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Tom Donohue: Regulatory Sanity Must Be Restored

By Tom Donohue |

Anyone who thinks that the federal government isn’t getting much done must not be paying attention to the growing onslaught of regulatory activity. Federal agencies are churning out 4,000 new regulations a year. We might even congratulate them on their efficiency and output if the actual outcomes weren’t so bad, so often.

Some regulations — like the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed greenhouse gas rules — are sweeping agency power grabs that threaten entire industries. Others — such as Obamacare and its 10,000 pages of regulations — are so massive and complex that they are collapsing under their own weight. Many rules bear jaw-dropping price tags. The number of regulations that cost $100 million or more has gone up 80 percent in a decade. And then there’s the sheer volume of new rules and regulations. Businesses don’t know what will hit them next. This uncertainty has a chilling effect on expanding, hiring and investing.

What we need is a regulatory system that restores checks and balances, upholds the rule of law, relies on quality data and restores good governance.

We proceeded in the right direction last week when Congress took up the Achieving Less Excess in Regulation and Requiring Transparency Act. This comprehensive bill incorporates some vital reforms that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce supports.

The broader bill includes the Regulatory Accountability Act, legislation to modernize the Truman-era Administrative Procedure Act, which governs our regulatory process. It would enable more transparency and public participation and require agencies to justify the need for new rules. And it would hold agencies accountable for the nature and quality of their data.

Also included is the Sunshine Act, which would address “sue and settle,” one of the worst abuses of the system. This is where environmental groups sue EPA or another federal agency with a wink and a nod, the agency agrees to a settlement, and a court signs off. As a result, key decisions about how and when to issue new regulations are made in secret, outside of the rulemaking process. The bill would require agencies to give public notice more quickly, providing greater opportunity for public comment.

These and other reforms would help Congress regain control over a swelling bureaucracy that is opaque, unaccountable, and often unfair. And it would give the American people a voice in the process.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce will be watching and weighing in. We’ll fight for commonsense reforms to the system and work with agencies to improve regulations. But if the federal government oversteps its bounds or circumvents the process, we’ll challenge regulators in court.

One way or another, regulatory sanity must be restored.

— Tom Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The opinions expressed are his own.

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