Welcome to the Roundtable, a forum for incisive commentary and analysis
on cases and developments in law and the legal system.
on cases and developments in law and the legal system.
By Nicholas Parsons
Nicholas Parsons is a rising junior at the University of Pennsylvania studying Politics, Philosophy, and Economics.
Political buzzwords like “regulatory accountability” sound great, in theory. In the case of apparently superfluous regulations, , accountability is appealing. The Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA), introduced in the House of Representatives last January, was devised with this purpose in mind. In theory, by either amending current or preventing future regulations, our government could cut unnecessary regulatory costs and redundancies. In the words of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the RAA “would require agencies to be more open and accountable to the public when they propose ‘high-impact’ rules,” defined as regulations estimated to cost more than a billion dollars per year.  
However, if misused, the powers endowed by this act will cost our country massively. Such is the case in terms of environmental protections. Oftentimes those so-called “high-impact” rules are the most impactful, and their weight on the economy should be secondary to their functional exigency. As the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards puts it, the RAA “would cripple the process for issuing and enforcing regulations that ensure we have clean air and water, healthy food and consumer products, fair wages, safe workplaces and many other key protections.”  In essence, “high-impact” regulations such as the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act have a high impact not just on the US economy, but on Americans’ health and the environment, and these factors need to be taken into account.
The Coalition for Sensible Safeguards is not the only public interest organization which opposes the RAA. Numerous environmental advocacy groups are against the Act, due to its limitation of the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and numerous other broad reaching health regulations. In a letter addressed to Representatives, thirteen signing environmental groups oppose the Act as “a more subtle but equally extreme attack on public protections [such] as the REINS Act.”  In addition, the National Resources Defense Council lists twenty-two regulations which could be negatively affected by the RAA, if it is enacted in its current form. These regulations fall in categories such as food safety, clean water, air travel safety, and numerous other pertinent public issues. 
The current language of the act has many problematic implications for our most necessary regulations. For one, the current Act would slow down the means by which regulations are imposed. In instances where an emergency rule must be put into place quickly, the stipulations of the RAA slow down the process. For instance, one section of the RAA specifies that for any regulation that would cost more than $100,000,000, the creating agency “shall publish advance notice of proposed rulemaking” 90 days prior to the rule’s inception. 
During this 90 day period, a number of events must occur, including, a hearing in which opponents may argue against the rule. Although such a listening session is both valid and necessary, the language of the RAA specifies that a final decision on the rule is made based on: “best reasonably obtainable scientific, technical, economic, and other evidence and information concerning the need for, consequences of, and alternatives to the rule.” The wording here seems to denote that an act is judged based on calculations which take into consideration both sides of the argument. However, these detailed cost-benefit analyses can take time and valuable resources from the agency in question; especially, challenging when funds are short and time is of the essence.
One of the additional harms of the Act is its provision that regulators must utilize “the least costly rule considered during the rulemaking”.  This valuation of frugality over all else can be dangerous when dealing with such essentials as clean water or air. Where the costs are worth it, as in the case of the Clean Water Act which protects our lakes and streams, the language of this Act lends itself to cutting corners for the sake of minimizing expense.
The current language of the Regulatory Accountability Act would allow our most fundamental regulations to be upended, and it would slow the creation of new, urgent regulations. Environmental agencies and advocacy groups oppose the Act for the threat it carries towards rules which currently protect our health and our surrounding world. Although accountability is both important and necessary when creating and carrying out any regulation, we must strike a balance between the accountable and the insurmountable.
1: "Regulatory Accountability Act One Pager." U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Accessed July 19, 2017. https://www.uschamber.com/sites/default/files/regulatory_accountability_act_one_pager.pdf.
2: Goodlatte, Bob. "Text - H.R.5 - 115th Congress (2017-2018): Regulatory Accountability Act of 2017." Congress.gov. March 29, 2017. Accessed July 16, 2017. https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/5/text.
3: "The Regulatory Accountability Act." Coalition for Sensible Safeguards. Accessed July 19, 2017. http://sensiblesafeguards.org/issues/regulatory-accountability-act/.
4: Letter to Congress Oppose Regulatory Accountability Act NRDC. From NRDC.org. Accessed July 19, 2017. https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/letter-to-congress-oppose-regulatory-accountability-act-20170110.pdf.
5: “Protections Of Public Health & Safety Potentially Blocked by the So-Called ‘Regulatory Accountability Act’.” NRDC. Accessed July 20, 2017. https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/rules-at-risk-from-raa-5-16-2017.pdf
Photo Credit: Flickr User Susana Valenzano
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