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Health organizations warn about “regulatory reform” bills sweeping Congress [The Pump Handle]

Wednesday, March 8, 2017 9:41
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The American Public Health Association, the American Lung Association, and other health protection organizations have put Members of Congress and the Trump Administration on notice: dismantling regulations and slashing agency budgets will have dire consequences for Americans. The groups urged lawmakers to oppose several “regulatory reform” bills which were moving at lightning speed through the House of Representatives. Bills such as

  • The Searching for and Cutting Regulations that are Unnecessarily Burdensome Act of 2016 (SCRUB Act H.R. 998))
  • The Regulatory Integrity Act (H.R. 1004)
  • The Regulatory Accountability Act (H.R. 5)
  • The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs Insight, Reform, and Accountability Act (H.R. 1009)

All of the bills would mandate unnecessary and costly new requirements on agencies as they consider new rules to improve health protections. This might be examining the need for tougher rules on subjects such as toxic air contaminants, foodborne pathogens, tobacco control, or workplace safety.

Among others, the health organizations include the American Heart Association, Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Children’s Environmental Health Network. In written communications to Members of Congress on the Regulatory Accountability Act (H.R. 5), they described the likely impact if this bill becomes law:

“The undersigned public health and medical organizations urge you to oppose H.R. 5, the Regulatory Accountability Act of 2017. The bill is a sweeping attack on the federal government’s ability to set lifesaving public health protections.”

Among other bad consequences:

“…it would require judges to make decisions far outside their areas of expertise and with limited access to information, rather than continue to defer to the professional and informed decisions of scientists, physicians, economists, engineers, and other professional experts that work within these agencies. This unprecedented and dangerous move reverses traditional judicial deference that has been successful and effective for more than three decades.

The health organizations have also alerted Members of Congress on why they should oppose the SCRUB Act. I’ve written about the similar mandate in an Executive Order from President Trump which I call “one step forward, two steps back” nonsense. The health organizations describe the SCRUB Act this way:

“H.R. 998 would arbitrarily require federal agencies to sacrifice existing safeguards even as they
seek to address new problems in their efforts to protect the public. …The bill would then require federal agencies to repeal rules from that list to offset the cost of any new rules they set, something the drafters call “cut-go.”

“The idea that federal agencies would have to repeal existing safeguards in order to set new ones is antithetical to their mandates to protect the public.  If this bill becomes law, EPA could be forced to choose between failing to update an outdated, weak air pollution standard, or arbitrarily repealing another safeguard, like limits on mercury and other air toxics.”

The groups warn against passing the Regulatory Integrity Act, which among other things, would put a gag order on agencies:

H.R. 1004 would “bar agencies from issuing public communications that emphasize the importance of a particular agency action unless they have a clear purpose of informing the public of the substance or status of the action. This vague language could be interpreted to prevent agencies from sharing important information with the public – such as the results of an analysis showing projected health benefits of an updated air pollution standard – or for requesting public input about specific situations or groups that the rule might impact.

They add:

The bill’s potential chilling effect on agencies’ communications with the public is a move toward less transparency, not more.”

All of the bills mentioned above now have been passed by the House of Representatives, largely on party line votes.

These and similar bills have had support in previous congressional sessions, but President Trump’s anti-regulatory rhetoric has emboldened the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to move swiftly to pass them. The American Public Health Association (APHA) and other health organizations recognize the dire consequences for public protections when dismantling regulatory agencies is married with projected cuts in non-defense discretionary (NDD) funding. APHA and 2,000 national, state, and local organizations  wrote to Members of Congress on March 1 explaining that the 2011 Budget Control Act and its automatic spending cuts are harmful to health protections and science. NDD details the impact on health in their report “Faces of Austerity: How budget cuts have made us sicker, poorer, and less secure.” The scheduled nine years of annual cuts are not sustainable.

House Speaker Paul Ryan’s Republican members are going to do what they are going to do. It will be up to the wiser individuals in the Senate to look carefully at the implications of these “regulatory reform” bills. It’s easy to say “there are too many regulations, they are burdensome, and job killers.” We should force them to admit the evidence that regulations on air pollution, safe drinking water, safety in workplaces, motor vehicles, food, and many others have save millions of lives and billions in healthcare costs.


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