Labor Leaders Weigh In On Trump’s Executive Order And The Importance Of Regulations

It’s your life and the lives of your family the Trump administration would put at risk with this attempt at massive deregulation.
01/31/2017 06:54 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2017

Regulations tend to be contentious. It requires finding a balance between protecting people — present and future — from harm, while not stifling business innovation. The newly installed Trump regime has a well-publicized pro-business penchant, and unsurprisingly, has decided to buck that balance, issuing an executive order calling for an irreversible rollback on health and safety regulations.

Monday’s “Executive Order Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs,” is being billed as mandate forcing federal agencies to revoke two existing regulations for every new regulation proposed, though some experts suggest the language of the Executive Order (EO) leaves significant loopholes.

The bottom line of the order comes down to money, of course, and requires that for fiscal year 2017, “the total incremental cost of all new regulations, including repealed regulations … shall be no greater than zero, unless otherwise required by law or consistent with advice provided in writing by the Director of the Office of Management and Budget.”

An article from Daily Kos translates this so well:

“In plain English, no regulation — whether it be to make guns safer, pesticides cleaner, energy grids more robust — can cost more than zero. No matter what the benefit to human life, the end result cannot cost anyone a penny. And in doing so, the Administration has set the value of a person’s health and safety at precisely nothing, anytime, anywhere, any age, any gender or nationality.”

This EO, signed on January 30, has ricocheted across the asbestos advocate and labor organizing communities — two populations who feel strongly about the life-saving capacity of health and safety regulations.

“Whatever ‘carnage’ President Trump allegedly observed during his campaign for President will pale in comparison to the massive carnage Americans will experience if he cuts 75% of regulations,” said Celeste Monforton, Professorial Lecturer at George Washington University’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health. “Our air will be like Beijing’s, our water like Flint’s, and workers’ limbs, lungs and lives will be the victims of the President’s ignorance about health protective regulations.”

Anti-regulation arguments tend to center around profits and business growth. Asbestos victims will remember in 1989, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), an attempted asbestos ban was overturned in appeals on the basis that the proposed regulation would be too burdensome to business. 

The reality about regulations is that they’re not arbitrary rules created to curtail business innovation. They’re almost always created in response to either a lawsuit or human pain and suffering, often both.

“Regulations are not burdens on business, they are basic human rights enshrined in law,” said Rory O’Neill, Health, safety and environment adviser, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and editor of Hazards magazine. “Surviving work physically and mentally intact is not an unreasonable demand, it is basic decency.”

In the wake of the failed ban, asbestos continues to be imported and consumed in the U.S., perpetuating the risk of disease-causing exposure. Indeed, to this day, asbestos exposure causes approximately half of all deaths from by occupational cancers, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In the case of asbestos, this refusal to regulate and the resulting deaths is especially upsetting as asbestos-caused cancers are 100% preventable.

Occupational cancers like those caused by asbestos disproportionately impact the blue-collar workforce. The workplace health and safety regulations now under attack largely focus on reducing job site hazards for these manual laborers.

“Those ‘forgotten’ men and women Trump claims to be so concerned about ― they’ll have jobs that will be more likely to kill, maim or otherwise harm them,” said Dorothy Wigmore, Director of Outreach and Education at the Occupational Health Clinical Center of Central New York. “The only ones who’ll benefit from this tyranny are employers who find health and safety, minimum wage, and workers’ rights ‘rules’ inconvenient to making profits.”

This pressing concern is compounded by Trump’s appalling nomination of fast food executive Andrew Pudzer to head the Department of Labor, which oversees the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), a major federal health & safety entity. In a January 31 letter to U.S. Senators, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka explained why the union’s 12.5 million members collectively implore Congress to reject Pudzer’s nomination:

“Puzder’s record on workplace health and safety is extremely alarming. In recent years under his leadership, serious OSHA violations resulted in Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s employees requiring hospitalization because of serious burns; his company was fined tens of thousands of dollars. Not surprisingly, Puzder strongly opposes the DOL core functions of regulating and enforcing workplace health and safety. Allowing Puzder to assume the Labor Department helm could roll back important regulations and weaken government oversight and enforcement. It means more worker injuries, illnesses, and even death.”

The reality about regulations is that they’re not arbitrary rules created to curtail business innovation. They’re almost always created in response to either a lawsuit or human pain and suffering, often both.

“Thousands have died to make these laws,” said John Newquist, area director for OSHA from 1983-2012. “These accident prevention rules were written in blood.”

Without regulation, this pain and suffering continues unchecked. In the case of asbestos, despite longstanding scientific evidence of its impact on human health, we don’t see a decrease in use or any regulations until the landmark case of Borel vs. Fiberboard that declared companies liable for the health and safety of their workers for the first time.

A major concern with Trump’s EO is that it removes any semblance of support for a cost-benefit analysis. The language of the order implies that there are no benefits to regulation that compensate for the perceived fiscal impact. That regulations save lives and protect Americans from danger and disease appears to be of no concern to the Trump team.

Fortunately — at least for the asbestos victims and others concerned specifically with environmental and toxic exposure regulations — there are some safeguards against this order.

First off, the newly reformed Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), under which asbestos is currently fast-tracked for risk evaluation, includes specific language regarding cost-benefit analysis that is meant to protect against industry interference in the implementation process.

The 2016 TSCA reform eliminates two significant obstacles from the 1976 TSCA that endangered public health and our environment:

- Risks of a chemical must be balanced against its benefits and cost of any restriction or ban

- The EPA must choose the least burdensome means of adequately protecting against unreasonable risk

Under this new legislation, the EPA is empowered to ban and regulate chemicals that are “toxic, persistent, and bioaccumulative,” like asbestos, without concern for industry cost or any other non-risk factor. (With the EPA set to be run by anti-science climate skeptic Scott Pruitt, though, it will take some serious watchdog work to ensure this statute is followed.

Secondly, there are legal routes for this (and other) EOs to be nullified. An EO can be formally challenged through lawsuits (i.e. the ACLU suing Trump in response to his immigration ban) if it is contradictory to existing law, or if “it has no underlying statutory authority to begin with.” Congress also has the power to pass a bill repealing or modifying an executive order, though to become law that bill would ultimately require the President’s signature, or else a veto override from a 2/3 majority in both chambers of Congress.

It’s your life and the lives of your family the Trump administration would put at risk with this attempt at massive deregulation — but you have a voice in this issue, too. Call your Senators and talk to them about how important health and safety regulations are to you and your family. Ask them to reject Andrew Pudzer’s nomination as Labor Secretary and to fight back against Trump’s regulation rollback EO.

For those of us who rely on regulations for workplace safety, it’s easy to feel angry and attacked by this order, but let’s turn our anger into action and fight for a safer, healthier world for all Americans.

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