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April 27, 2017

U.S. Senate takes on bill that could change how fed agencies regulate

Photo / Architect of the Capitol The U.S. House of Representatives passed the controversial Regulatory Accountability Act of 2017 in January. It's now under review by the U.S. Senate. Opponents say it mires regulatory agencies in red tape and may negatively impact food safety, environmental health and other areas. Supporters say it will save costs and ease the heavy regulatory burdens on business.

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday started reviewing a controversial bill that could have far-reaching implications for businesses and the federal agencies that regulate them.

Opponents say the Regulatory Accountability Act, known as H.R.5, could limit the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and others from regulating private industry. Supporters say it will address costly and heavy regulatory burdens on industry.

The U.S. House of Representatives already passed H.R.5 on Jan. 11 at a time the country was focused on confirmation hearings and efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

H.R.5 modifies the Administrative Procedure Act passed in 1946, which let national agencies regulate the private market, but required public hearings on proposed rules and court suits to overturn them. One important difference with H.R.5  is it would give courts the power to rule without deferring to regulatory agencies. It also would require agencies to use less costly regulations to achieve an objective.

Reforming costly rules

The Maine State Chamber of Commerce  and the Maine Innkeepers Association were among 616 signatories to a letter  sent on Feb. 6 to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Leader Charles Schumer asking them to support the bill.

“We believe that federal regulations should be narrowly tailored, supported by strong and credible data and evidence, and impose the least burden possible, while implementing congressional intent,” the letter said.

It added, “The Senate has a unique chance to bring real structural reform to the way agencies adopt the most costly rules that fundamentally change our nation.”

Ryan Young, a fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit public policy organization, Competitive Enterprise Institute, also supports the bill. “The Regulatory Accountability Act is not a perfect bill, but it is certainly better than what we have now — just ask anyone who has tried to start their own business. As advocates for free markets, limited government, and economic and individual liberty, Competitive Enterprise Institute supports this bill,” he wrote in his blog before the House passed the bill.

Mired in red tape?

Opponents of the act say it will add obstacles, such as layers of bureaucracy, and hold up regulations that could, for example, improve food safety or clean the environment.

“This bill is a weapon aimed right at public health and safety protections. It would make it nearly impossible for agencies to use the best science to make decisions,” Andrew Rosenberg , director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Cambridge, Mass., said in a statement.

“The ill-named Regulatory Accountability Act … does nothing more than stack the deck in favor of private companies at the public’s expense,” Michael Halpern, deputy director of the center, said in his blog

“One of the likely victims of these new regulatory roadblocks would be new food safety rules,” wrote Scott Faber, vice president of government affairs at the nonprofit Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group.

He added, “Before any new food safety rule could be adopted, agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture would first have to consider an endless array of regulatory options. Then their proposed rules would have to withstand two layers of review by judges newly charged to second-guess agency experts. Finally, any new rule would have to be approved by both the Senate and the House.”

If the Senate passes the bill, it would then go on to the president.

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