Obama’s Toughening of Regulations is a Good Thing

A solid piece that was buried in The New York Times today takes a look at the Obama administration’s enactment (or proposal of) tougher worker safety and consumer protection standards across a host of federal agencies. Sure, regulation buttressing is not really sexy, but its tremendously important. And the administration deserves some credit here.

What kind of regulations are we talking about here? Everything from construction site water runoff to safeguarding eggs. These include (from the article and its corresponding piece):

SALMONELLA AND EGGS

Final rule, July 2009

Mandates measures to prevent salmonella on eggshells during production, storage and transportation, like refrigeration of eggs or rodent-control efforts, to prevent an estimated 79,179 illnesses a year.

STOPPING DISTANCE FOR TRUCKS

Final rule, July 2009

Cost: At least $50 million a year. Savings: at least $169 million a year. New tractor-trailers will be required to be able to break from 60 m.p.h. to a complete stop within 250 feet, a 30 percent reduction, a change that is estimated to prevent 227 deaths annually and 300 serious injuries.

GREENHOUSE GASES

Final rule, October 2009

The first federal requirement to report and monitor greenhouse-gas emissions from about 10,000 industrial facilities representing 85 percent of such emissions in the United States.

The piece also talks about the upticks and generally favorable trends of inspection rates across agencies. FDA inspections are up significantly (still nowhere near what they should be, [example, example] but still headed in the right direction).

But what caught GAP’s eye today was the heavily-increasing number of inspections coming out of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC). That agency has the not-so-insignificant task of making sure products on store shelves don’t kill or significantly hurt people. Like toys from China with oodles of lead parts.

First, it appears that the total number of CSPC inspections more than doubled from fiscal year 2008 to 2009, which is great. Let’s digress for a moment…

and recap where CSPC was in late 2007, pluck in the middle of the “Nord fiasco”. Nancy A. Nord, then-CPSC Chairwoman (appointed by Bush), found herself and her agency the subject of harsh (and well-deserved) criticism from the media over the CSPC’s pathetic job of monitoring deadly Chinese imports and keeping them away from the American public.

In the midst of the crisis, Nord surprisingly came out against a bill that would have provided whistleblower protections to consumer product workers who are positioned to alert the public about violations of safety standards. Not to mention the same bill extended CPSC’s authority, budget and staff. Days later, the Washington Post broke a story about how Nord took “dozens of trips” on the dime of several industry lobbyists that she is in charge of regulating, including those from “toy, appliance and children’s furniture” companies. All in all, Nord received almost $60,000 worth of travel and expenses for her trips, which included jaunts to “China, Spain, San Francisco, New Orleans and a golf resort on Hilton Head Island, S.C.”

Amid numerous calls for Nord’s resignation, several Democratic senators then introduced a bill to put an end to any industry-paid travel for federal regulators. In early 2008, Nord surprisingly went on the offensive, criticizing the media for its coverage of CSPC. According to the Washington Post, Nord stated, “Last year was marked by intense media scrutiny of the agency and of toy recalls in particular…the coverage reached near-hysteria level.” She continued, saying that the CPSC “found itself at the center of partisan politics this last year.”

Nord’s, of course, long gone now, and GAP coalition partner US PIRG does a better job in monitoring her replacement, Inez Moore Tenenbaum.

Sorry for the walk down recent history lane, but it should be noted how much better the CSPC appears to be now. Of course, from today’s article:

Toymakers are also vigorously challenging rules imposed as part of a 2008 law that Mr. Obama helped push while he was still in the Senate that effectively bans lead in all children’s products and then requires follow-up testing.

Anne M. Northup, a former Republican congresswoman from Kentucky whom Mr. Obama appointed to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, said an excessive number of new mandates was harming the toy market.

“Companies who put products on store shelves that consumers want should not be treated like the enemy,” she said in a statement explaining her vote in March against new agency guidelines for imposing larger fines. “I want the agency to be perceived by consumers as protecting them and by industry as a fair cop — not as a mindlessly punitive bureaucracy.”

So there’s still some watching of the CPSC to be done. Not everybody likes regulations. Even though they protect kids from dying.

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Dylan Blaylock is Communications Director at the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower advocacy organization.
 

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