| March 9, 2012

Putting the reins on overzealous bureaucrats

A fundamental principle of our system of government is that the power ultimately rests with the people. Most of the time, “people” refers to the American citizenry as a whole—the voters who speak with their ballots. But when it comes to regulations, it seems the people with the power are members of a much smaller group. They are bureaucrats we will never know, never see, and never be able to vote for or against in any election. So, who really has the reins in that scenario?

The REINS Act (Regulations from the Executive In Need of Scrutiny), sponsored by Rep. Geoff Davis (R-KY), is legislation that attempts to hand the reins back to the American people. With more than 200 cosponsors (including Representatives Sullivan, Boren, Cole, and Lankford from Oklahoma), it has passed the U.S. House of Representatives. Companion legislation in the U.S. Senate has more than 30 cosponsors (including Senators Inhofe and Coburn).

REINS would require any federal regulation with a cumulative economic impact of $100 million or more to be approved by a vote of both the House and Senate and to obtain the signature of the president.

Congress currently has the power to override proposed regulations, but their override must also signed by the president, and presidents are unlikely to override their own administrations’ regulations. The current system places the power with the regulatory agencies. REINS would shift the burden to the agencies to prove a regulation’s worth or necessity before it can be enacted.

What would this change mean for Oklahoma’s economy, specifically the energy industry?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently issued a draft report that claims a connection between “fracking” (a drilling method that involves hydraulic fracturing) and contaminated drinking water in Wyoming. The Wall Street Journal points out that the EPA report fails to mention contaminants have been found in those water wells for decades and that the chemicals found are not even used in oil and gas production. In fact, the chemicals found are actually common fire retardants used in plastics and drinking well components.

Hydraulic fracturing is being employed by many of Oklahoma’s energy leaders, and it is increasing productivity, creating jobs, and increasing America’s energy security. Yet the EPA seems determined to find a way to regulate the practice heavily, even if it must do so by redefining what constitutes diesel, a chemical sometimes used in the process. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) recently joined with a bipartisan group of legislators to ask the EPA to proceed carefully and openly in an effort to keep the agency from acting without first considering all the repercussions.

Remember that under the current system, agencies like the EPA have the power to pass regulations as they see fit, and Congress can only stop them with a majority vote in both houses and the signature of the president. The drinking water supply must certainly be protected, but we must also avoid unnecessarily shackling our nation’s producers and putting our economy and security at risk.

These are just a few of the examples of the mandates and regulations costing Oklahoma companies millions of dollars each year. The REINS Act would at least allow the people to have a voice in the process.

Opponents of the REINS Act say the measure fails to stimulate the economy and that it does nothing to address low demand facing many of our businesses. This highlights a critically important fact: REINS does not improve demand because it cannot and should not. The free market is what should determine demand. Free enterprise is a nonpartisan, fundamental American principle that ensures freedom and creates competition. The result is that our entrepreneurs and business owners are then free to pursue the best practices. The point of legislation like REINS is to get government out of the way and let the market work the way it is supposed to work.

Opponents also say REINS will seriously hinder the policymaking process, which includes needed safeguards. They say Congress is “seizing” power and disrupting the regulatory process—that our children would no longer be safe from harmful toys, that our air would no longer be breathable, and that it would create unnecessary confusion.

The reality is that Congress is not seizing power but merely exercising power it already has. The U.S. Constitution grants Congress (not some federal agency) the authority to regulate commerce. The founders knew it was important to keep the power in the hands of the people, and this bill represents a move back to their original intent and away from the system favored by the Washington bureaucrats who have been seizing power over the last few decades.

The truth is that necessary regulations would be just as likely to pass under this plan. The only change would be in certain cases where a proposed regulation’s economic impact is high enough (over $100 million), and in those cases an agency would have to get approval from elected officials before they can act. Those elected officials would then have to face the voters on Election Day. Whether those officials approve costly, unnecessary rules that strangle our economy or whether they fail to approve needed oversight that provides for the health and safety of our citizens, the people should have a say in the outcome.

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