By The Editorial Board – The New York Times.
Donald Trump has been consistent on one thing. He wants to weaken or end regulations on businesses and industries. As if on cue, House Republicans and a handful of Democrats recently passed three bills that would radically deregulate corporate America.
Under the regulatory process, executive agencies write rules to carry out laws passed by Congress aimed at ensuring cleaner air and water, food safety and many other things vital to all Americans. The Republicans claim they want to reform the rule-making process to make regulators more accountable. But the practical effect of the bills, and their real intention, is to give Congress new power to repeal existing rules and block new ones. In essence, they would attack the protections in bedrock laws like the Clean Air Act, without directly attacking the laws — or incurring the public wrath that would come with a frontal assault.
The Senate, which has a stake in the underlying laws, should block these efforts to undermine them, by filibuster if necessary.
One of the bills would let Congress repeal several of the regulations finalized in the last year of the Obama administration as a package, rather than one by one. Current law requires individual consideration to ensure proper debate. The second bill is even more devious. Currently, Congress has to actually vote to kill a rule. This bill says that a rule cannot become effective unless Congress votes to approve it. Congress, in short, could kill a rule by doing nothing.
The third bill, the Regulatory Accountability Act, is arguably the most dangerous of all because, as the most arcane, it is likeliest to fly under the public radar.
It would complicate the already slow rule-making process by imposing dozens of new legal and procedural requirements on regulators. It would also require regulators to adopt rules that are “least costly” to industry, regardless of a rule’s benefits and even when existing laws — parts of the Clean Air Act, for instance — say that human health takes precedence over costs. This would be a step backward. For decades, federal law required the Environmental Protection Agency to adopt asbestos rules that were “least burdensome” on industry. That mandate, ended only last June, prevented the E.P.A. from banning asbestos and thus fostered asbestos-related disease.
The bill would also assist industries when they sue to block major rules by requiring courts to delay the rules’ effective date, rather than letting judges decide whether to grant a stay. In what looks like bizarre overreach, it would invite judges to assert their views over the expertise of regulators.
A scaled-down version of the bill almost came to a Senate vote last year with support from three Democrats — Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Mark Warner of Virginia — and from Angus King Jr., an independent from Maine. The effort collapsed when environmentalists and consumer advocates argued, successfully, that the bill would harm Americans. The danger this time is that more Democrats, eager to please corporate donors before the elections in 2018, will pile on. It will take firm Democratic leadership and public outcry to avert that outcome.