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Point of View: Washington’s regulatory grip threatens progress
March 05, 2011
Last month, the nation observed the centennial of President Ronald Reagan’s birth. Reagan loved to communicate his philosophy through quips, most of which contained a serious public policy message. One of his most famous lines sized up the government’s view of the nation’s economy: “If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.”
I was reminded of Reagan’s skeptical view of government recently, while reading yet another article on the Environmental Protection Agency’s mammoth proposal to regulate the greenhouse gas emissions of virtually every building, tool and vehicle. Despite President Obama’s recent call for a comprehensive review of the federal government’s proposed rules, the EPA has decided to push ahead with what would be one of the costliest and most far-reaching regulations in American history. The regulation for the first time would impose CO2, methane and other emissions limits on just about anything that supports American commerce. And that includes every part of the nation’s seafood industry. Fines and expanded state and federal inspection teams would be established to enforce the regulations.
The EPA emissions rule is larger than most, but it is not inconsistent with what is taking place all across Washington, D.C. Dramatically higher quotas for renewable fuels that the nation’s drivers (and shippers) must subsidize, the de facto ban on oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico — these are only a few examples of a regulatory push that reaches virtually every corner of American life. The cost of these regulations is daunting. In fiscal 2010, federal agencies put in place 43 major rules that the regulators themselves estimate will burden American businesses with nearly $27 billion in new compliance costs.
This regulatory mischief shows no sign of abating. The financial services legislation enacted in 2010 requires the issuance of 243 new rules and the creation of entirely new Washington bureaucracies that will keep lawyers busy for a very long time. The National Labor Relations Board has proposed a rule that would require every U.S. workplace of any size to inform every employee how to form a union.
In all, there are 4,227 rules in the pipeline. To be sure, some of these rules are necessary and worthy, and concern the core responsibilities of government in a highly integrated, industrialized economy. But the costs that these rules will impose on businesses are immediate, and in the case of small businesses often devastating. Contrast all of this with the self-reliance and individualism that marked Reagan’s character as he grew up in Dixon, Ill. Though Dixon is as almost as far as you can get from the seacoast, his story is no doubt a familiar one to those whose livelihoods in the seafood industry depend on an independent spirit. That spirit is today under pressure, if not outright attack, from Washington’s regulatory agenda.
Robert DeHaan is VP for government affairs and general counsel of the National Fisheries Institute in McLean, Va.