Advocates press Obama on public health

Pro-regulation advocates are pushing President Obama to spend his next two years in office passing rules to protect public health, preserve the environment, and keep workers and consumers safe.

The Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) issued a report Friday detailing 13 regulatory actions coming from the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Labor and the Department of Transportation, that it’d like to see on the books by mid-2016.

“All are now years overdue, particularly considering the very serious health, safety and environmental effects they address,” the CPR said in its report. “Each day, people get ill and too many die because earlier administrations dragged their feet on these problems.”

The CPR said FDA safety standards for how produce is handled and packaged, how processed food is manufactured and how foreign foods are imported, will protect the public from catastrophic food-borne illnesses, citing the bacteria laden cantaloupe that recently killed 33 people and made another 147 people sick. 

As for EPA proposals, the organization wants national performance standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel power plants, a national ozone air pollution standard and permission for the EPA to electronically report and respond to water pollution violations.

The Center for Progressive Reform also wants wetlands and smaller bodies of water to be considered “Waters of the Unites States” under the EPA’s Clean Water Act, in addition to storm water pollution controls, safety rules for child farm-labor, water pollution standards for commercial farms producing 500 million tons of manure a year and a rule requiring power plants to better manage coal ash waste.

Other top regulatory priorities include an Occupational Safety & Health Administration rule to better protect nearly 2 million U.S. workers from being exposed to silica dust and stricter DOT safety standards for trains carrying crude oil — stronger tank cars, safer train routes and emergency response training. The report said more than 415,000 rail-carloads of flammable crude oil travel across the U.S each year.

With a new president taking office in 2017, the center said now is the time to act. Stalling until the midnight hour, the group said, would only make the rules easier to overturn. 

“Republicans can and surely will hold hearings that give a platform to their industry supporters to rail against regulations,” CPR President Rena Steinzor said in a blog post Wednesday. “They can ratchet up political pressure in a variety of ways. They can even attach anti-regulation riders to must-past funding bills if they choose, but they can’t legislate away public safeguards without the president’s signature and they can’t block regulations with hearings and hot air.”

The CPR recommended Obama chose a senior White House adviser to coordinate an effort to pass these rules by June 30, 2016. The staffer appointed, the organization said should be someone who the agencies and the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs will respect.

“The president has repeatedly said that he is willing to use his executive authority to do the people’s business,” Steinzor was quoted saying in the report. “Now is the time to make good on that promise. In doing so, he can literally save thousands of American lives and burnish his legacy.”