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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Entrenched Washington continues BREAKDOWN

1600 Pennsylvania Ave
Who's keeping track, Who's protecting and correcting
Excerpt, editing by Carolyn Bennett

Who regulates, who stymies regulation in public interest, for the public good?

A new study looking into the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), an in-the-shadows entrenched Reagan-era “refuge for special interests seeking to avoid regulation,” has found that “OIRA routinely substitutes its judgment for that of [Federal] agencies.” The report says this Office second-guesses Federal agencies’ efforts to implement specific mandates assigned to them by the Congress of the United States in statutes such as the Clean Air Act, the Food Quality Protection Act, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
In this breach [or breakdown], “OIRA systematically undermines congressional intent that specified Federal agencies’ neutral experts in the law, science, engineering, and economics applicable to given industries make the critical decisions” in the public interest and for the public good.

Center for Progressive Reform image
In “Behind Closed Doors at the White House: How Politics Trumps Protection of Public Health, Worker Safety and the Environment,” researchers found that “the regulatory process is as political” in the current administration as it was in the George W. Bush years. The process is “no more transparent; and vigorous enforcement of the nation’s health, safety, and environmental laws has suffered as a result.”

Environmental Protection icon
The November 28 released report says, “…  [A]n executive order (EO 12,866) designed to enhance the transparency and accountability of OIRA’s review process seems to have encouraged OIRA to push its activities even farther into the shadows to escape the order’s requirements. Somewhat inconsistently, though, OIRA does abide by the provisions requiring disclosure of its meetings with outside parties during informal reviews (deciding for itself which parts of the executive order are important enough to comply with).”
During the Obama presidency, the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs “changed 76 percent of rules submitted to it for review.” In the George W. Bush years, there was “a 64 percent change rate.”
Small local farm
Historically, OIRA’s involvement in the rulemaking process has functioned as a “one-way ratchet,” characteristically weakening agency regulations in the interest of economic considerations and rarely if ever working in the other direction.
Coal threat
Unequal influence - Turthout
A survey of 30 top political officials at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in both the George H. W. Bush and Clinton administrations found, according to the CPR report, that 89 percent of these officials “answered that OIRA often or always sought to make regulations less burdensome for regulated industries, and rarely or never sought to make regulations more protective of health and
the environment.”

In the period the Center for Progressive Reform conducted its study (October 16, 2001- June 1, 2011), “EPA rules were changed at a significantly higher rate (84 percent) than those of other agencies (65 percent).”

Food threat
The study by the Washington-based group concludes, “OIRA’s institutional biases toward economically minded arguments and sober-minded probabilities favor the arguments of industry groups over those of public interest groups, which are often in the position of urging greater protection against unknowable or unprecedented risks.

 “The overwhelming abundance of industry-supplied information makes it far more cognitively ‘available’ to OIRA analysts than the rarely heard voices of the public interest community.

The Center for Progressive Reform report released November 28, 2011, announced the results of its six-month analysis of “the bare-bones information OIRA has eked onto the Web regarding 1,080 meetings held over a ten-year period (October 2001-June 2011) with 5,759 outside lobbyists, 65 percent of whom represented industry and 12 percent of whom represented public interest groups.” 

Sources and notes

Study’s further notes

The Center for Progressive Reform report is the first comprehensive effort to unpack the dynamics of OIRA’s daily work, specifically with regard to the only information that is readily available to the public about its internal review process: records of its meetings with lobbyists. These records are perhaps the only accessible accounting of OIRA’s influence. The records demonstrate that in refusing to disclose differences between regulatory drafts as they enter review and the final versions that emerge at the end of that process, OIRA has persistently ignored unequivocal mandates of three presidents — Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama.

The Center for Progressive Reform study covers OIRA meetings that took place between October 16, 2001 and June 1, 2011. During this period, OIRA conducted 6,194 separate ‘reviews’ of regulatory proposals and final rules. According to the available data, these reviews triggered 1,080 meetings with OIRA staff involving 5,759 appearances by outside participants.

The researchers’ analysis based on an exhaustive evaluation of the impact of White House political interference on the mandates of agencies assigned to protect public health, worker safety, and the environment, reveals a highly biased process that is far more accessible to regulated industries than to public interest groups.

Among the study’s list of the 30 organizations that met with OIRA most frequently, five were national environmental groups (Natural Resources Defense Council at number 2, Environmental Defense Fund at 5, Sierra Club at 6, Earth justice at 8, and Consumer Federation at 30).  

Seventeen were regulated industries, including the American Chemistry Council at 1,  ExxonMobil at 3, American Forest and Paper Association  at 4, American Petroleum Institute at 7, Edison Electric Institute at 9, American Trucking Association at 12, National Association of Home Builders at 13, Air Transport Association at 15, National Association of Manufacturers at 16, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association at 17, and DuPont at 19.

Washington, D.C.-based industry law firms placed at 10 (Hunton & Williams), 14 (Hogan & Hartson), 18 (Crowell & Moring), and 20 (Barnes & Thornburg).

Termed “small” (as in Small Business Administration) is big

“Under the SBA’s own rules, petroleum refineries, ammunition and aircraft manufacturers, line-haul railroads, and pipeline transporters of crude oil can have 1,500 employees and still qualify as ‘small businesses.’

“In their efforts to undermine health and environmental regulations, SBA’s Office of Advocacy representatives often shared OIRA meetings with industrial giants like the American Petroleum Institute, the American Chemistry Council, ExxonMobil, and Atlantic Southeast Airlines—all of them lobbying in tandem for weaker rules.”

The Obama government “[continues] the Reagan and Bush tradition of enthroning OIRA as the final arbiter of whether public health and environmental protections see the light of day.

Centralized White House regulatory review shoves policymaking behind closed doors, wastes increasingly limited government resources, confuses agency priorities, demoralizes civil servants, and, worst of all, costs the nation dearly in lost lives, avoidable illness and injury, and destruction of irreplaceable natural resources.

“New Report: Behind Closed Doors at the White House, Obama Administration Politicizes the Regulatory Process” by Rena Steinzor, November 28, 2011, http://www.progressivereform.org/CPRBlog.cfm?idBlog=EA35C6AD-D47F-EC16-C57E798F4EE9747D

Also CPR blog: “Politicizing the Regulatory Process”
The Behind Closed Doors database; Visit CPR’s “Behind Closed Doors” database CPRBlog post by Rena Steinzor on the report;  The Eye;  CPR’s Eye on OIRA page, http://www.progressivereform.org/OIRASpecInterests.cfm

Rena Steinzor  is Professor of Law at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, http://www.progressivereform.org/scholarGateway.cfm

The Center for Progressive Reform

CPR also works to open the regulatory process to greater public scrutiny, particularly by facilitating the participation of groups representing the public interest that are often hobbled by restrictions on their ability to access information upon which decision-makers rely.

The Center for Progressive Reform is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit research and educational organization with a network of Member Scholars working to protect health, safety, and the environment through analysis and commentary.

CPR believes sensible safeguards — including doing the best to prevent harm to people and the environment, distributing environmental harms and benefits fairly and protecting the earth for future generations — serve important shared values.

CPR rejects the view that the economic efficiency of private markets should be the only value used to guide government action. CPR supports thoughtful government action and reform to advance the well-being of human life and the environment.

CPR believes people play a crucial role in ensuring both private and public sector decisions that result in improved protection of consumers, public health and safety, and the environment. Accordingly, CPR supports ready public access to the courts, enhanced public participation, and improved public access to information.

Founded in 2002, CPR is a network of university-affiliated Member Scholars (more than 50 around the United States) with expertise in legal, economic, and scientific fields. CPR Member Scholars and staff prepare studies, reports, articles, and other analyses, and participate in educational forums and conferences to promote informed and effective public policy.

Led by CPR President Rena Steinzor (University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law) — the Center for Progressive Reform has a seven-member Board of Directors:
  1. John Applegate (Indiana University School of Law Bloomington)
  2. Robert L. Glicksman (George Washington University Law School)
  3. David Hunter (American University Washington College of Law)
  4. Thomas O. McGarity (University of Texas Law, CPR immediate past president)
  5. Catherine A. O’Neill (Seattle University School of Law)
  6. Sidney A. Shapiro (Wake Forest University School of Law)
  7. Amy Sinden (Temple University Beasley School of Law)

Also: “Report: Obama Has Weakened More Lobbyist-Opposed Health, Public Safety Regulations Than Bush — A new report shows that Despite a campaign pledge to get lobbyists out of Washington, the Obama White House” — [exceeding its predecessor at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue] — “has weakened regulation in favor of corporate interests. … This is the finding in the latest Center for Progressive Reform study ‘Behind Closed Doors at the White House: How Politics Trumps Protection of Public Health, Worker Safety, and the Environment.’  The study, ‘Behind Closed Doors at the White House: How Politics Trumps Protection of Public Health, Worker Safety, and the Environment,’” November 30, 2011, http://www.democracynow.org/2011/11/30/report_obama_has_weakened_more_lobbyist
UMass-Amherst, College of Natural Resources and the Environment
Clean air, clean water, and healthy soil.
Some things are too important to compromise. 
Help make sure they'll still be possible 
for the next generation. 
And the one after that.

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