MN Republicans in Congress join fight against regulations, but strategy raises doubtsby Brett Neely, Minnesota Public Radio
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Republicans in Congress, including the Minnesota delegation, contend that government regulations are holding back job creation, and there are GOP efforts in both the House and Senate to move legislation cutting red tape. But the potential effectiveness of such bills is open for debate.
Earlier this week, after Senate Republicans blocked a vote on President Barack Obama's jobs creation legislation proposal, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. offered up the GOP's own jobs plan.
"A moratorium on all new federal regulations, place a moratorium on them so businesses large and small can have a predictable future," McCain said.
On the other side of the Capitol dome, House Republicans have been busy implementing a similar agenda. One bill, known as the TRAIN Act, would set a much higher standard for new clean air rules, for example.
Another bill rolls back new standards on industrial and commercial boilers throughout the country. Yet another bill — the Cement Sector Regulatory Relief Act — delays new EPA rules that affect that industry and that backers said would have lead to the shutdown of scores of plants.
Minnesota's Republican House members have backed the bills, as has Rep. Collin Peterson, DFL-Dist. 7, who frequently votes with Republicans on environmental issues.
"I think the pendulum has tilted too far to the regulators," said GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Dist. 3. "When you're talking about closing down 20 percent of the nation's cement factories, I just think that doesn't make any sense."
Republicans have a point, said economist Michael Greenstone, who studies the effects of environmental regulations at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He also served a brief stint in the White House early in the Obama Administration.
"Regulations have costs and those costs manifest themselves in reduced profits for firms and in workers losing their jobs in the industries that get regulated," Greenstone said. "The last 40 years of the Clean Air Act have certainly reduced the extent of manufacturing -- and polluting activity -- in the United States," Greenstone said.
"On the other side, they've produced tremendous benefits," he added. "The air is cleaner. We lead longer and healthier lives. We have to spend less on healthcare than we otherwise would."
District 4 DFL Rep. Betty McCollum voted against all three measures, and said Republicans are using the bills to send a political message without having to face the consequences of actually rolling back anti-pollution measures.
"They're fulfilling a campaign promise," introducing the measures, but the bills aren't going to pass in the Senate, McCollum said.
"Obama certainly made it really clear in his State of the Union that he's going to protect public health," she said. "Yet [Republicans] keep moving forward with bills that protect polluters."
There are no precise estimates of how these bills would affect Minnesota, but Robert Moffitt, communications director for the American Lung Association in Minnesota, said 250,000 people in the state suffer from asthma, a health condition he says would surely be exacerbated if air quality declines.
He said the past 41 years of experience with the Clean Air Act shows that it is possible to clean up the air and not wreck the economy.
"At the same time, the gross national product has risen by about 174 percent, so the arguments that somehow clean air regulations are anti-business really don't seem to hold water," he said.
The key to sound environmental regulation, Greenstone said, is a regulatory process that more accurately measures costs and benefits.
While none of the bills passed in the House will likely become law, the pressure Republicans have brought to bear on the Obama administration is working. In September, the administration decided to delay new rules to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
- Morning Edition, 10/14/2011, 7:20 a.m.