In his address to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), President Donald Trump assailed the burdensome regulations that are inhibiting American economic growth. However, Trump also emphasized that some regulations are necessary to keep American consumers and workers safe.
He said, “I want regulation. I want to protect our environment, I want regulations for safety, I want all of the regulations that we need and I want them to be so strong and so tough, but we don’t need 75 percent of the repetitive, horrible regulations that hurt companies, hurt jobs, make us non-competitive overseas with other companies from other countries, that we don’t need. But we’re going to have regulation. It’s going to be really strong and really good and we’re going to protect our environment and we’re going to protect the safety of our people and our workers.”
Unfortunately, many of the major federal agencies have moved beyond the simple mission of protecting consumers.
Consider healthcare and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA has a critical role in protecting consumers from harmful food and drugs. However, they have moved past this mission, to their detriment of their central objectives.
There are recurring problems in the United States with salmonella and E-Coli outbreaks as well as a long and cumbersome approval process for new drugs, yet the FDA chooses to expend time and resources on restricting consumers’ knowledge about their own bodies by pursuing regulatory action against 23andMe. In June 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services’ office of the Inspector General found that the FDA was slow in ordering recalls of contaminated foods. The report stated that as a result of the agency’s failures, “consumers remained at risk of illness or death for several weeks after FDA was aware of a potentially hazardous food in the supply chain.”
At a Congressional hearing on the EpiPen price hikes, FDA official Doug Throckmorton declined to tell the House Oversight and Government Reform committee what the backlog was for generic drug applications for an EpiPen alternative – Throckmorton did not know or would not divulge how many drugs were waiting for approval, or how long they had been waiting.
The importance of this organization is paramount to consumer safety and if we want to be able to continue to trust our food and drugs, it cannot be abolished. When it engages in these less important pet projects, the organization itself is undermined. The FDA should focus on advancing its core mission.
Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has strayed far beyond its mission of protecting America’s environment and waters and over the last administration has sought to reduce the affordability and reliability of the power supply through the Clean Power Plan, the signature piece of energy regulation enacted during the Obama Administration. This costly monstrosity was never directly debated in a Congressional hearing, not was it voted on by Congress. This rule sought to force states to comply with federal initiatives, rather than encourage cooperation. It pushed existing utilities into failure and required states to bear the burden of replacing them.
If allowed to remain in force, the Clean Power Plan is expected increase energy sector expenditures between $220-$292 billion from 2022 to 2033, costs that will be passed on to consumers in the form of an annual increase of the cost of electricity of between 11 percent to 14 percent for those years, according to the Institute for Energy Research.
Consumer products have also been negatively affected by the regulatory agenda of the past eight years. The Obama administration’s emphasis on energy efficiency has meant that the affordability and performance of appliances have taken a backseat.
Stephen Yurek, president of the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute, stated in a Congressional hearing that, “DOE has never looked back to see what the energy savings actually were or if consumers actually ever benefited from spending more money.”
Lower-income consumers are often not able to buy new appliances, so they must continue to use older, less efficient ones. This means they will miss out on the energy savings that the Obama administration assured consumers would come – only the wealthier consumers able to afford the newest appliances will see those savings.
President Trump stated in his joint address to Congress that he intends to create a “deregulation task force” in every government agency. He also said his administration will be “imposing a new rule which mandates that for every one new regulation, two old regulations must be eliminated.”
It appears Trump is serious about cutting away some of the excessive regulation at the federal level. He has a golden opportunity to undo some of the overreaches of the past eight years and roll back agencies have that expanded beyond their core mission, but must keep in mind the benefits of smart regulation.