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Katherine McFate

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Regulatory Accountability Act Would Undermine Crucial Protections for the American People

Posted: 11/17/11 03:50 PM ET

Eliminating lead in children's toys. Requiring seat belts in automobiles. Reducing coal dust in mines. Preventing unsafe drugs and foods from entering the marketplace. Outlawing predatory loan rates and lending practices. If the bill deliberately mislabeled the Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA) had been put in place in 1960, none of these protections for the American people could have been developed.

A paper the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards (which I co-chair with Public Citizen's Robert Weissman) released Wednesday describes a number of federal standards and safeguards that have been designed to protect the health, safety, and general welfare of the American people that would have been blocked by the RAA (H.R. 3010/S. 1606) had it been law in earlier decades. The paper also spotlights several pending rules that are unlikely to go through should the RAA pass -- rules that implement financial, workplace, and consumer protections that have already been passed into law by Congress.

Because the RAA is focused on changing regulatory processes, it hasn't received much attention in the traditional media or from many citizens and public interest groups who are intensely concerned with defending and improving health, safety, and environmental standards. This is a huge mistake. This bill is a backdoor way for conservatives to prevent the implementation and enforcement of decades of public protections -- without actually having to vote against the Clean Air Act or the Clean Water Act. Instead of putting themselves on record as allowing higher arsenic levels in our water and higher levels of air pollution, the RAA allows conservative members of Congress to simply "muck up" the implementation and enforcement of these laws by allowing more special interest influence of regulatory agencies, more litigation by deep-pocketed industry lobbyists, and ridiculous hurdles to rulemaking.

What's at stake here is nothing less than the system of public protections that has been built up over the past six decades -- the system that led to dramatic improvements in air and water quality, food and product safety, and public health. While trade associations and business lobbyists constantly complain about the government regulations that produced these outcomes, businesses have learned to adapt, the economy has expanded and innovated, and our quality of life has continued to improve. The RAA's attack on that system puts these advances at risk.

What is perhaps most disturbing is that the assault on our regulatory system is coming at a time when we have a record number of imports from foreign countries and when our domestic regulatory agencies have neither the staff nor the resources to oversee the flood of imports. We need to be strengthening our regulatory and enforcement structures, not weakening them. This cynical effort to use the anxiety the public is feeling about the economy could wreak deep and lasting damage to our regulatory system. The American public needs to weigh in against this dangerous legislation, and the media needs to help them understand what is at stake.