In a slick move, the Bush administration has usurped Congress’ ability to write into law regulations to protect the public. The move came this week via an executive order that directed all federal agencies to brief the White House before any agency directive went into effect if the regulations had an economic impact of more than $100 million annually. The directive also puts a White House appointee as the gatekeeper over agencies that regulate domestic laws pertaining to public health, safety, the environment, civil rights and privacy.
“The executive order allows the political staff at the White House to dictate decisions on health and safety issues, even if the government’s own impartial experts disagree,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. “This is a terrible way to govern, but great news for special interests.”
It’s great news for special interests because Bush found a way to delay implementation of regulations — if not prevent them — that would likely add costs to industry and businesses. How would it help industry? By creating another hurdle for agencies to clear before they can protect the public from things like air or water pollution streaming from industrial plants.
Wesley P. Warren, program director at the Natural Resources Defense Council and a former staffer under President Bill Clinton, told the New York Times that the executive directive is “a backdoor attempt to prevent E.P.A. from being able to enforce environmental safeguards that keep cancer-causing chemicals and other pollutants out of the air and water.”
Furthermore, in deciding whether to issue regulations, agencies must identify “the specific market failure” or problem that justifies government intervention, and allow the White House to review “any significant guidance documents” before they are issued.
In a perfect apolitical world, the oversight sought by the White House could be a good thing. As it is, agencies take the essence of a bill passed by Congress and craft the regulations necessary to put the law into effect without further oversight by that committee — giving career bureaucrats the final say in how the bills will be enacted. Businesses have long complained that too often those regulations are overly expensive and burdensome. Such oversight could improve the process.
Under this administration, however, the intent is obvious: Bush threw a political bone to his conservative business supporters with the intent to delay implementation of regulations that could add costs to production.
Such regulatory examples include over-sight of cigarettes and pharmaceutical products, or air and water pollution from industries such as coal-powered power plants or those producing heavy metals. Regulations do usually create added expenses to the industry being regulated, and not all well-intended regulations are well done. But it is also true that well-drafted regulations — such as those that prevent the creation of Superfund sites that the nation is still struggling to clean up — not only save society money in the long-run but protect our environment and public health as well.
But this measure is not about working for the betterment of all Americans. It’s about political pay-off, solidifying a conservative base, and garnering as much power within the White House as possible before they are turned out of office. It is, in short, another example of Bush’s imperial presidency, and, once again, the president is dead wrong.