Economy & Budget

The Chamber of Commerce wants to rig the game against the American people

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In a recent opinion post on The Hill’s Contributor’s blog, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce attempted to clear the air on the Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA) (S. 951) by pointing out supposed “misrepresentations” from “activists” who oppose it. Not surprisingly, the Chamber itself had to resort to half-truths and misrepresentations to rebut the growing critiques of the RAA.

What is most telling is not what the Chamber says, but what its actions reveal: The Chamber backs legislation to expedite and streamline government actions it favors, specifically permit approvals for energy projects, while also backing legislation like the RAA, which would slow down or paralyze government actions that the Chamber generally opposes, namely public health and safety protections.

With this broader context, it becomes clear that the Chamber supports the RAA because it favors rigged government that puts corporate interests first. 

First, it’s important to correct the record by pointing out where the Chamber downplays or ignores the RAA’s dangerous impacts on protecting the public, the environment and holding Wall Street accountable. The Chamber is flat-out wrong when it claims that the RAA will not lead to even more delays in instituting new safeguards. In reality, the regulations that provide American workers and consumers the most protection already must jump over far too many hurdles to become law under the current rulemaking process

It now takes the most important proposed protections an average of four years — an entire presidential term — to work their way through the rulemaking process. For some agencies and for many rules, the delays are far worse. For example, it takes the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration an average of 12 years to protect workers with new or updated safety standards.

Even a conservative think tank found that agencies have missed regulatory deadlines mandated by Congress more than 50 percent of the time, another obvious sign our process for protecting public health and safety is too slow. Yet, instead of pushing Congress to take action on chronic and unacceptable rulemaking delays, the Chamber wants Congress to pass the RAA, which will add up to 53 more steps for agencies to follow before finalizing the most beneficial protections. 

Along with slowing the regulatory process to a crawl, the RAA also would set the stage for corporate-friendly regulations that are weaker and less effective at protecting the public. It does this by forcing agencies to adopt the “least costly” or “most cost-effective” regulations instead of regulations that “maximize net benefits” to the public. This flies in the face of Executive Order 12866, which sets out principles of cost-benefit analysis and directs agencies to adopt regulations that “maximize net benefits” to the public to the extent permitted by law, not minimize costs to corporations. Instead of codifying past executive orders, the RAA betrays those executive orders by handcuffing agencies, restricting their ability to design regulations that provide the greatest benefits to the public.

This makes the RAA very similar to President Trump’s unprecedented and potentially illegal Executive Order 13771, which requires agencies to remove existing regulations as a precondition to putting forth new ones. That EO turns cost-benefit analysis into “cost-cost” analysis by requiring agencies to ignore the benefits of new regulations and simply compare the costs of old regulations to the cost of new regulations.

While regulatory delay that leaves the public’s health and safety vulnerable does not seem to bother the Chamber, delays in issuing permits to developers of energy projects evidently does. When it comes to federal reviews and approvals of energy project permits, the Chamber supports a process that does the opposite of the RAA. While the Chamber wrongly lays blame for permit delays on agency environmental reviews and impact analyses, it is instructive to compare the procedural framework the Chamber proposes for “streamlining” and “expediting” permit approvals with the RAA’s procedural framework for new regulations.

While the RAA would add dozens of new procedural requirements on an already too lengthy rulemaking process, the Chamber’s permit approval reforms, embodied in the RAPID (Responsibly and Professionally Reinvigorating Development) Act considered in the last Congress, would strip away current requirements for agencies to assess the environmental impacts of permits for energy projects.

In other words, the Chamber supports more cost-benefit analysis for new regulations but less for polluting energy projects. Similarly, the Chamber supports a process that requires regulators to pick regulations that are the “least costly” or most “cost-effective” for corporations, but not a process that requires regulators to approve permits for energy projects only when they are the “least costly” to the environment.

Under the RAA, corporations would have dozens of new opportunities to sue agencies when new regulations are issued, but the RAPID Act would curtail lawsuits from local opponents of energy projects. Even more hypocritical, the RAPID Act would ensure that a government official tracks delays in approving permits and intervenes when agencies miss deadlines, but the RAA provides neither government officials nor outside parties with tools to hold agencies accountable when they miss regulatory deadlines.

If the Chamber believes its permitting reform model would improve and streamline a regulatory process, why is it proposing the exact opposite model for agencies that protect workers, consumers and families?

The Chamber can of course speak for itself, and it has a right to support two processes that are impossible to reconcile on principled grounds. But it doesn’t have the right to call both “good government.” Here’s the truth: The Chamber is trying to rig the rules on behalf of its big corporate members. 

Daniel Dudis is the director of Public Citizen’s U.S. Chamber Watch program. Amit Narang is the regulatory policy advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. Follow them on Twitter @Public_Citizen

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Chamber of Commerce Regulation Regulatory Accountability Act Responsibly and Professionally Reinvigorating Development Act

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