Our guest blogger is Todd Darling, a documentary filmmaker whose film, “A Snow Mobile For George,” is a cross-country look at how deregulation affects individuals and the environment.
For eight years the Bush Administration’s chief domestic priority was to deregulate everything they could get their hands on. In the Bush view, the free market, left unregulated, would solve anything that needed solving; the rich would get richer, and, as Grover Norquist put it, the federal government would shrink down to be “small enough to drown in a bath tub.” So they worked to remove regulations that safeguarded the public’s control over the myriad resources and concerns from the airwaves and energy, to land, water, wildlife, drugs, pesticides, and toxic waste, all the way to the public’s money in the banking and financial system.
Watch one rancher’s story of the effects of the Bush rampage, taken from my documentary, A Snow Mobile For George:
Take a look at Wall Street and Main Street courtesy of the deregulation of banks and credit derivatives; go to Wyoming’s Powder River Basin and see the destruction of private range land and the plunging populations of wildlife after the suppression of clean water regulations by the Bush Interior Department; or talk to the tens of thousands of first responders in Lower Manhattan who were not given equipment sufficient to protect them from the toxic residue of 9–11 because the Bush White House avoided health and safety regulations by failing to adequately test the debris.
And now comes the final rush of midnight regulations. New “major” regulations published in tomorrow’s Federal Register will go into effect before President-election Barack Obama takes office. They have until Dec. 20 to announce any “minor” regulations — and knowing Bush, they’ll probably call some major regulatory rewrites “minor.” Yesterday’s Federal Register had “more than a dozen new rules” — and today’s register included at least one “new” rule already repeatedly struck down by the courts.
Deregulation not only damaged the public’s environment, and tanked our financial system — it also transferred enormous amounts of wealth and publicly owned resources into private pockets. How can we counteract deregulation’s effects?
Use The Congressional Review Act: First the lame duck Congress should halt the fractured logic and naked favoritism of Bush’s last regulatory requests. For instance, the proposed rule to allow oil companies to bypass any scientific analysis by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to determine, if their drilling operations threaten any endangered species would leave only the Mineral Management Service or the Bureau of Land Management to certify those operations. Those same agencies profit directly from the drilling and are under the political control of the White House. Congress should intervene on the basis of the Congressional Review Act. If they don’t act, the incoming President Obama will have to wait a year to change any regulation.
Restore Scientific Integrity To The White House: Second, there is the White House Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, (OMB/OIRA). This alphabet soup is actually the gate through which all federal regulations must pass. The new Obama Administration needs to comb through the last eight years worth of rules and cull the scientifically and legally bogus and start over, as the Union of Concerned Scientists recommends. In fact, consider the likes of Francesca Grifo of UCS’s Scientific Integrity Program to head OIRA.
Support Regulatory Enforcement: Third, replenish the investigative and enforcement staff at regulatory commissions and Cabinet level departments. Good rules may still be on the books, or the future Obama Administration may be able to re-establish them, but without staff to enforce or investigate them, what’s the difference? The Bush Administration allowed laws to be broken, by simply stifling the scientific investigation or firing the scientists. In Bush’s world, if there is no data, there is no problem.
No More Industry Insiders: Fourth, clean house. President-elect Obama should make it White House policy to appoint NO industry insiders to ANY regulatory commissions. During the Bush Administration Ken Lay of Enron suggested directly to Dick Cheney the eventual head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. And, the National Academy of Science appointed the chief lobbyist for the snowmobile industry, a lawyer with no scientific degree or background to serve on its Board of Environment Sciences and Toxicology. A gale of fresh air should blow through regulatory agencies. The US needs experts to run these agencies and to staff Executive Branch departments. But, expertise should not equal industry allegiance. Among the ranks of academia, working scientists, watchdog organizations, and experienced professionals qualified people can be found.
We’re talking about the fundamental health and safety of the public, the welfare and husbanding of priceless public resources, and the protection against the plunder and profiteering by political and economic cronies. These are the rules that spell the difference between a democracy and an aristocracy. And under George Bush, we weren’t headed toward democracy.
President-elect Obama has spoken forcefully against deregulation. But, if determined action is not taken swiftly, then a prime domestic policy objective of the Bush years will continue to thrive.