You might be getting a whiff of something rotten in Washington, but a worse stench might soon waft into your neighborhood as President Trump moves to slash regulations that protect our air and water from polluters.
The aptly titled Searching for and Cutting Regulations that are Unnecessarily Burdensome (SCRUB) Act, proposed by Representative Jason Smith of Missouri with support from the White House, would create a new arm of government to comb federal agencies for regulations deemed to be “obsolete,” or rather, unfairly inhibiting profits.
SCRUB would essentially allow politicians to “review” regulations through a purely economic cost-benefit analysis: If the Environmental Protection Agency issues a standard for particulate emissions for example, SCRUB would force the government to assess the rule based not so much on how it might save children’s lives, reduce lost days of work or school productivity, or keep fish from dying in local streams—but, rather, on how the regulation would affect business.
“What the House is trying to do under this cloak of regulatory reform,” says Paul Billings, senior vice president of Advocacy with American Lung Association, “is attack a public-health statute’s function and try to undermine the ways in which federal agencies implement those laws to provide, for example, the clean-air safeguards the American people are counting on and expect.”
And invariably, business interests don’t line up with the value of a clean habitat, so if SCRUB passes, Congress gets a blank check to erase the rules and directives needed to implement federal statutes, which in turn would cripple federal authorities’ partnerships with local agencies in monitoring, coordinating, and controlling pollution on the community and regional levels.
“Taken to its absurd end, [this bill says] you can’t have cleaner air if you want cleaner water. You have to repeal the clean air rule to promulgate a clean-water rule,” Billings says. Needless to say, the benefits of both breathing and drinking without being poisoned are cumulative.
Although cost-benefit analysis is not novel in anti-regulatory rhetoric, the SCRUB formula takes the system even further, first by creating a so-called “cut-go” framework, which mandates that a new regulation be “offset” economically by repealing a rule of equal “cost.” Basically, net spending has to be zero in a world where corporate polluters impose ever-expanding social costs on communities. Robert Weissman of Public Citizen, in a letter to Congress on SCRUB, questioned this supposed “balancing” of industrial harms: