Leading watchdog groups are opposing the Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA), which is set to be voted on in committee Wednesday, over fears that the bill would make it even harder for federal agencies to manage safeguards for workers, consumers, and the environment.
The RAA, sponsored by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), would require offices to adopt the most "cost-effective" standards for corporations, which the consumer group U.S. PIRG warned Tuesday are undefined and impossible to meet, and replaces the current rule-making process with other procedures that opponents say are meant to bog down the agencies with red tape while big businesses evade accountability.
"Agencies already are required to address every single benefit-cost and other requirement in this bill," said Ed Mierzwinski, the Consumer Program director at U.S. PIRG. "So let's be very clear that the real purpose of the RAA is to put a full stop to agency efforts to protect consumers, workers, and the environment from health, safety, and financial threats."
Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) Policy Center added, "This bill reveals a willingness to place corporate concerns ahead of the American people. The purpose of regulations is to keep workers safe, protect consumers, and safeguard the environment. This bill is a chance for members of Congress to show whose side they are on."
Shierholz and EPI's Celine McNicholas wrote a letter to the Senate Committee on Homeland Services and Government Affairs, which is hearing the bill, urging lawmakers to vote against it, warning that it would "fundamentally alter the regulatory process by requiring agencies to place cost considerations ahead of all others."
The RAA, also known as S. 951, "provides corporate interests with unprecedented power to interfere with and delay the regulatory process, and prioritizes industry profits over health, safety, and other public goods," they wrote.
For example, they said, the Department of Labor's "silica rule," which is meant to protect construction workers from breathing in lung disease-causing dust, would have been threatened by the RAA because businesses would have had to spend money on safety equipment. The RAA would have required the Labor Department to consider only those costs, rather than the benefits of lives saved over decades.
"The intent of the RAA is crystal clear," said McNicholas. "The bill puts corporate profits ahead of the public interest, gutting federal agencies' ability to issue rules that protect workers and consumers. It will further draw out already-lengthy rule-making procedures and give corporate special interests unprecedented power to interfere with and delay the regulatory process, all at a cost to taxpayers."
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has also spoken out against the rule, stating, "The Republicans' RAA gives big businesses a bunch of new ways to delay, dilute, or flat-out kill these kinds of standards that keep us safe."
The RAA is a companion bill to HR 5 in the House of Representatives, which has already passed.