Tuesday, November 13, 2012

68 New Regs Daily? Not Exactly

"68 new regulations every day."

Right-wing bloggers and Facebook users have been seething lately over the recent announcement on CNSNews.com that President Obama's administration is churning out an average of 68 new federal regulations per day.

Sixty.  Eight.

A day!

I knew our federal bureaucracy is enormous, but I wasn't sure if 68 new regulations a day is too much for the government of the country with the world's largest economy... or, not enough.

The conservative side of me wanted to shake my head in disgust.  How can our country's economy survive if 68 new mandates are being handed down from Washington on a daily basis?

The moderate part of me, however, wondered:  what are all these regulations, anyway?

It didn't take any effort to visit the website in question, Regulations.gov, and learn that, sure enough, dozens of regulations hit the government's calendar every day.  However, I learned that the claim being made by right-wing pundits regarding their overall impact is - surprise! - fairly misleading.

First of all, many of the "regulations" on the list are procedures, updates, and clarifications - not actual laws, like some conservative antagonists of the President want us to believe.  Others of these "regulations" are actually recommendations by experts in their respective fields regarding ways safety and operational standards can be improved.

And they're all open to public comments.

Today, November 13, an above-average number of 78 "regulations" were "due," which means that the public comment portion of each "regulation" would close at midnight tonight.  They won't all necessarily go into effect tomorrow.  Some are headed back to court or committee, some are just postings containing bureaucratic legalese, and some are recommendations for further action.

Rest assured:  78 new regulations won't hit the books tonight.  All you have to do is click on any of them to see the real story.

Tank Farm Gas

For example, the first "regulation" I clicked was called the "Hanford Tank Farms Flammable Gas Safety Strategy."  Knowing nothing about nuclear energy, I didn't expect to understand any of it, but I was surprised to learn that either I'm missing something super-important, or this "regulation" is simply a notice about excess gas building up in and needing to be ventilated from double-shell tanks.  Flammable gas could accumulate in these tanks, which store radioactive material at this aging facility located in Washington state.  Our government's scientists want to avert a potential catastrophe if the gas were to somehow ignite.

Sounds like something I want my government to be on top of, doesn't it to you?

Right Wingers:  Fail
Obama Administration:  Pass

Texas Grass

The next "regulation" I inspected I selected because I was sure that even I would find it foolish.  Entitled "Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Determination of Status for Texas Golden Gladecress and Neches River Rose-mallow and Designation of Critical Habitat," it virtually reeked of the type of aggressive ecological conservation that I join fellow conservatives in believing to unfairly penalize rightful owners of real estate.

Turns out, some of this grass was identified in 1836 by an Army doctor, and efforts to preserve its habitat have been ongoing since 1981.  A lawsuit hung up early attempts at designating the grasses as endangered in 1997, when courts forced the government to build a better case.  After all these years, the government is now ready to close the public-comment portion of their proposal for enacting an endangered status on the grasses, which exist mostly around sand bars and other areas generally unsuitable for conventional commercial development.  In fact, since government scientists started monitoring the grasses during the 1980's, the habitat for these grasses has shrunk, meaning the amount of land the government is looking to preserve for the grasses is smaller than when they originally proposed the regulation.

Naturally, the fact that some of the land in and around this habitat is being used for oil and gas extraction, environmentalists are anxious for these grasses to become protected species.  And yes, that could have a negative impact on drilling here in certain parts of the Lone Star State.

In addition, I'm not crazy about the amount of time, effort, and money our government has been spending studying these grasses for the past thirty years.  However, the fact that their pending "endangered" designation is coming about during Obama's administration is no fault of his.  Blame Ronald Reagan's administration for starting the ball rolling on this one, and thank Bill Clinton's administration for apparently bungling its case in court, causing the delay in this designation.

Right Wingers:  Fail (good try, though)
Obama Administration:  Pass

Airbus Rudder

Wow.  Things weren't looking too good for the right wing agitators who want to paint Obama's administration as a bunch of bureaucratic busy-bodies.  And sure enough - right wingers didn't catch a break when I returned to the listing of "regulations" and found an airworthiness directive regarding the potential for cracks in the rudder of Airbus' A300-600 series airplanes.

Fortunately for Airbus, although the government estimates that their directive applies to 170 planes, it would require only an hour's worth of work on each one.

The next time you fly on an airline using Airbus planes, you can thank your government for helping to make sure its rudder doesn't crack.

Right Wingers:  Fail
Obama Administration:  Pass

Bank Control

I finally thought I'd found something that would at least keep the right wingers from completely zeroing-out on this quick tally of regulations on the docket for today:  "Change in Bank Control Notices; Acquisitions of Shares of a Bank or Bank Holding Company."

Doesn't that sound like a sinister governmental intrusion into our finance industry?  I decided to check it out.  Unfortunately for our right-wingers, it's a one-page document listing the addresses of several branches of the Federal Reserve Bank with some legalese regarding an addendum to an already-existing federal banking document.  Nothing new to see here.  This is just a benign listing included in today's dose of "regulations."

In fact, several other listings on a variety of other topics, including one for Michelle Obama's healthy kids program and another one for banking regulations, came up blank, making the list look artificially longer than it really is.

Right Wingers:  Fail
Obama Administration:  Pass

Trust Needs More Than Partisan Hyperbole

Of course, die-hard right-wingers may simply claim that I cherry-picked the "regulations" to review, hoping to slant my results in the President's favor.  But if you think I'm a man with no honor, why do you bother reading my blog anyway?  And why would I have cherry-picked only the "regulations" that would defy right-wingers and intentionally ignore the vast majority that would support the allegation that Obama's administration is churning out too many rules that are crippling our economy?  You can check this list as well as I can.  There are no secrets on it.

Suffice it to say that we live in a highly complex society, with many actors and stakeholders involved in countless decisions in both the private and public sectors.  Could it be that the safety and security we generally take for granted in our everyday lives is due in part to the minutiae like cracked rudders and radioactive gasses that government bureaucrats churn through the system?  Do you really want to find out if we could be as prosperous a country without these types of checks?

Sure, some of these "regulations" add costs to private industry.  If the government weren't around to dot these bureaucratic i's and cross the t's, it's easy to assume that private industry would do at least as good a job, and make more money without the feds breathing down their neck.  It sounds nice to talk about giving that a try, but when it comes to safety, people tend to get cold feet.

Could some of these "regulations" be redundant?  Of course.  Many of them likely mirror the advisories private companies issue regarding their own products.  Airbus, for example, likely knew before Uncle Sam did of their rudder's potential to crack, but it's easier to assume that when you're not flying on one of their planes, isn't it?  Or is that just scarier, since it means they kept planes in the air with a known potential defect?  Things like this are why we tend to get cold feet when it comes to leaving private industry solely responsible for public safety.

It's harder, however, to see the need for protecting obscure types of grass.  Even though Obama's administration can't be blamed for it, the pursuit to preserve Texas' endangered grasses seems excessive, even to me.  Indeed, nothing in this little expose on "Obama's 68 new regulations" proves there aren't areas within our government that don't need to be right-sized.  Gladecress and rose-mallow grasses have a hard time competing with trillion-dollar-deficits, unfunded wars, and cancer research.  Unless scientists think these grasses hold a unique chemical that could cure cancer.

Still, to simply assert that an average of 68 worthless, cost-increasing, bureaucracy-bloating, Obama-empowering regulations are being added to the books every day by the current administration is, at best, a distortion of the truth.  And at worst, an outright lie.

Sure, it makes for a more salacious sound bite when right-wingers toss out such statistics like they're facts.  But if conservatives want liberals to take them seriously, they're going to have to give integrity a greater role in their dialog.

How do you think we've gotten to this point of being over-regulated in the first place?
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