Rep. Lamar Smith's Regulation-Busting Bill Will Compromise Public Health, Raise The Cost of Government

November 15, 2011 11:06 am ET — Brian Powell

The House Judiciary Committee, led by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), has pushed H.R. 3010 — the Regulatory Accountability Act — through committee, and it's now awaiting consideration for a vote in the House. Despite its legislative success thus far, the bill is highly controversial. In addition to being tailored to benefit big political donors to Chairman Smith, experts believe H.R. 3010 is a drastic, fiscally irresponsible bill that could compromise public health.

The bill's stated purpose is to "reform the process by which Federal agencies analyze and formulate new regulations and guidance documents." In reality, the bill would dramatically restructure the regulatory process, requiring enforcement agencies to always choose the least expensive rule even if it isn't the most effective. OMB Watch describes how this could affect public health and safety regulations by overriding at least 25 important health, safety and environmental laws and conflicting with the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Clean Air Act:

While such a provision sounds reasonable on its face, experience under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) has shown that requiring the least costly alternative as the standard essentially forbids agencies from issuing protective rules. In 1991, a federal court found that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had not adequately analyzed every possible alternative asbestos regulation - even though the agency had spent ten years and millions of dollars considering alternatives and developed a 45,000-page record of their findings. Since that ruling, EPA has not even attempted to regulate chemicals under TSCA because, as the CEO of SC Johnson put it, "Your child has a better chance of becoming a major league baseball player than a chemical has of being regulated [under TSCA]."

Even more concerning, the RAA would run roughshod over many laws that are crucial to protecting the health and safety of Americans. One of these, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, requires that regulations be issued when "reasonably necessary or appropriate to provide safe or healthful employment." Comparable requirements exist in the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Mine Safety and Health Act, and at least twenty-one other major statutes. The RAA demands that, "notwithstanding any other provision of law," cost-benefit analysis must always be the first consideration.

The RAA could have a negative impact on more than just health regulations. For individuals concerned about government spending and an overly complex bureaucratic process, the RAA serves only to make things more expensive and more complicated. Frank Knapp, Jr., president of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, lays out his concerns in The Hill:

[A] thorough reading of the RAA leads to three conclusions. First, the bill will likely to dramatically drive up the cost of almost every rule-making process and budget of a federal agency. Second, federally elected officials will be stripped of their ability to responsibly lead our country. And third, the RAA is a highway to never-ending lawsuits by special interests against the federal government. [...]

There is no way to describe the RAA in any other simpler terms than to call it what it is-a budget-busting, anti-democracy, Corporate Attorneys Full Employment Act.

It is no wonder then that supporters of the RAA are primarily U.S.-based multinational corporations. Increasing the cost of government for taxpayers is not a concern to these corporations that use offshore tax havens and other deceptive accounting practices to avoid paying their fair share of U.S. taxes. If federal agency budgets must be increased because of the RAA, it won't be the multinationals footing the bill.