What better way to celebrate April 15 than to talk about regulation—which, like income taxes, most of us consider a necessary evil.
One could write volumes about the subject; but why not let the Federal Register speak for itself? It's now more than 67,000 pages long—that's 37 percent more pages than 10 years ago. Last year alone, federal agencies churned out more than 4,000 rules, including 60 major ones.
And the cost! Ah yes, the cost. In 1997, according to Rep. David McIntosh, Indiana Republican, the cost was $688 billion. That's nearly $7,000 per household. Americans spend more on regulation than on medical expenses, food, transportation, recreation, clothing, or savings—even more than they spend on taxes. It makes the IRS look relatively benign.
But it's not just the regulations and the cost that people object to, but the arbitrary, illogical and intrusive way in which nonelected bureaucrats apply the rules. The horror stories are legion.
Have you heard about Timothy Dean from Edmond, Okla., and his recycling business called Environment First Inc.? He planned to recycle the CFC in asthma inhalers, but was stopped by an EPA bureaucrat who wanted him to incinerate the inhalers—which would release the inert CFCs into the atmosphere, and from there straight into the stratospheric ozone layer. There was no notice about any EPA anti-recycling rule to the public—and, of course, no chance for public comment.
In the case of United States EPA vs. Hoechst Celanese Corp., now winding its way through the judicial system on to the Supreme Court, the Science & Environmental Policy Project (SEPP) has intervened as a friend of the court (amicus curiae), along with the National Society of Professional Engineers, and various state and industrial organizations. The Hoechst plant in South Carolina, by recycling benzene many times over in its manufacturing process, uses up less than 1,000 tons of the stuff a year and therefore is legally exempt from the EPA benzene emission standard. But now the EPA claims—and this boggles the mind—that "use" must be determined by counting the same benzene over and over again as it recycles through the plant. Using EPA "logic," a car's use of oil—even if none of it ever leaks or is burned up—would be six quarts times the number of times this oil circulates through the engine in a year.
It gets worse: EPA, having been successfully sued by the American Lung Association, last year decided to tighten the air quality standards for particles and ground-level ozone. EPA estimates their cost as "only" $46 billion per year and touts health benefits that even its own science advisory board doesn't accept.
Never mind. The excuses for taking this action are truly stupendous and defy all logic. The tighter standards are supposed to do something to stop the rise in the incidence of childhood asthma But asthma has been rising in the past decades while ambient air quality has actually improved, according to EPA's own data; EPA even brags about it. The correlation is clear: Better air quality, more asthma. How was that again?
And if ozone is removed from the urban atmosphere, then more solar ultraviolet radiation will reach the ground. But hasn't EPA told Congress again and again that "saving the stratospheric ozone layer" from being reduced by 5 percent to 10 percent win throw off health benefits of $32 trillion (yes, trillions!)? In comments submitted to EPA (and never acknowledged, much less replied to), SEPP has calculated—using EPA's own numbers on avoided skin cancers—that removal of urban ozone win permit more solar ultraviolet radiation to reach the surface and thereby impose health costs of $600 billion!
It gets worse still when we come to global warming. Using various unorthodox approaches, the White House is trying to get around the Senate vote (of 95-0) against a Kyoto agreement that does not apply similar emission targets equally to an countries, including the developing countries. For example, the White House is trying to fuzz up the Senate's clear language by referring to "meaningful participation" of "key" developing countries. Using creative thinking, the EPA is trying to get away with defining CO2 as a legal pollutant, like ozone. The president's budget proposal asks for $6.3 billion to bribe certain industries and selected consumer groups into joining the Kyoto chorus. The administration also is bleeding off federal agency funds earmarked for climate research into brainwashing exercises, grandiloquently styled as public workshops—18 of them!
Judged from a leaked blueprint of possible regulatory actions being readied by the White House, the planned administrative and regulatory measures to achieve the Kyoto goals by stealth win bring about the most far-reaching scheme of regulatory control the country has ever seen. Only Congress can stop this madness—and we can only hope Congress is up to the job.
A taste of things to come can be gleaned by watching the British nanny state. The Labor government is going to impose better health on its citizens even if it has to kid them. Behavior control is an the rage: stop drinking, drive slowly, don't smoke, eat salads, forget about meat. No more beef on the bone, use of raw eggs in restaurants, genetically modified food (if imported from the United States), outlaw hunting, no TV ads showing fast cars—and later perhaps, no more cars.
Regulation fervor and politics are extending government's authority about the way we live. The coercive utopians are at it again, in their sad attempts to ban risk. The European Wall Street Journal on March 30 featured an editorial essay on this subject, which closed with: "The real danger is not passive smoking but passive living."
TW2 is compiled by SEPP staff.