written advanced notice of a meeting a minimum of 15 days prior). According to the Regulatory Improvement Act, if just one member of the commission objects to a meeting being public, that meeting can be held in private.

Our vision for regulatory improvement

Nowhere does the Regulatory Improvement Act provide a way to update standards, make them stronger or more effective. If we were to write our own Regulatory Improvement Act, we would call for a regulatory review process that focuses attention on the need for stronger controls on corporations and expanded protections for the public.

Just because something is repeated often does not make it true. There is not an overabundance of regulation in this country. In reality, too much of our regulatory system has today slowed to a crawl, thanks in part to Big Business pushing at every point in the process to slow or stop new standards. They lobby against new laws; they lobby against new rules that agencies write under the existing laws; and then they lobby against strong enforcement of the rules that do get through.

By updating safeguards to better protect the public and making sure corporate bad actors are held accountable, our vision of regulatory improvement will be creating a system of standards and safeguards that better protects health and safety and puts everyone on a more equal footing, creating a fair economy for all.

The Real “Tsunami” in Federal Regulatory Policy

(This post originally appeared on CPRBlog, the blog of the Center for Progressive Reform)

By Rena Steinzor, President of the Center for Progressive Reform | May 22, 2014

The federal regulatory system is in crisis. For the past several decades, a damaging set of mandates has continued to pile up on the books—mandates that threaten to stifle critical progress and undermine the nation’s ability to compete in the world economy. Even today, out-of-touch policymakers are attempting to add still more of these mandates, without regard to their direct, indirect, and cumulative costs to society. One might say that we are facing a tsunami, a flood, or even an avalanche of these mandates. Continue reading The Real “Tsunami” in Federal Regulatory Policy

Happy 5th Birthday, CARD Act!

As the CARD Act of 2009 turns five, consumers benefit from protection from predatory credit card companies

Millions of credit card holders have benefited both from the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act of 2009 (CARD Act), and the regulatory and enforcement authority of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which administers the law. This important safeguard, which turns 5 today, has protected and benefited consumers in significant ways.

Economists have estimated that consumers have saved $20 billion annually from the reduced fines, fees and interest rate hikes that were routinely forced on consumers before the law’s passage. The CARD Act also protects college students and teens from unfair credit card practices and sets new standards for safeguarding the value of gift cards.

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Click here to see our full infographic on the benefits of the CARD Act!

Researchers have found that the predicted costs of complying with the CARD Act were not passed on to consumers through other rate hikes or restricting access to credit, as industry groups claimed would be the case.[1]

The CFPB has a variety of tools for protecting credit card holders, including rulemaking, enforcement authority and consumer complaint submissions. In 2013, the CFPB collected some 16,600 consumer complaints against credit card companies. Importantly, CFPB’s public consumer complaint database is working. Companies are given the chance to respond to every complaint. According to the agency, 68 percent of consumers were satisfied with the response from their credit card company.[2] The CFPB has also brought enforcement actions against major credit card companies for a range of abusive practices. The result: more than $800 million in refunds to millions of Americans.[3]

The CARD Act’s success shows that good, effective regulation not only protects consumers, it also makes markets work better. A strong system of safeguards and standards helps Americans by making sure that our economy and financial marketplace is fair and working for everyone, not just bankers and big corporations, some of which participated in the Wall Street excesses that killed millions of jobs and eroded Americans’ financial security.

 

[1] http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20130930005300/en/CARD-Act-Saving-Consumers-20.8-Billion-Year#.U3ZjPYFdXDo

[2] http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201403_cfpb_consumer-response-annual-report-complaints.pdf

[3] http://www.uspirg.org/news/usp/cfpb-gets-results-orders-chase-bank-repay-consumers-over-300-million-over-sale-junky-credit

In Remembrance: Workers Memorial Day 2014

(Cross-posted from the Center for Effective Government Blog)

by Katie Weatherford, 4/28/2014

April 28 is Worker’s Memorial Day, an international day for remembering workers who have been injured or killed as a result of on-the-job incidents or long-term occupational illnesses. On this day, we also celebrate the substantial progress made in protecting workers over the forty-plus years since theOccupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) was enacted and remember how critical it is to continue the important work of ensuring our workers’ health and safety.

In advance of Workers Memorial Day, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) released its annual report, 2014 Preventable Deaths: The Tragedy of Workplace Fatalities.  Among many highlights, the report provides case studies of seven workers who died in 2013 and 2014.  Notably, each of these individuals was employed in very different occupational settings, from a warehouse worker to a cinematographer to an airport baggage handler, showing how “any job can become dangerous at a moment’s notice.”

These seven workers are representative of thousands of workers who die every year in the United States.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4,383 workers were killed on the job in 2012, which means that every day, 12 workers did not return home to their loved ones. In addition to on-the-job deaths, 50,000-plus workers die every year from long-term occupational illnesses.


View the full infographic.

Considering the 14,000 workplace deaths that occurred in 1970, it is clear that the OSH Act has played a significant role in reducing workplace deaths and improving worker health and safety. In fact, more than 492,000 workers’ lives have been saved since the OSH Act became law. It is crucial that this progress continue so that when someone leaves for work, they can rest assured they will return home safely at the end of the day.

Unfortunately, Congress has not provided OSHA with the resources it needs to carry out the agency’s important work. OSHA’s budget has continued to decline every year since 2010. The agency also lacks the staffing it needs to inspect the approximately 9 million workplaces across the country. At present, OSHA operates with only 2,200 federal and state inspectors who oversee more than 130 million workers, or one inspector for every 59,000 workers. This means that each workplace might only be inspected once every 105 years. Clearly OSHA needs more, not fewer, resources for its inspection and enforcement activities. (For a visual representation of these numbers, check out our Workers Memorial Day infographic here).

This Workers Memorial Day, let’s remember our friends, family members, and colleagues who have been killed or injured at work. Starting April 29, let us join together to redouble our efforts to protect workers and ensure that worker fatalities, injuries, and illnesses continue to decline every year by demanding Congress give OSHA the resources it needs to continue its critical work.

U.S. Chemical Safety Board on Texas Fertilizer Disaster: Voluntary Compliance No Substitute for an Efficient Regulatory System

“[T]here is no substitute for an efficient regulatory system that ensures that all companies are operating to the same high standards. We cannot depend on voluntary compliance alone.”

That’s what Rafael Moure-Eraso, chairperson of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) said this week. The CSB, an independent federal investigative agency, was releasing its preliminary findings on the West, Texas, fertilizer explosion of just over one year ago, which killed 14 individuals.

The CSB faulted the company involved and pointed to gaps in the regulatory system – a lesson that needs to be headed here and to prevent other disasters. Said Moure-Eraso:

“The fire and explosion at West Fertilizer was preventable. It should never have occurred. It resulted from the failure of a company to take the necessary steps to avert a preventable fire and explosion and from the inability of federal, state and local regulatory agencies to identify a serious hazard and correct it.”

The report noted that:

  • The explosion at West Fertilizer resulted from an intense fire in a wooden warehouse building that led to the detonation of approximately 30 tons of ammonium nitrate stored inside in wooden bins.
  • The building lacked a sprinkler system or other systems to automatically detect or suppress fire.
  • Texas has not adopted a statewide fire code, and state law actually prohibits most small rural counties from adopting a fire code.
  • Although some U.S. distributors have constructed fire-resistant concrete structures for storing ammonium nitrate, fertilizer industry officials have reported to the CSB that wooden buildings are still the norm for the distribution of ammonium nitrate fertilizer across the U.S.

The facility that exploded operated under few rules. It didn’t have a sprinkler system because no sprinkler system was required.

Lax rules have consequences. That’s a lesson policymakers need to take to heart – whether it’s about fertilizer facilities, food manufacturers or farmers, big polluters, automakers or any other area where the public’s safety and wellbeing is at stake. The CSB report underscores the need for a more pro-active, aggressive approach by regulators to protect the public.

Celebrating Earth Week 2014

This Earth Week, we would like to take a moment to celebrate the public protections that have protected our environment and our health.

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It may be hard to imagine that before 1970, a factory could spew black clouds of toxic pollution into the air or dump tons of toxic waste into a nearby stream, and that doing so was perfectly legal. In many cases, those companies could not be held accountable for damaging the environment and our health.

How was that possible? Before 1970, there was no EPA, no Clean Air Act, and no Clean Water Act. In short, there were far fewer legal or regulatory mechanisms to protect our environment.

In April 1970, the late Sen. Gaylord Nelson (D-WI) started the first Earth Day as a way to force the issue of environmental protection onto the national agenda. An estimated twenty million Americans demonstrated in different U.S. cities, and it worked!

In December 1970, Congress authorized the creation of a new federal agency to tackle environmental issues, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Congress also passed the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act (in 1972), the National Environmental Policy Act, and more to give the EPA and other federal agencies the power to regulate and protect our environment.

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The work hasn’t stopped, though, and we still need the strong public protections and safeguards that have been working for the past 40 years to keep Americans healthy and safe. That’s why it’s up to us to fight back against attacks that would roll back these critical protections—and hurt our environment, our health, and our well-being.

One year later, West Texas fertilizer explosion disaster a reminder of need for updated safeguards

At a time when our nation’s system of safeguards and standards are constantly under attack, it’s up to us to stand up and protect them. Americans want to be protected from chemical companies using unsafe practices, from banks and lenders trying to use us to make a profit, from unsafe food and drugs, and more. That is why we are using this week to provide a positive message: that Americans want strong public safeguards and want to see our nation’s ability to protect its citizens strengthened.

Thursday, April 17, 2014 is the one year anniversary of the West, Texas fertilizer storage facility explosion, a disaster that devastated a community, claimed 15 lives, and injured over 160 others. The West Fertilizer Company supplied chemicals to farmers since it was founded in 1962, and was last inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in 1985.

In the aftermath of the explosion, the operator of the fertilizer plant was cited for 24 safety violations and charged $118,300 in penalties. Safety violations included exposing workers to explosion hazards and chemical burns, unsafe handling and storage of chemicals, failing to have an emergency response plan and not having an appropriate number of fire extinguishers.

The US Chemical Safety Board reported that regulation of the dangerous chemicals used in the industry fall under shoddy standards that are dated and far weaker than standards in other countries. However, Texas, which has the country’s highest number of workplace fatalities, is still wary of regulations.

During the government shutdown 90% of CSB employees were furloughed, causing a delay in the investigation of the West, Texas disaster.

Since the West explosion, several incidents involving toxic chemicals have occurred that have killed workers, injured community residents, contaminated drinking water, and forced the evacuation of entire towns.  You’d think that Congress would be doing more to strengthen our nation’s system of public protections and safeguards to prevent similar incidents from occurring. However, this has not been the case. In one year, Congress has introduced anti-regulatory bills that would weaken our nation’s system of protection, potentially leading to more disasters and hardship for the American people. And many crucial regulations that would protect lives —from food safety rules mandated by congress to long-overdue standards curbing water pollution from power plants – have been stalled for years.

The official blog of the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards