Confined Space
News and Commentary on Workplace Health & Safety, Labor and Politics

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Susan Dudley And Bush's War On Public Safeguards

While the nation and its media are consumed with the 9/11 anniversary, the deterioriating situation in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East, and the upcoming elections, the Bush administration is intensifying its war on workers, citizens and the environment.

Public Citizen and OMB Watch launched a major campaign today designed to scuttle the nomination of anti-regulatory zealot Susan Dudley to be director of the the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). OIRA is part of the White House Office of Management and Budget that controls the issuance of all protective regulations issued by agencies such as OSHA, and EPA.

In a telephone press conference conducted by Public Citizen, OMB Watch, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the AFL-CIO, the public interest groups outlined why Dudley is unfit to be the nation’s top regulatory czar. Throughout her career, Dudley has consistently fought against government safeguards and advocated a radical, hands-off approach to regulating corporations.

As director of regulatory studies at the industry-funded Mercatus Center, Dudley has sought to strike down countless environmental, health and safety rules. She has opposed such safeguards as the EPA’s attempts to keep arsenic out of drinking water and lower levels of disease-causing smog. She has questioned NHTSA’s life-saving air bag regulations and the Department of Transportation’s hours-of-service rules to keep sleep-deprived truck drivers off the roads. She has championed energy deregulation, which has led to skyrocketing prices and little consumer relief during record-setting heat waves.

“If confirmed as OIRA administrator, Dudley would continue her anti-regulatory agenda from a position with enormous power over federal health, safety and environmental protections,” said Robert Shull, Public Citizen’s deputy director for auto safety and regulatory policy, and a principal author of the report. “She would come to this office with a radical agenda that would destroy the federal government’s ability to protect the public. The public cannot afford to pay that price.”
Dudley was the director of the Regulatory Studies Program at the Mercatus Center, an industry-funded, antiregulatory advocacy organization. Mercatus' funders have included companies with long records of opposing government safeguards such as BP Amoco, Exxon Mobil Corporation, General Motors, JP Morgan Chase, Merrill Lynch, Pfizer, and State Farm Insurance Companies.

But Public Citizen and OMB Watch don't just issue press releases, they also do their homework. The groups released a 68 page report and a collection of fact sheets to support the campaign.

The report dismantles Dudley's arguments piece by piece, particularly the often circular and contradictory reasoning she uses to oppose every regulation she's ever met. For example, Dudley believes that regulations can only be justified to compensate for a "market failure." Other possible regulatory goals, suchas environmental justice, civil rights and fairness are not on her radar screen.

And how do you prove "market failure?"

You don't. If things like automobile safety or ergonomics protections were important, then the public would demand them and companies would supply them. The fact that companies aren't supplying them means the public isn't demanding them. Hence, the market works perfectly and no regulation is needed.

For example, EPA regulation require facilities that work with dangerous chemicals to create risk management plans for use in worst-case scenario disasters. Humbug! says Dudley.
“If there is a public demand for this information, as EPA’s benefit assessment argues, nongovernmental organizations would find value in deriving it. The fact that they don’t suggests that the value of the information to the public is less than the cost of the information. Certainly the public would value receiving a company’s products and services as well, but the quantity and price of those goods and services is determined by the market; the federal government doesn't simply require companies give products away. Information is a good, and like other goods, has associated costs as well as benefits.”
Companies have natural incentives to ensure their workers' safety.For example, ergonomics regulations designed to prevent workers from suffering from musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs):
“OSHA offers no evidence that employers and employees do not have adequate incentives to provide the optimal level of workplace protection against MSD hazards. On the contrary, OSHA provides evidence that (1) MSDs impose significant costs on employers, which should offer ample incentives to reduce their occurrence, (2) employers are, in fact, developing programs and other initiatives to reduce MSDs, and (3) MSDs are declining. Lack of knowledge on the causes of and remedies for MSDs, not lack of motivation, has hindered efforts to reduce MSDs.”
And then there's my personal favorite -- pollution is good for you:
“Due to ozone‘s screening effect on harmful ultraviolet-B radiation, the proposed reduction in ozone levels would increase malignant and nonmelanoma skin cancers and cataracts, as well as other UV-B-related health-risks. This doesn’t mean that more ozone is always better. It does mean that if the EPA really cares about public health it should take these trade-offs into account.”

I could go on and on, but then I'd rob you of the pleasure of reading the report yourselves.

But when you get done tsk-tsking and chuckling and shaking your head, remember that the Bush administration is dead serious about appointing this person to control, limit and abolish the safeguards that protect us and our children from the otherwise unsafe products and uncontrolled hazards in our workplaces, air, water, automobiles and anywhere else that corporate America can make a profit by neglecting the harmful effects of its products.

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