"Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death."
Not to be too overly dramatic here, but there are a few things going on in Congress this week that remind me how easy it’s become for industry to put people in harm’s way, and then convince others to go along or at least "not to reason why."
Let’s start with the House. First, the House will be voting on 10 bills in honor of their theatrically-named “Stop Government Abuse Week.” None of these bills have any chance in the Senate because what they basically do is stop government’s ability to protect the public from corporate wrongdoing. Yes, and that does mean more people would die since regulations are already too weak and people die. The biggest of the 10 is the cutely-named "Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act of 2013," or REINS Act (H.R. 367). Writes the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards,
This bill represents the most radical threat to our government’s ability to protect the public from harm in generations. The bill will delay or shut down the implementation of critical new public health and safety protections, thereby making industry even less accountable to the public. It will only benefit those corporations that wish to game the system and evade safety standards while doing nothing to protect the American public.…
Simply put, the REINS Act would make the dysfunction and obstructionism that plagues our political process even worse by giving one chamber of Congress veto power over any new significant public health and safety protection, no matter how noncontroversial or commonsense it may be. Congress should be searching for ways to ensure federal agencies enforce laws designed to protect our food supply, water, air quality, financial security and much more, not throwing up roadblocks to sensible safeguards that protect the American people.
There’s better news over at the Senate (at least we hope so), where the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight, Federal Rights, and Agency Action, will be holding a hearing called “Justice Delayed: The Human Cost of Regulatory Paralysis.”
Meanwhile, back at the House Judiciary Committee, they’ll be marking up another cutely-named bill, the “Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act,” which a group of public interest organizations said in a letter to the Committee, would “burden an understaffed judiciary, prolong expensive litigation and unfairly penalize consumers and employees as participants in civil lawsuits” as well as “have a discriminatory impact on civil rights, employment, environmental and consumer cases.”
Back to the Senate, where it does seem more people are listening (although not enough yet), the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, chaired by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), will be holding a hearing on toxic chemicals in light of a new bi-partisan bill that would strengthen federal regulation of chemicals – a good thing – but wipe out all state regulation (not to mention state tort claims) dealing with toxic chemicals. A very bad thing. Writes the Los Angeles Times,
California has a reputation for having some of the nation's most aggressive rules on workplace safety, consumer protection and environmental quality — regulations that force companies to make costly adjustments to the way they do business worldwide.
Now some of those companies, banking on congressional gridlock and sympathetic Republican leaders in the House, are fighting back. And officials in Sacramento worry that some of the state's landmark laws may be in danger.
At the top of their worry list is a measure with bipartisan support that would strengthen federal environmental laws on dangerous chemicals, but at the price of rolling back a pioneering California law that tries to protect consumers from the most toxic materials. State leaders are scrambling to fend off the bill, which they say is written so broadly that it also could undermine California's clean water laws and its effort to combat global warming.
"We are alarmed," said Debbie Raphael, director of the state Department of Toxic Substances Control. "We have programs in place that are very effective and have moved the marketplace to benefit not just California but the entire world. This … puts all that at risk."…
California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris described the measure in an email to The Times as "a no-win that puts Californians at risk from toxic chemicals and inhibits the development of safer, cleaner products." Her office has concluded that the measure would imperil Proposition 65, which voters enacted in 1986 to limit contamination of groundwater and make businesses disclose when consumers are exposed to carcinogens.…
"I have a state that wants to set the bar higher," said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), who helped write several major California regulatory laws while serving in the Assembly. "On human health, on animal cruelty, on all sorts of things. The federal government should be supporting that. But there are some industries that are on a race to the bottom."
Or at least a race back to 1854.