Article

Unsafe Regulation

Since day one, the Bush White House has attempted to tighten its grip on executive agencies, putting business interests over the public welfare

Since day one, the Bush White House has attempted to tighten its grip on executive agencies, putting business interests over the public welfare. The consequences for American workers have often been tragic, with unsafe workplaces and an unclean environment resulting. On Jan. 18, President Bush took another giant step away from the best interests of the American public by quietly issuing amendments to Executive Order 12866. These directives will “give the White House much greater control over the rules and policy statements that the government develops to protect public health, safety, the environment, civil rights, and privacy.”

  • President Bush has made an unprecedented move to centralize executive power over federal agencies. President Bush’s Jan. 18 directive attempts to increase the power of the Office of Management and Budget. Federal agencies develop rules–regulating everything from clean water to hazardous workplaces–“under authority granted to them in laws enacted by Congress. In many cases, the statute does not say precisely what agencies should do, giving them considerable latitude in interpreting the law and developing regulations.” The changes take power from expert civil servants and put it in the hands of political appointees. Each agency is now required to have a presidentially-appointed Regulatory Policy Officer responsible for supervising and approving new agency rules, as well as making “sure the agencies carry out the president’s priorities.”

  • The new rules weaken the ability of agencies like the EPA and OSHA to protect the American people. While Bush’s directives will apply to all federal agencies, “business executives and consumer advocates said the administration was particularly concerned about rules and guidance issued by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.” The Bush administration has repeatedly meddled into the work of the EPA and OSHA, preventing them from protecting public safety. Last year, a federal judge sharply criticized the EPA “for pursuing industry-friendly regulations at the same time that it missed statutory deadlines to control toxic air pollution from small industrial plants.” The Washington Post noted that in the first three and a half years of the Bush administration, OSHA– “the branch of the Labor Department in charge of workers’ well-being“–eliminated “nearly five times as many pending standards” as it completed.
  • President Bush’s executive order has real and potentially deadly consequences for all Americans. Last year, the Sago mine explosion, which killed 12 men, shook the nation. A report by the AFL-CIO noted that the administration cut 170 positions from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration and had not proposed a single new mine-safety standard or rule during its tenure. Regulations protect Americans in their everyday lives. In 2001, Bush put the interests of businesses over the interests of American workers and repealed “Clinton administration regulations that set new workplace ergonomic rules to combat repetitive stress injuries.” Bush justified his move by stating that the ergonomic rules had “uncertain benefits,” but would have “cost both large and small employers billions of dollars and presented employers with overwhelming compliance challenges.” OSHA estimated that the overturned rules “would have generated benefits of $9.1 billion a year for each of its first 10 years, and would have prevented 460,000 musculoskelatal disorders a year.”

Daily Talking Points is a product of the American Progress Action Fund.